I couldn’t believe it, I was going back to Indian Creek. After my first trip there in 2010, I had said I wanted to go back right away. It took me three years, but it was happening!
The first step is to fly to Sacramento, California. Not exactly the direct route, but it’s my ticket to crashing an already planned road trip to Indian Creek that my friends Terri and Leo had planned. Initially there had been talk of 4 climbers going out on a road trip, with a possible group up point in Las Vegas. It was to be a mini Tweetup of sorts since all of the folks involved are on Twitter and had attended a Jtree Tweetup before. But plans changed and I caught a cheap flight to Sacramento, where Terri and Leo live, to drive with them to Indian Creek.
Tuesday, March 26
Get picked up at 4:30am. At the airport I luck out and get an earlier flight than scheduled. I arrive in Sacramento without incident and Terri picks me up and sets me loose on downtown Sacramento. I explore and take photos of the Capitol building. Terri gets off work and we go to Trader Joe’s for food. I meet Terri’s family at her house that evening. Terri and I pack her brand new Subaru Outback with gear. We are able to go sans Thule.
Wednesday, March 27
We leave Terri’s and pick up Leo at 6:30am. The start of 16 hours of driving commences. Terri has the wheel. I get a tour of ski areas (with snow on them) I also see Donner Pass and we go through Reno. We stop to get gas and eat at a small sub sandwich place. My turn at the wheel. We drive into Utah and through Salt Lake City. Unfortunately we realize that we didn’t factor in the time change when we thought about where to stop for dinner. We hit rush hour traffic. Eventually we stop for gas and on a whim try out a run down looking “drive in” right next to the gas station called Little Acorn Drive In. They have sandwiches made with home made bread which taste surprisingly good. Leo takes the wheel. Thinking ahead to arriving at a darkened Indian Creek camping area, I sit shotgun since I’m the only one in the group who has been there before.
Moab looks bigger than last time I was there, also things look open even though it’s late. After avoiding animals on the road, we arrive at Creek Pasture campground. The moon is bright enough that we can see pretty well. We spot Luke’s blue truck but continue on, hoping to get a campsite. Even though Luke sent me an earlier text message mentioning bathrooms I am still surprised to see that there are vault toilets in the campground and that every campsite seems to be differentiated with picnic tables and fire pits. This is very different than three years ago. This is a good surprise. Eventually we circle back to Luke’s group. “Go talk to him,” Terri urges. I get out of the car, Luke preemptively calls out through his truck’s window, he’s awake and guessed it was us who passed earlier. He tells us to just park with the other cars in the “space” and set up tents “back there”. We do this. It’s around 11pm.
Thursday, March 28
In the morning I realize that our campsite is right next to the one I was at three years ago. Aside from the picnic table and fire pit, it looks pretty much the same. I also realize that Luke is with a big group of people who mainly seem to be associated with UC Berkeley. They have been camping for awhile. One of the group, a gal named Alix, asks if I know Lea from LA. “Yes I do”, I say, “in fact the last time I was in Indian Creek I was climbing and camping with her”.
“She’s coming here tomorrow!” Alix says. Small world.
Leo, Terri and I had a climb picked out for our first day, a 5.9+ called “Bunny Slope” on Critic’s Wall. Everyone else parts for their own objectives. Terri, Leo and I drive out to Critic’s Wall, stopping to leave a note for Hayley at the bulletin board near the vault toilet (which used to be the only vault toilet I had seen in the area when I was first in Indian Creek). Soon Terri’s brand new car is on it’s first off road drive. We pass some folks camping near the dirt road and then get to the parking spot. One car is there but its owner soon returns with a dog and takes off. We have the wall to ourselves. “Bunny Slope” features sustained 5.9+ climbing for 130 feet. It takes two 70 m ropes to top rope it safely, though Leo was able to be lowered after his lead to a ledge which he then downclimbed. Belaying from that ledge wasn’t a good idea though, so that’s why we had to use two ropes. We drive out to Donnelly Canyon and head up towards “Chocolate Corner”.
