There is something so irresistible about America’s desert southwest in autumn: it creates a perennial vacuum pulling good people from the country and world over seeking unique environs much less hospitable for other portions of the year. Summers blazingly hot, winters cold and snowy, and though for a hearty few such extremes are no obstacle, for the rest of us, spring and fall are the chosen times to trade brisk nights for sun-drenched days to recreate in what I’d call one of America’s adult playgrounds [even when the 'adulthood' of its visitors is often in question].
A playground for kids and adults alike
The radiant red sandstone of Utah’s petrified sand dunes glow in the golden hours, and though the options for exploring and enjoying the area are bountiful, I made my annual pilgrimage to Moab with similar pointed intentions as many of my colleagues: to answer the call of the Wingate walls of Indian Creek. I’m neither disciplined nor strong enough to climb everyday, but sandstone splitters are the true carrot, while the gorgeous surroundings, great people, and a thirst for other activities keep things fresh.
How often do I rack up with seven #1's!? The pain train arriveth!
There are so many subtle aspects of Indian Creek that are apparent during a trip there - and that resonate after we leave - that it’s never a wonder to me why I’m drawn back every year. First and foremost, the people. Climbers in general are a passionate crowd and bring with them stories and experiences ripe with vivacity of life worth living. You could be sitting at the base of a climb, around a campfire, halfway up a pitch after a whipper or in the back of a truck on the way to the crag and you get a nugget of a life lesson that stays with you the rest of your days, or an anecdote that never fails to put a smile on your face.
Mr. McEleney, the annual protagonist, and quiet, consummate rope gun
"The more people come, the more happy I am, so a bigger group is self-serving, really." - Ian
Second is the primitive lack of cell service. The first world problem of constant connectivity is solved when you descend down the last switchbacks of UT211, and though there are small spots where service can be found, I leave the phone on airplane mode, and use the creativity-spawning bulletin boards throughout the canyons for communication when needed. Such a behavior has become a reminder to me and perhaps to others that it’s healthy to step away from the wired world and focus on the present: The present time, the present company and your present thoughts.
Simon, choosing his foot placements wisely
People and places are wonderful, and with some exceptions, getting to know someone or some place takes time and attention. Technology is also wonderful – for lack of anything else, the ability to make us incredibly mobile. These wonders clash sometimes - many of us are guilty of spreading our attention too thin, so breaking this habit – for a day, or a long weekend or a week – is a great reminder for us to focus: Forget social media and RSS feeds, email, texts and phone calls elsewhere, there are great people around you worth meeting and gorgeous places worth your undivided attention.
I'm convinced Jed makes everything he does look easy, but you'd never know it just by talking to the man
Third is the self-governance. Now I’m no Creek veteran, but the time I have spent there isn’t insignificant, and I’ve never seen law enforcement. This isn’t motivation for me to be wreckless, more an indication that a large(ish) group of people can behave in a sustainable, proper way without patrol and constant supervision. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and there has been much work by our predecessors to make the Creek what it is today, and it strikes me that [most] visitors to this area have an understanding of this, and act in a manner to preserve what we’ve all come to love.
Oh the walls are splendid, and just when you think they're becoming monotonous...
...the vibrance of the golden hour will correct you.
Fourth is the setting: I’ve been to less-stunning places designated National Parks, and the proximity of the Creek to Canyonlands is testament to its beauty: You are climbing in what should be designated a National Park, where each wall is similar, composed of some range of splitter fingers to OW’s, classics and the obscure, but all different in their character, views and experience, set in a backdrop that is visually stunning.
The stately North Six Shooter from another vantage
Fifth is recovery. I descended on the sandstone canyons this year - as I often do - after lots of work. I’m often harangued [or cheered] by family and friends for the paltry amount of time I spend under one roof – or any roof, but especially vivid this year was the quality of rest: I slept better and felt more refreshed after nights in my bivy – being awoken by the sun gracing the North Six Shooter – than by any night spent in the hotels I called home on my frequent work trips this year. The nights are cozy, the meals wholesome and the days physically taxing. The strenuousness of crack climbing and tranquility of desert life is a contradictory recipe for both strength and recharging that is annually welcome and addicting.
A stunning line...along with marks of triumph and despair
There are many more subtleties, but those are the big ones from my perspective. Ian was the main catalyst – as he has been for the last couple years – easily herding the rest of us with a digital invite for rocktober. With a core cemented and Luke and McKenzie anchoring a large site at the Super Bowl, the exponential nature of human growth began: friends and friends of friends came and went over the course of weeks, each adding something positive to the group and expanding the network of climbers and crag partners from their sliver of the world.
...and beauty below
Because of the popularity and uniqueness of the place your network gets even bigger when you get to the crag and find similar posses, and it’s here when you discover how seemingly small the climbing community can be: successful name games, rendezvous’ with rock-loving colleagues from years past and disparate domestic or international destinations. Jed did a
on how the people situation transpired this year, and I can only attest to how much fun it is to see both new and old faces united by common themes, and energized by the breathtaking environment.
"Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking
When it comes to the climbing, one of the parts I liked the most this year was how in 10 total days at the Creek, I only visited two crags I had been to before – and they were so good, stacked with so many good climbs, I barely noticed – so this year, the ‘exploration’ piece continued. I’m often guilty of ‘loving something to death,’ and I’m trying not to allow that occurrence with the Creek and as I think back, I can call this year a success. I took some whippers, hung, top-roped, sent, on-sighted, backed off a multi-pitch and perhaps most frequently – was humbled. Saying that only brings a smile to my face, and thankfully, a quiet and growing desire to go back is already manifesting.
The Corona arch is more than worth the hike
Climbing was restricted to traditional and long weekends as work beckoned, but that meant the week was filled with the other options available to a visitor to Moab. Early telecons with other ends of the Earth meant afternoons were to myself, and I took advantage of it. Road biking, amateur photography and even trail running were both welcome diversions allowing my gobies to heal in between splitter sessions. I had a work trip in the middle of the Utah sojourn this year keeping things fresh, but what I find interesting was how this year – more than years’ past, I felt the time appropriate to leave. Like an internal alarm, it felt right to depart, and though the climbing, scenery and camaraderie were delightful, there were no reservations or despondency about leaving the Wingate walls and the Moab Wash in the rearview.
What else do you do in the midwest on bad weather days? Buy a pair of boots! Oh the choices!
I made sure to sneak in a dawn patrol of the Corona Arch and a quick peek in Arches before taking off, but with John Steinbeck over the stereo, the setting sun piercing the windshield, and a brisk boreal breeze making the nose trickle, the departure was right and I heeded the call of “Go west young man,” and on I went, bound for another splendid part of this country: The Sierra Nevada.
Mix things up, and explore new places with an open mind and wide eyes: Only good will come of this...
...just don't forget to never take yourself too seriously