Moab, Utah – Day 5 of our Desert Climbing Road Trip
We had been given a detailed Google Map showing a scenic route from Zion to Indian Creek but decided to take the more direct route of using the 70 most of the way to Moab. It turns out this way was more scenic than we had thought it would be. K and I stopped at a rest stop for lunch and also stopped at two view points, one of which had a pretty but very gusty view.
We made it into Moab sooner than expected even with these stops. “It sure has been built up,” K said as we walked around, he’d been to Moab a long time ago. I imagine it really did look “built up” now. We saw guide and rental shops galore plus coffee houses, cute restaurants, and many shops with that ubiquitous “kokopelli” character.
We were scouting town for a restaurant or bar that might show the Laker game as K is a big Lakers fan and it was his birthday. A climbing shop, Pagan Mountaineering, was near one of the places we scouted out and of course we went inside. I started trying on harnesses (yes, I’m still on my quest to replace my harness) and I ended up having a nice chat with a female climber named Bevin. She warned us Indian Creek might be hot and I learned that Monticello’s weather forcast was NOT indicative of Indian Creek’s. I had been checking Monticello’s weather during our trip because on maps it looked closer to Indian Creek than Moab did. It was closer as the crow flies but the catch was that Monticello was at a higher elevation. Oh well, so much for highs in the 70s. Bevin also told us that Monticello’s businesses all closed on Sundays since it was a Mormon town. Good to know in case we wanted to do a resupply run on a Sunday. And on the topic of supplies, Bevin mentioned that stores sold beer with only 3.2 % alcohol by volume, you need to buy it from a Utah State Liquor store (at room temperature) if you wanted the “real thing”. Fortunately we had brought beer from California.
By the time I was trying on my third harness, Cliff and Vina had caught up to us. We ended up renting motel rooms (hint: shop around for hotel/motel rates, the first place we went to quoted an outrageous price). Being able to shower was nice, prior to this I had been relying on Action Wipes which work great, but since the next leg of our trip was going to be the most “primitive camping” it was nice to start it off with clean hair as well. After showers we had an organic pizza/basketball/gear sorting party, with a brownie & semi-melted icecream desert for the birthday boy.
The next morning we got ready for Indian Creek at the motel by eating a hearty free continental breakfast (and we grabbed a few extra apples for the road) and filling up water containers and putting ice in our cooler.
Day 6 – Indian Creek, Utah
It didn’t take long to drive from Moab to Indian Creek even with a very brief stop at Newspaper Rock. With our first sight of the cliffs we got excited at the crack climbing possibilities. And, unlike Zion, we didn’t have to wonder if it would be possible to rap down from any of these fantastic looking lines, there were probably anchors on all of them.
As pre-planned, our group checked a message board which told us where my friend David and his gang were climbing that day. Supercrack Buttress it was. We parked and got our gear out. We had finally arrived!
The approach up to Supercrack Buttress was pretty easy, a very nicely made trail led right up to the base of the cliffs where we had no problem spotting David and his friends. The weather was sunny but occasional gusts of wind would chill you a tiny bit and make you hold on to your hat. They already had a rope up on Twin Cracks, a 5.9, which turned out to be my first Indian Creek climb. As someone said later, “climbs here are like, boom, 5.10 right from the start” (substitute whatever grade the climb is). Climbs were also quite tall! I went up Twin Cracks and knew that: 1. we had come to the right place, and 2. climbing at Indian Creek was going to be like a shot of… well, crack, for my crack climbing skills. Twin Cracks was one of the shorter climbs at 60′. It was a good intro to the place and though I did not do it in the best style, I thought I might be able to lead it next time. The rock was different though, of course it was softer than Joshua Tree’s quartzite monzonite, but it was still tough enough to rub at your skin. Zion’s rock had been quite dirty, with loose grains, Indian Creek wasn’t as dirty but there were occasional places that reminded you were on sandstone. I had mistakenly brought up my “bad tape gloves”. By the end of that first day I had regretted it and had a large “strawberry” below my right wrist that needed cleaning and covering later. The highlight climb of that first day for me was The Incredible Handcrack, 5.10, 100′ with a small overhang/roof section. I watched Lea, a friend of David’s I had just met, lead it and watched as she got to the roof part. She’s about my height so it was a treat to see her do it,
knowing I had a chance at pulling the same moves. I did the climb on top rope but had to hang at the overhanging part as I couldn’t get my hand above the directional cam placed there – and yet I didn’t want to take it out too soon of course. At the top I thought that I was done for the day. But with a little rest I continued of course!