Leo leads this and then I decide to pink point it. It’s funny because I top roped this route during my first trip to Indian Creek in 2010 but I don’t remember any of the moves so my past experience doesn’t help. It feels really good to lead it though. I later find out that though the book calls this a 5.9, Mountain Project gives it a 5.9+ (sadly many times when I look up something I’ve led on that website, it seems folks have downgraded it). Leo puts up “Elephant Man”, 5.10, 80 feet, which turns out to be a fun, slightly meandering crack with “weird hands”. I’m not kidding, the book even calls it “weird hands”.
Recognizing that we need ice for the cooler, our trio votes to go into Moab to get ice and eat dinner. We end up at Pasta Joe’s and are able to text another Twitter friend, Haley, with whom we are expecting to join up on the weekend. The food is good and the vibe is good. I reflect that so far this Indian Creek trip – with bathrooms, paved parking lots and pizza – feels extravagantly decadent compared to my first trip. We dodge animals on the drive back to camp and get in around 11pm (again).
Friday, March 29
In the morning I get to catch up with Lea, who is going to meet up with Russ, one of the other people I climbed with last time I was in Indian Creek. It’s fun and a little bit surreal to be back. I am bashfully proud to tell Lea I pink pointed “Chocolate Corner” since my first trip to the Creek my crack technique was not at its best. Lea is going to wait for Russ to show up so the trio of Terri, Leo and I take off again. Our objective this time is to get to “Super Crack”, the most famous climb in Indian Creek, and one I didn’t get to climb the last time I was here. Unfortunately Luke also tells me that it will be a grunt fest for me (my hands are too small for it). Our trio heads up Super Crack Buttress and first goes to “Incredible Hand Crack”. It’s taller than I remember. It’s possible it is also a tiny bit wider. I have fun but am happy not to have led it. On to “Super Crack”. I see why this is so popular a route. The first part is a little odd but for me is not too bad. What’s bad is the crack after it. It is sustained and, for me, wide. I use mostly a cupped right hand and a gaston with my left. It is very very tiring. I get to a spot right below the small roof, clip into Leo’s blue cam and rest. I don’t have to do this since I’m on top rope but it gives me a sense of accomplishment to do so. If I had been pink pointing it I would have at least made it this far. I continue on after the break, I get one fist jam in but the rest is all grunt. I tell myself it’s good practice since this is the size of crack most of my partners will like, plus it is a very attractive and classic line.
After “Super Crack” we move to “Twin Cracks”, a 5.9 which is a lot more fun. “No Name Crack” at 5.10 is next, also fun though it also has wide parts. I’m feeling a little tired from “Super Crack” though. At night, Haley, her friend Matt, and his dog Gauge join our group. Since this is the first night our trio is in camp before everyone has gone to sleep, it’s a particularly social campfire that night.
Saturday, March 30
Seeking shade and to get away from crowds our expanded group heads to Selfish Wall. Haley had done a climb here called Hands Solo and shared a photo which captured both Terri’s and my imagination. The approach hike lead us straight to the climb. After eyeing it, I asked if I could try an onsight. I racked up with 4 yellow BDs and 3 red BD’s (technically 2 red BD’s and one equivalent Chouinard). Though the route is relatively short, my arms feel very tired towards the top, I’m not recovered yet from Friday! I get right up near the anchors (which are to the left of the crack). I pull a yellow BD from my gear loop and call down to Matt, “I know I don’t really need this here, and I’ll remove it when I get lowered but I’m tired so I’m putting it here, anyway!” I place that sucker, clip in and then move a foot up farther to set up the anchor. True to my word I remove the last piece as I’m being lowered (better for rope drag). I get to the bottom and Terri gives me a high five for my first Indian Creek onsight. I’m tired but feel good. My jams all the way up had felt good too.
