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One more number three camalot dangles from my harness. I look down at the previous blue cam 15 feet below; I then look up: two smooth parallel walls inches apart lay ahead of me, like a road stretching out into the desert. The chains glint in the sun 40 feet above my head. I have been in Indian Creek for less than an hour. I know nothing of the 200 foot fine grit Wingate sandstone walls, built like castles in an endless maze. The rock feels slick. My mind is racing. They say the cams can rip out of the soft rock, that the cracks have skate marks from cams skidding along the insides. I stuff my last #3 camalot into the rock, pushing it deep inside. My feet are screaming. I torque them against the cold rock, pressing the bones against the insides of my shoes.
David Bloom’s Indian Creek guide book suggests five #3 camalots for the Super Crack of the Desert. I figure my hands are big, #3 is a good hand jam, but I only have four #3’s. The rating of the route is 5.10. 5.10 can be difficult, especially having been first climbed with hexes in 1976, the height of the sandbag era. Although this is my first time in Indian Creek, I am no stranger to difficult traditional 5.10’s, having cut my teeth in Yosemite. Indian creek is so much easier, I’ve always heard. 70 feet off the ground, I do not agree.
What to know before you go:
Bring all your cams and your friends’ cams. Many climbs require at least eight of one size. Running it out can be dangerous, because the soft rock makes placements slightly less secure. I found that hiking all of these cams around, while necessary, is laborious, so, to cut down on weight, I carry about 15 carabiners that I trade amongst the cams.
Mark your gear well. It is common to loan, and borrow, gear. And things can get lost easily. Maybe take a picture of the person with the cams just to make sure you remember what they borrowed.
Indian creek will bring you back to your top roping days as a beginner. You will be forced to remember how to untie thread and retie at the anchor. Better yet, rapping with an ATC will save wear and tear on the anchors. The fine grit sand particles do an excellent job of rubbing grooves in the hardwear as well as the rock when lowering.
Out of the many things that can make or break a climbing experience, your behavior trumps all. Make sure you are communicating with fellow climbers at the crag. Chances are, they will be more than happy to share their cams and or the routes they are on. Be respectful of others’ space; this is not the 70’s anymore, and you are not the only person climbing.
Indian Creek is on private land. It is a privilege to be able to climb here. The land is a working cattle ranch with few fences. Watch for cows in the road. Do not allow your dog to harass the animals. Keep your dog on a leash or better yet leave him at home. Other climbers really don’t want him stepping on their rope anyway.
The desert is a fragile environment and does not regenerate easily. Recently, with the help of the Access Fund, a half dozen pit toilets have been installed along the nine mile stretch that is most popular for climbing. Bring toilet paper, as they tend to run out. These bathrooms are a privilege and it is our duty to use them responsibly.
There are no trash receptacles in Indian Creek. You must pack out everything you pack in. Bring some heavy duty trash bags and compact your trash down to save space in your car.
Food and water can be obtained from Monticello which is about 35 minutes away. Monticello is a small town which has a few gas stations and a super market. Their selection is limited so you best stock up on your crunchy granola before hand. Moab is a better choice and about an hour north of Indian Creek. There are supermarkets as well as a natural foods store, gear store, hardware stores, touristy shops and good coffee shops. Check out Moab Roasters for freshly roasted beans.
There is free camping in Indian Creek, but bring donations! The most popular is The Super Bowl Campground, which has two pit toilets and about 20 spots, each with a picnic table. There is absolutely no wood gathering in Indian Creek, so bring wood with you if you plan to have a campfire.
Finally, I have to mention that the sandstone of Indian Creek is soft and erodes easily. Many of the climbs have very obvious wear marks from shoes, ropes and hands. Do you really need to run another lap on the Incredible Hand Crack when there are thousands of incredible hand cracks out there? Go establish a new one!
I stare at the chains of Super Crack. One more cam should get me to the anchor, but what’s this? The crack deviates from its perfect parallel path, widening at the anchor. Fear of the unknown takes hold again. If I save this cam all the way to the anchor and it doesn’t fit, then I will be 40 feet above my last piece and I’ll be looking at the ride of my life. Aghhh, just go for it. I bury the cam inside the crack and race to the anchors, crawling into the large pod, groping for a jam. With the anchors next to me, I realize I don’t have any more carabiners to clip the rope to the anchors with. I let out a yell of frustration. I then proceed to reverse the Supercrack, downclimbing to the last #3. I retrieve it from the depths of the crack and cautiously climb back to the anchors, now with only three #3’s between me and the ground, 80 feet below. I clip the single carabiner to the anchor and scream “take!”.
Walker Emerson is a contributing writer for the Planet Granite Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias ‘Smash’. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite.