To say we had a dust up in Indian Creek is an understatement. Not only are you and all of your belongings covered in red dust you are in a constant battle with the cracks. Like a new wonder drug Indian Creek comes with a disclaimer, its like starting climbing all over again. You will feel beat up and demoralised. Please give at least seven days before giving up. The guide book even has the following list of excuses of which we added loads more to.
There are two main camping areas that I know of with toilets, tables, etc. These are Superbowl and Creek Pastures. Cottonwoods is a fee free campsite without toilets. None of the campsites have water so make sure you bring plenty as the closest place for water is an hour away.
It's night and we have just pulled into Super Bowl camp ground, luckily we stumbled across an empty site. We awake again surrounded by beautiful desert which is banked by these huge mesas. Leading up to these mesas are large orange rock faces filled with splitter cracks. These will be our climbing walls for the next few weeks. It is unbelievably beautiful around here, I doubt there are many places like this in the world.
It has to be said that the climbing here in Indian Creek is amazing and humbling at the same time. I had a love hate relationship with it as I think most climbers new to crack climbing do. Crack climbing is exactly what it sounds like, climbing a wondering split in the rock varying in width and length. In fact the difficulty of the climb is often determined by the size. The thing that's really unique about Indian Creek is there are no other features outside the cracks to "cheat" with. Which means you are jamming hands and feet in the cracks in order to climb them. In the wider cracks known as off width you are actually jamming your whole body in the crack!
So what do I mean by jamming? You are trying to find a constriction between the flesh or bones of your hands or other body parts with the rock. You then use your jammed body parts to help you move up the rock. What about the feet? Well they get jammed in as well pointing your knee away from you body so your foot is sideways. You shove your foot as deep as you can into the crack then bring your knee back to the centre of your body causing your foot to lock in place. So as a beginner with zero technique it's going to be painful, there's no way to dress it up. If you're coming to the Creek get ready for the pain.
You will often here strange sayings such as "it's perfect hands" or "twos for days". These sayings are referring to the correlation between the protection/cams and the size of your hand when jamming. So if a size two cam fits into the crack your hand will jam perfectly. Alex Honnold once said something like "if it's perfect hand size you don't need to protect it". Now if you're new to all this like we were then you can already understand how confusing it can all get. It really is like a foreign language.
Something else that's quite unique again about the Creek is there is often quite a bit of top roping as climbers battle with this alien style of climbing. I even came across the word "tronsite" for the first time which means top rope onsite (making the climb without rests on top rope.) In order to make this happen you do need a badass rope gun (someone to put the top ropes up)... Step up Colin putting ropes up for us and always super stoked about it (legend).
The social seen here is great too with climbers often having to share gear due to the fact you may need eight of the same size cam for one climb. There is an awesome picture in the guidebook of an "Indian Creek Rack" which as you can imagine is huge.
Me and my wife both found the climbing to be really hard and unlike other styles of climbing it physically hurts. As you can imagine it would, jamming your hands and feet into cracks and climbing. At first I certainly flayed around a lot not getting very far at all. All the jams felt insecure and I just did not trust my feet. In fact I found myself laying back a lot of the cracks which is extremely strenuous and not really the best way to climb crack. In fact if you were actually leading the routes it's hard to place gear from a layback position. Unlike other climbing the Creek is a full body workout and I love the term "dust up" to describe my time there. It was an amazing experience and an ongoing physical and mental battle everyday. By the end of my time there my emotions were torn up, my hands had holes (gobies) all over them. I had inadvertently waxed my forearms and hands from my tape gloves. Now I must say at this point it must be said that watching climbers that have this crack climbing dialled is beautiful. To see a climber "swimming" up the cracks almost effortlessly is inspiring for sure. All though this is all through reflection in my beat down state by the crag side I often found myself extremely frustrated. My mini pep talks "O.K you got this, just swim that crack, jam it up" all went out of the window a couple of moves in. That being said, sat here writing this blog I'm kind of missing that place. Maybe I've forgotten the pain or am I like many others turning into a crack head?