I belay Terri and then get on my next climb which is “The Duo” 5.11- this is fun! When I get down I have to spend time in the shade. I get an allergy attack and start sneezing and my eyes get crazy watery. This normally doesn’t happen to me, I usually just get a runny nose. It gets bad enough I have to wait to do my next climb. When it passes I get on “A Breakfast Social” 5.10. This is another fun climb. Lastly, we find a climb with shade near by. In fact there is a breeze around the corner and Leo jokingly says it has air conditioning. This is great as today feels like the hottest day since we’ve arrived (which is to say it’s still pretty nice, but the direct sun is a little draining). Leo leads up “Solo East” a tall 5.11. I watch as others get on it and with some trepidation, get on it with the goal of cleaning the anchors. The start is slightly wide, and getting over a hump proves to be more difficult than I expect because the crack widens there. Eventually though the crack is small enough that I do some ring locks. I almost make it all the way up but have to hang. When I get to the top I am happy though, I sometimes call myself “The Cleaner” I think it gives me extra incentive to “have to” clean all the gear. Sometimes I even clean “stuck” gear that others have left behind.
We get back to camp early enough to cook dinner and have social time. Our group is thinking about doing South Six Shooter and ask me about it since I’m the only one who has done it before. I think it’d be fun to do. However I then realize that 1. Haley and Matt need to be back in camp by 4pm, and 2. We would be two parties and one of the parties would have to be a party of three. That would mean the endeavor would take longer than when K and I did it in 2010. Leo and Terri bring up doing an Alpine start but I’m a bit worried about finding the four wheel drive route to the base in the dark. I remember it was not the easiest to find in the daylight and plus there were some parts where our car was right next to a deep crevice in the rock. I resolve to ask Lea what she thinks about this. When she arrives she says, “That’s an all day thing!” I agree. Terri opens a bottle of wine seeing as how the alpine start is probably not going to happen. Then, while we’re still enjoying the campfire, a sudden gust blows up, knocking things off the tables. A rain squall happens immediately afterwards. We all notice the darkened sky and recall that there’s a chance of rain tomorrow. The tower plan is postponed and we all scramble to get inside our tents. It was still a fun night at least.
Sunday, March 31
Sunday morning no one in our group gets up early. There isn’t a cloud in the sky now. After some discusison our group heads for Way Rambo wall. Leo has three climbs in mind. We get to the parking area and see cars at the base. We get out and as we start up on the steepest part of the approach we find ourselves in a race of sorts with another group. Leo realizes he has forgotten something back at the car. After one wrong turn the group gets in front of us. In the end we get to the cliff base and find that a fairly large group (made bigger by the folks who passed us on the way up) is on all three of the routes we were thinking of doing, there is a little bit of confusion on how many are left to do each one. Eventually a route frees itself and Leo leads up “Rochambeau” 5.9 it is an interesting crack climb with many small overhanging parts to it. I get on it and find that though it is not an easy climb, the overhanging parts at least have rests before them.
The last climb of the trip for me is a cleaning mission on “Fuzz” a 5.10 route of 115 feet. I’ve watched a few climbers at the bottom of it, which is a wide flare and it doesn’t look easy. And then it gets steep and overhanging! As I step up for my turn I face straight into the crack and find that I have wedged my shoulders in and am staying in by flexing my back/shoulder muscles. Leo says I need to face to the right. I somehow squirm around and find a high handhold which allows me to unweight and get me feet over. Once out of that awkward start I find the small crack up the ramp to be easier than I thought. I do it quickly because I know a rest is coming up and then things will get much harder. I get to the rest and shake it out a bit. I take a deep breath and launch up the vertical part. The crack is wider now. I resort to a few layback moves. I am tired. I get to another rest. I take another deep breath and look up at the overhanging part I have coming up, and at how the crack arches off to my right. There’s nothing left for it but to go for it. I start up, I use my cupping / gaston moves again. My left wrist is hurting a little bit, my breathing is very loud. I aim to get to Leo’s next piece. I get to it and have to hang. This is one tall climb! I shake out my arms, take more breaths then continue. The crack juts off to the right and I do a bit of hanging on my jams, with my feet on the wall. Finally I get to the anchors. I clip in and smile. I am tired but happy.
Some of our group starts hiking back to the car before I am down since we are trying to get back to the camp by 4 so Haley and Matt can catch their ride and Terri, Leo and I can pack up and head out to Arches National Park. By the time I get to the car, Leo has started it up. I stick out my thumb for a ride.
