During some cold weeks of this winter a friend gave me my second book to read by Edward Abbey, a cultural icon of the American West and the deserts found in the four corners of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. His deep love for the desert conjured a yearning for its unique and solemn landscape, its starkness and beauty that I had come to know in other forms during previous travels in the Middle East. To be traveling in the states, however, and to be faced with the vast expanses of wild and undeveloped country that make up such a central part of our cultural history, so mythologized in every American childhood no matter how far removed, I couldn’t help but feel a giddy excitement for the adventure to be had exploring places so new and grand, yet known from a young age.
With the approach of spring and the early development of plans for the warmer months, I was struck by the feeling of a imminent surge in momentum toward the adventures that I’d longed for in the outdoors and a beginning of their realization in earnest. As an outdoorsman, a climber and a whitewater kayaker, and to some extent too as a mountain biker, I felt as though I was just scratching the surface of the real fun to be had, with my skills and experience likewise those of an amateur. With this trip in part a concerted effort to delve deeper into those lives and activities, the approach of the spring and summer seemed to mark a turn toward the paths I’ve been seeking, and not a bit too soon.
Once the idea had begun to sprout, that I might spend some of the spring in the desert before it got too hot, a friend’s invitation to join for some desert climbing proved to be an introduction for which I couldn’t have even thought to ask. I didn’t know what I was in for. As we crossed the Colorado Rockies, the landscape began to feature red more and more prominently among its rocks, and distant memories began to resurface from a brief trip I took mountain biking almost fifteen years ago, memories that failed to prepare me for the scale and uniqueness of the deserts of the West, particularly those surrounding Moab, Utah. My friend commented that our destination, Indian Creek, was to her the most special place on earth, and very soon I was to discover why.
The feeling of sheer awe and elation I felt descending into the desert canyons on first approach, with sandstone cliffs and towers rising higher on each side as late afternoon sunlight bathed the rocks and plant life with a warm red glow, no doubt was a timely taste of the world I was stepping into. For the next three weeks I was almost entirely unable to leave save for a weekly resupply (and much needed shower in Moab), too thoroughly engrossed in the sandstone crack climbing that consumed every ounce of our energy and almost every hour of the day. An hour from cellphone service, running water or any of the amenities of civilization, life became beautiful in its simplicity, filled only with the challenges and forms presented by nature, the peace and exhaustion of evenings cooking meals over a campfire, and the company of a community of climber that felt as though it grew like a family.
Any one aspect of my time in the desert could fill paragraphs and pages as each unlocks a flood of memories that feel as though they come from an otherworldly dream, whether the rare beauty of the landscape itself, its serene essence that has given way to such profound spirituality throughout time, or my own progression as a climber and the learning necessary to become in any way self sufficient in such an inhospitable environment. The climbing itself, I gathered, is unlike any in the world. This place I had never heard of was in fact a world-renowned destination for climbers, and the friends I made seemed to attest, having arrived at the Creek from far and wide. Colorado’s charming but homogenous communities provided stark contrast to an international community by which I was thrilled to be surrounded, with new friends from Iran, Mexico, Sweden, India, and Canada, not to mention a friend from home that happened to wander into camp unannounced.
After three weeks of climbing I had no choice but to leave the Creek, if only to explore the desert by other means, for the simple reason that my body could no longer continue. Skin, muscles, bones and climbing shoes could no longer be ignored, their complaints all too valid in the face of the stresses of crack climbing day in and day out. That I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike in my weeks around Moab, that I had yet to explore in earnest the immeasurable expanses of desert that still held places like the Grand Canyon, Havasu and Zion, among so many others, spoke simply to all that would remain a mystery (for now) and to the patience and humbleness required to come to know a place of such scale and intensity.
I continued my journey, first to explore more of southern Utah with the welcome help of a visitor (my dad), and then back to Colorado to collect some things and ride some trails of the Western Slope. Time to rest and recuperate has been in high demand as I prepare for my next adventures, to spend June on the rivers of Idaho paddling whitewater in good company. I write this while visiting an old friend in Colorado, where I’ve slept in a building for the first time in almost a month and a half, almost regretfully. Summer approaches and will find me with a feeling of contentment and freedom for which I’ve longed for a very long time.
Cracks of all shapes and sizes, led with traditional gear (placing protective hardware as you climb).
Cams (spring loaded camming devices) in the foreground.
A friend on Scarface (5.11), one of the Creek's iconic routes with the Six Shooter towers in the background.
Me leading Wavy Gravy (5.10).
Me placing gear leading Dos Hermanos (5.11+), the last and hardest route I tried leading at the Creek and was unable to finish.
Exploring in Canyonlands
Exporing out in the desert, seeing no one for days, one finds some pretty interesting places.
Life in the desert, sparse and tough, is especially beautiful.
The setup. Hasn't failed me yet.
Home sweet home, for a night or two.
Mountain bike trails on the Western Slope of Colorado, where the Rockies fade into the desert.