I have already touched on this and if you're a climber you will know that climbing people are generally friendly folk. In fact I remember explaining to my mum that I will be fine travelling all over the world as I'll always be hanging with climbers. She asked me how it's possible to define a whole group of people by the sport they do? It made me think.... and I'm still thinking. I don't know the answer but it just is. Anyway no more so than anywhere else in the world is the social scene as great as it is at the Creek! People brought together through the common love of cracks! All the crack heads in one place would normally be a negative, but not here it's a positive.
Out of the campsites I mentioned I preferred Superbowl. It has a lot of space so you are not right on top of each other whilst camping. Creek Pasture seemed a little more crowded and close. It also has a reputation for being a bit more tightly packed and having a party atmosphere so it depends what you are looking for.
Now as well as all the cracks to climb there are also some awesome looking free standing towers to be climbed, such as the Bridger Jacks and the North and South Six Shooter. We decided after watching both sunset and sunrise amongst these iconic towers that we should at least try and conquer one. We chose the North Six Shooter as it had the easiest accent. Now the only problem with this is we would have to venture off the paved roads onto the desert trails with this great quote from Mountain Project in our minds " you need a high clearance vehicle or a total disregard for your car to drive parts of this dirt road". We could have hiked in from the main road but that was eight miles with all our ropes and gear in the desert heat so we thought "feck it". The van has high clearance so we felt confident it could make it. We would set off early the next morning.
As we opened the first gate on the trail we were all full of confidence and the van was indeed taking the road on no problem. According to our information the trail head to the climb should be eight miles into the main trail clearly marked by a cairn. We are looking for a sign to the Lavender Field, we never saw it and of course we kept coming to forks in the road. Colin and I both kind of remember something on Mountain Project saying stay left at the forks and eventually the road runs out. So we stick to this but end up getting further and further away from our target. We spin the van around at a fork where a pink ribbon is hanging from some brush almost like a trail marker. We ignore it and head back to a previous junction. This leads down a wash of a riverbed and eventually peters out. The general consensus is we have gone wrong. We head back to the fork with the pink ribbon and take that trail. About a minute in we are in trouble the grounds gone soft and the van is struggling! Next thing the wheels are spinning we are stuck in soft sand!
We all pile out of the van to asses the situation. It does not look good, a futile attempt to push the van only digs it in deeper. Ok lets not panic we have a shovel and decide to dig the rear wheels out and place rocks underneath for traction. After getting the rock jammed in we try again. No luck the van just digs in more. Ok lets try jack the car up and place the rock directly under the wheel. Now the words of Colin's dad were ringing in our ears for the next 10 minutes. He said to us "you should really practice using the jack before you set off". Well we didn't and it took us quite a while in the desert heat to figure it out. Now I must say at this point we were all staying really positive and not letting the situation get the better of us. After all the van was in a wash with everything we all owned inside it. With a storm coming tomorrow it was quite feasible that the van would be washed away in a flash flood. We jacked up the van and built a road, the Romans would have been proud. Colin jumped back in the van and it moved forward like a foot but got stuck again. Progress but not much. We thought maybe it would be a good idea to now try to reverse it out fast. A terrible idea in hindsight because you guessed it, the van just ended up right back where we started! Now we were about three hours in trying to get the van free. So a decision had to be made, do we keep trying or do we hike out for help. We decided for one more go then we all go for help not wanting to split the group up like some sort of horror movie plot. The last attempt did not go well we dug deep laid more stones but the situation was just getting worse.
We decide to hike out. We have to consider what to take as remember everything we own is in there and there is a potential storm hitting. Water is of course top of the list and after dwelling for ages I just can't decide so I pick the bag of Kettle Chips and take them. Now considering the situation we are in we are all lifted by the fact we are on the move to get help. The hike is going to be eight miles at least. We hike out and of course on the way out we spot the cairns for the start of the trail to the Six Shooter. The really annoying thing is it was exactly where we had been and turned around earlier in the morning. We all kind of smile ironically and keep walking. The heat is turned all the way up and my salt and vinegar Kettle Chips don't seem like the best idea now. However we hike on playing out various scenarios. The general consensus is we get to the main road then hitch hike to the visitor centre in Canyonlands National Park to get help and wifi. Hopefully we can get towed out of there. As we continue to walk we come to one of the first gates we drove through. Seeing empty cattle runs either side it feels like we are getting closer to the road. Infact we have hiked about seven miles in 1 hour, which is pretty good going we were after all on a mission, Sarah most of all is at the front marching. Colin's whispers to me "I've never seen Sarah walk so fast".