One of the ropes was on a 5.10 climb called Gorilla which shared anchors with a 5.12- or 5.11 route named Pringles. I started up the 5.12 but switched to Gorilla and then back again and ended up using both at the anchors. It was fun just to even get on the 5.12, I’d never tried a 5.12 crack before. It was mainly liebacking for me and I’m sure my smaller hands and fingers were an advantage on it. I moved over to Gorilla when I got tired though, did some of a strange width section on Gorilla then moved back to Pringles. At the top the two cracks converged and I stemmed using both. Russ, another of David’s friends who lives in the area, did the 5.12 route with style, not using the other crack even near the anchor section. You can see him in the video footage I took.
We didn’t do the famous Supercrack climb, as some folks were on it. On a side note, we were a party of 9, and even on Memorial Day weekend at the most popular wall in IC we only saw two other parties while we were there so our group was “the crowd”.
Sunset was awesome. One of the reasons I had wanted to go to Indian Creek was because of the scenery and wildness. The other major reason was of course the climbing. The sunsets were well worth it.
The following morning we all went to Second Meat Wall. This wall required a bit of dirt road driving to get to the parking area and it had a longer hiking approach. A few climbs had partial shade and this is why this wall had been chosen. The weather definitely seemed hotter than the other day. The highlight climb on this wall for me was Tofu Crack, 5.10, 110 feet. I got to its base at the end of the day and heard some grunting going on. It was tall and had some variation in crack sizes as well as in the steepness of the climb. I got on it and proceeded to have a blast. The climb started as a strange crack in a face then continued into one that was part of a dihedral. I used a variety of techniques to climb it and managed to do it without resting on the rope at all and with only a few brief rests while on the rock. I used fist jams, cupping jams, liebacking, and maybe even a ring lock or two. It was ridiculously fun and tiring.
On the photography front, I had hoped at some point to go up a rope and shoot from above. Carlos, another one of David’s friends who I had by coincidence met before in Joshua Tree, was also a photographer and did indeed hang for awhile on a rope, unfortunately I think it was long enough that he got a little too much sun exposure. I never did get up a rope but took my shots on the ground, which was a pity, but I did get some very nice vantage points. Additionally another climber in our group named Tim was kind enough to lead a climb situated with a nice background so I could shoot him from higher ground. As far as landscape shots go, I think I got a few good ones, but you can be the judge of that.
The group had talked about doing one of the desert towers in the area, South Six Shooter. David’s group had been there a day earlier than us and were looking for a “rest day”. Vina and Cliff unfortunately were going to start the drive home to California as they wanted to break it up into two travel days. K and I were game to do the tower though. We ended up dividing into two parties of three.
No one in our groups had done the tower before, there was some information on it in our guidebooks: three pitches, one bolt for a 5.8 run out section, anchors on top. We did know that the approach was potentially the hardest part of the climb though. David parked his 2WD CRV not that far from the entrance gate (there are a lot of unlocked gates in this area due to cattle). K parked in the same area and the three of us took off after the other party which had already gone ahead. We knew it’d be a minimum of a two hour approach, but a lot of it would be following a dirt road to the base of the tower. We hiked along spotting flowers along the way and also following the footsteps of the first party. After awhile though we realized we were getting closer to North Six Shooter than to South. We headed back to where we figured we had gone wrong back at a fork in the road. Right about when we got to the fork we saw some cars approaching. In fact it turned out to be four cars, one of which was some kind of special off road six wheeled car. David had said we’d watch them and if they turned towards South Six Shooter then we’d just go cragging for the day. They did turn towards South Six Shooter. We confirmed it anyway with the driver of the first car.
