I arrived at Indian Creek this year after much anticipation. These sandstone walls and canyons in the desert of southern Utah changed my life last year without a doubt. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken so quickly to something as I have to climbing the cracks here, nor found the same enjoyment and satisfaction that they’ve brought me.
Little did I know when I first arrived last year, this place is home to some of the highest concentration of quality crack climbs on the planet. Abutting Canyonlands National Park, the Creek is mainly a destination for itinerant ‘dirtbag’ climbers and has remained a paradise for them, lightly regulated and relatively undeveloped in the face of otherwise massive tourism numbers in the area. It also happens to be spectacularly beautiful, something I’m reminded of daily in a way that makes me feel like a little kid on an epic adventure.
The length and seemingly laser-cut precision of the sandstone cracks necessitates more climbing gear than any individual climber might amass on their own, offering incentive to team up, sharing gear and adding close community to the fun of the climbing experience.
The climbing here could keep me entertained for months on end (assuming ample rest days – the climbing here is extremely phyical). But the windows of perfect weather, between the cold winter months and the scorching temperatures of summer, leave fall and spring full of long days dialing techniques for climbing cracks of all shapes and sizes, many of which are incredibly beautiful formations not just to the climber’s eye.
The past months have found me alternating between enthusiasm and frustration with my photography. Stalling out in a continuous learning curve and running up against the limits of my technology (and budget) left me in a place to reconsider what photography means to me, and whether or not I should continue to invest my time and money on photography going forward.
I’ve concluded, however, in the course of much consideration, that trying to capture and share the moments in my life that bring me genuine wonder and appreciation for the world brings me deep satisfaction. With that in mind, I’ve inveseted in a new camera - my first full frame DSLR - and tried to renew my enthusiasm for shooting the things that inspire me, these days of course with climbing high on the list.
While climbing has been one of the main drivers behind my travels this past year, (there will be many climbing pictures to come – worry not), to me the context of the time spent climbing is equally important. The friends, communities, adventures and incredible places that come along with a life chasing fun outdoors and new experiences seem to take precedent even over the final goal of roping up and sending the climb, and those memories do well to justify whatever doubt, hardship or expense that inevitably comes along.
This place feels otherworldly to me. The canyons and windgate sandstone buttresses of Indian Creek, Utah.
The Creek Pasture campground, a place I get to call home for a few weeks a year. Few places enjoy the sense of community felt at Creek Pasture, where climbers come from around the country and around the world to enjoy the crack climbing at the Creek.
Exploring systems of canyons on a rest day, we came across a guy down from Washington state, out in his vintage Willy's Jeep enjoying the desert thoroughly in his solitude.
In a more modern equivalent, we head away from the cattle ranchers and into the empty canyons beyond to soak up the desert's tranquil beauty.
My good friend Khash, who I met at the Creek last year, tends a climbing rope at the base of a climb. Khash, who will be featured heavily in climbing shots to come, manages the amazing balance of being wonderfully laid back - until it come time to climb with fierce determination.
Spring loaded camming devices - better known as cams - are the mechanical solution to an otherwise dangerous problem: how to engineer a system that protects the climber in the event of inevitable falls. Spring loaded lobes retract with a trigger to then expand inside the crack, creating removable anchors that the climber clips their rope in to as they move upward on a lead climb.
Crack climbing requires the development of a unique and demanding set of techniques that are learned through trial, error and the inevitable sacrifices of skin and ego. Vinny, despite learning with impressive speed, amassed his own collection of 'gobies' - climber slang for the ubiquitous skin abrasions that come with the struggles against sandstone. (Note his 'watch' - symbolic of a common understanding of the schedule and philosophical context of climbing in the desert.)
Vinny's tools of the trade. In an effort to slow the collection of gobies, Creek climbers tape the backs of their hands to protect their skin from the abrasions of handjams - a cupping of the hand to create oppositional force inside the crack as a means of holding on.
Each day in the desert is a treat: a sensory experience that left me in wonder of the natural processes that created this incredible playground. The Bridgerjack formations at left, and North and South Six Shooter to the right - desert tower formations that themselves feature exciting climbing and contribute to the unique backdrop of Indian Creek.
Another rest day activity, the talented Vinny garnered a reputation around the campground for his skills giving stick 'n poke tattoos.
My good friend Danny was the proud recipient of a beet on his thigh which here awaits some colorful finishing touches.
Above all, in addition to world class cracks (more on that later...), memories from the Creek feature good times with good friends centrally, whether during full moon hikes in Canyonlands National Park or lounging around camp, useless from sheer exhaustion and gorged on dollar store girl scout cookies...