Back at camp we grab a few pics and say our goodbyes. Leo, Terri and I take off for Arches National Park. We race the sun. We get inside the park and start up into the interior but the sun is fading fast. We get out at the first big arch we see and I race out with camera and tripod. I get one photo of the arch before darkness sets in. In the opposite direction of the arch though are some rain clouds in the distance… and lightning. What follows then is a quick explanation of how to shoot lightning and excited jumping up and down as we see each strike. After I miss some nice ones, both Leo and Terri insist that I not show them the previews but “just keep shooting!” A really nice forked lightning burst happens and I jump up and down like a little kid. I think we are all a little punch drunk.
We get back in the car and start on our way out of the park. Terri has generously said that she’d spring for a motel room for the night so we don’t have to find a campground in the dark. First though, we stop at a picnic area to make and eat turkey sandwiches for dinner. It is pretty dark. I see a flash of light on a tree nearby and point it out. This spooks Terri. We start talking about how no one knows we’re out here. “I told Lisa we were camping in Basin,” Leo says. Terri starts packing up the cooler. I start laughing. “No one is going to kill us!” And yet, I consider that it does seem like a horror movie, complete with a lightning back drop. Leo and Terri have packed up so fast that I still have my half eaten sandwich in my hand when I jump into the car.
It’s late when we pull up to the motel Terri found using Yelp. It seems nice and I note that they have a free continental breakfast in the morning that starts at 6am. I get the first turn for the shower. It feels great! Action Wipes have been awesome for the trip so far but it’s really nice to have a hot shower.
Monday, April 1
We get up and happily find that the continental breakfast includes waffles. We sketch out the driving plan for the day. Our objective is to get to Basin National Park – a park I had never even heard of before this trip. We will then take a scenic way back to Sacramento. We set off. We have a bit of trouble with navigation but are soon driving through terrain that is surprisingly mountainous. We see a good bit of snow on mountain peaks and sometimes right by the sides of the road. It’s very pretty country. We get to Basin National Park’s visitor center and get out only to find that it is closed. We can see snow covered mountains close by. We pick up a park brochure and Leo and I are interested to find out that the park includes caves, a lake and generally mountainous features. We had both expected a desert environment. Terri had known about the caves and had been looking forward to seeing more of the park and getting her National Park passport stamped. There is another visitor center but it is only accessible through a farther entrance. We decide to move on. The drive back to California takes us through Utah and Nevada. We travel on Highway 50 which is labeled “The Loneliest Road in America” it certainly has very little traffic and the towns we pass through seem to be have a lot of run down homes. Mostly we see great open land and various mountain passes and summits. Terri keeps thinking the next range we see is the Sierra Nevada but after a few false alarms we realize we are just in an area with a lot of mountain ranges. We stop at a fast food place in a small town when we got too hungry. It’s the biggest town we’ve seen in a long time. As we get closer to Reno we start seeing more Casinos and other signs of bigger Nevada cities.
We make it to Sacramento in time to drop off Leo and then have dinner with Terri’s family.
Tuesday, April 2
Terri gives me a ride to her work and lets me use her personal laptop. In the afternoon it’s time to go to the airport again (I can’t believe how quick it is to get to the Sacramento airport from downtown – in contrast to getting to LAX from downtown LA). I fly home and meet my friend in the long term parking garage. We drive home taking the Pacific Coast Highway part of the way. It’s beautiful but my body still feels like it should be in the desert.
According to Luke our trio arrived in Indian Creek right after some very cold weather. After we left the weather turned rainy and cold again. I think we had the perfect weather window there even though we did get a bit hot over the weekend when climbing in direct sun. I had a great time and I even enjoyed the road trip part of the trip, though it’s too bad we didn’t get to spend a little more time in the National Parks. On a photography front I feel like I produced some nice work but I still wanted to do more. One thing missing was star trail shots, we had a bright moon for the first few nights and then overcast conditions (and the sudden squall). I guess I’ll just have to come back some other time…
Slideshow of a selection of my photos below. Click on any photo to view it in a larger size (highly recommended). Link to the full set of photos featured in the slideshow. You can also see a larger set of photos here.