As we come to another gate we spot a car! It can't be, a mirage maybe? Nope it turns out to be two badass BLM forestry workers."How's it going?" They ask. "Erm we have had better days".
We explain the situation and they explain to us that to get the van towed would be ridiculously expensive. Last time someone was towed from the Super Bowl campsite it cost $1000!
"Oh snap" we don't want any of that. Both these girls are eager to head back to the van a try get it out. After hearing the possible prices we are all onboard for that. Now in an evil twist of fate it turns out that the two BLM workers were actually putting up signs to show the way to the climbing trail and also sign advising which roads were safe for which type of vehicle. So if we had climbed a day later none of this would have happened, imagine that. We drive back to the scene of the crime in their 4x4. Already this jeep feels better than our van. It even has a sand mode button. We park up but do not enter the wash in their jeep as the last thing we want is both cars stuck. We have more shovels now and more power. As we walk down the wash about 100 yards from the van we spot a pair of hiking boots, just sat there neatly together. They were definitely not there when walked out. What the hell! This freaks us all out a little. Where did they come from? We were after all 8 miles from anywhere. We brush it off and head for the van. After an assessment of the situation we decide a rocking motion of us pushing and Colin working the clutch is our best chance. We use our road building skills again and build roads in front of the van as well as the rear. "There would be more traction if we could wet the road" someone commented. "I can pee on request" Sarah blurts out. The next scene has to be seen to be believed. We all turn our backs as Sarah squats above our man made road peeing, squatting up and down the road to get maximum coverage. Ok we are ready to go, "now if it takes Colin don't stop, hit the gas and drive back to safe ground" we all tell him. We position ourselves behind the van ready to push. Using the rocking motion and our manpower the van starts to move. The engine is now juddering like crazy. Struggling to take hold we push and scream "don't stop! Don't stop!". The van continues to sputter and judder, then it's out. Colins foot is heavy on the gas. The van spins around left down the wash hits a small shrub ramp and takes flight! Bam! It lands back end swinging around like some bank robbery getaway van. It speeds off around the corner, amazing! We are all whooping ,hollering and high giving. We did it! Oh my god! We all look at Sarah " It was definitely the pee that made the difference!". The feeling of elation still runs through me when I think back, but most of the time I'm just think who the hell did those shoes belong to?
The history of the climbing here is really interesting with the pioneers of Indian Creek. Staying at the cattle ranch and heading out on dirt bikes with binoculars trying to spot crack lines to climb. As for Indian Creek itself, it was once home to the Anasazi Indians who disappeared without a trace hundreds of years ago. In fact it's still one of the great mysteries of Indian Creek. They did however leave their mark with amazing petroglyphs and pictographs on the rocks. Newspaper rock is a really impressive example of this. The cowboys have been here a long time too. We spent some time hiking around Canyonland national park thinking what it would have bene like to live here then. There is an old cowboys campground built by a natural spring under a huge rock roof. I'm actually totally sucked in by the history of Americas indigenous people and my current reading list of The Revenant, The Son and Desert Solitaire has me constantly imagining what it was like to live back then. It was in fact a case of mistaken identity when Columbus landed on the shores of America. He had actually set sail for India. So when he set eyes on the indigenous people he called them Indians and the name stuck.
Indian Creek is part of Canyonlands national park and wondering around there on rest days is truly something else. Hopping from mushroom rock to mushroom rock, one minute you're on the ground the next you are on top of huge domes of solid and slick Navajo sandstone. Then you drop back through a canyon to the basin. The closest comparison I can draw in my mind is I felt like I was inside a level of Super Mario. Just so much fun and on the whole hike we only saw two other walkers, the desert is an amazing place and totally alien to an English man.