That settled it, it was hot, we had a long way to hike and when we got there we’d be behind two parties minimum. It was off to Donelly Canyon for the three of us. All the hiking had taken a toll, we had a mellow climbing day after that. However K lead two climbs there, including Binou’s Crack. We also saw Russ out there with two clients (he’s a guide). After that we headed out to a little store near Canyonlands National Park for ice cream and ice and David grabbed a shower as well.
Back at camp we learned that the other party had also seen the car caravan and in fact gotten a ride with them after they too had taken the wrong turn while hiking (recall that we were following their tracks). However after getting to the base of the tower mesa, the car folks had headed straight for the tower, leaving them behind… with some cookies. Not a bad trade. After the climb they even got a ride back to camp which they were all really grateful for as they said the hike in would’ve been much longer since the road meandered. One of them estimated it would’ve taken them 3 hours to hike back.
Day 9 – South Six Shooter, Canyonlands National Conservation Area
Keeping in mind our friends’ words about the hike to South Six Shooter. K and I had decided we’d like to have a second go at it but this time try to drive our way to the base. K has a Suzuki SX4 with 4WD. We got mixed assessments on whether or not it would make the drive but we were going to try it.
And off we went. We ended up going the wrong way at one point and I had to get out of the car a few times so the car could travel lighter (it has ok clearance but not up to normal sized SUVs) but we made it. In fact, K exclaimed more than once how much he loved his car and I gotta admit I was really happy we didn’t have to hike in, because it really was still much further than where we had stopped the other day. We both loved that we were able to get just as far as those other guys we had seen in their bigger vehicles.
Now it was time for the approach. Once parked near the tower we could see that just getting up to the mesa was going to be interesting. Fortunately it was as the book said and there was a “faint trail”. It led up a slope then to scrambling and finally to a bit of a chimney, fourth/nearly fifth class section at the steepest part. Once on the mesa we then saw how broad it was. We still had a way to go before the first pitch of the climb.
We followed cairns through the mesa and through scrambling sections. We paused at the base trying to cool down and hydrate up in a small bit of shade. We spotted the petroglyph mentioned on the book as near the first pitch of the climb. It looked untouched by time to my eye.
The first pitch was a chimney pitch which Carlos had described as easy. This had factored into my decision to bring my SLR camera, something I normally don’t do for multipitch climbs that require chimney climbing. When we got on the pitch, I’d say I’d have to agree with Carlos. Easy chimney, and only one spot where my small pack gave me any hint of trouble. Pitch 2 included some walking and then a few moves of crack climbing. The last pitch was where the money was and included a mantel move before K clipped the only bolt then some face sort of climbing to the top.
A lizard greeted us at the top. It even ran under K’s leg for some shade. We could see North Six Shooter in the distance and a great view of Indian Creek / Canyonlands all around.
Getting down we took a different route and then walked a bit on the wide mesa before finding the way down that (which looked steeper going down than coming up). By the time we got to the car we were really glad that we had air conditioning. I had to get out of the car a few times again, but it was all part of the fun.
K and I left earlier than the others because we had decided to go back a different route, one which would take us to Monticello and then on to Arizona and Monument Valley. Monticello was quaint, a guy asked K where he was headed at the gas station after we had heard him chatting with a neighbor. The drive home was very scenic as well, though, thinking about the long drive back home, we skipped a few scenic loops and didn’t stop too much.
I learned a lot on this trip. As it turned out we ended up getting to do a bit of sport, crack and tower climbing (heck even a tiny bit of aid climbing if you count that little bit in Zion). I learned a little more about camping while on a road trip and going “primitive camping”. I also learned about what gear I liked and used and what I didn’t. I’ll be writing more about my Mountain Hardwear top, Clif Bar, Crunch bars, Action Wipes and TC Pros in future posts.
I’d definitely like to go back to Indian Creek. I’d also like to visit Zion again and Bryce and Arches National Parks for the first time if possible. One traveling couple we met in Zion had been to Arches, Bryce, and Zion and told us that Bryce was the prettiest hands down. I’d like to do another desert tower as well, maybe Castleton.
However; we heard from Russ that it got quite hot there after we left so till next season my dear sandstone climbs, till next season!
My Indian Creek video:
My Desert Tower video:
If you missed Part 1 of my trip report you can find it here: Desert Climbing Road Trip – Part 1.