Late Season Desert Pilgrimage


After a productive fall not climbing, the desert again seemed to be calling our names. For the past two years I’d heard about the Creeksgiving tradition, a Thanksgiving celebration of friends at Indian Creek in Utah, already one of my favorite places, but had never made my way there to partake in the celebrations. With the plan to again spend some winter weeks climbing at Joshua Tree, the idea of a relatively quick desert tour came into being, out to Utah and Nevada before heading back down to southern California to enjoy some of the only good climbing weather in the country.

Having only climbed at the Creek in the spring, I wasn't surprised to find that the late season would combine with the few thousand feet of altitude to provide some decently cold temperatures. Nights dipping into the teens and twenties were buoyed by bonfires and good friends—Creeksgiving, it turns out, being a tradition that some folks have been putting considerable effort into as an annual tradition for, I believe, the past thirteen years! Many making the drive from Colorado, self appointed event organizers came heavily laden with firewood and cooking supplies, cooking multiple turkeys in pits in the sand and ensuring ample hospitality and holiday merriness for old friends and new alike.

As might be expected in the desert, despite the cold temperatures at night, sun could be chased around the canyons and wonderful climbing conditions could be found on walls packed with world-class crack climbs. After some short months not climbing, however, and with a necessary agenda of slowly getting back into shape, the cold temps and incredibly physical nature of the climbing at the Creek drove us to find rest and warmth elsewhere.

Red Rocks, a huge climbing area just outside Las Vegas, had been a destination I’d known of but never visited. Known for a climbing style quite different from Indian Creek, where climbs often rely on textures and holds on the face of the rock instead of relying solely on cracks, my interest stemmed from the length of the climbing routes instead of their style. While splitters (glorious cracks) rarely exceed 120’ at Indian Creek, its easy to find climbs at almost every grade (difficulty) in Red Rocks that go on for hundreds if not thousands of feet, meandering up the walls of spellbindingly beautiful desert mountains and lending a wandering and alpine style to adventures that departed from much of the desert climbing experience I’d gained.

Working our way up the grades seemed like a safe way to go as it often is when learning the style and personality of a new climbing area. Each route we climbed, whether we sent it to the top in good style or rappelled before we topped out after the last pitch, taught us more about how and when to trust the new and unfamiliar sandstone, how to appreciate its detail and unique qualities both aesthetically and for safety, and how to move more quickly and efficiently to make the most of the limited daylight.

As usual, time flew by and a stretch of colder weather found us climbing short, steep sport routes in sunny alcoves with old friends from climbing areas in Washington state. But as cold temperatures persisted and the long, multi-pitch routes stayed cold and uninviting, it became clear that our jaunt east into the deserts of Nevada and Utah would soon come to an end, the warmer desert of Joshua Tree awaiting our timely arrival.

A thirty second long-exposure captures friends old and new keeping warm by the bonfire under clear, cold skies and watchful desert towers at Indian Creek in southern Utah.

Waking up in desert canyons after a night of Creeksgiving celebration.

Despite the cold, the landscape's effects were nourishing on many levels, bringing moments of profound calm that in themselves can be downright therapeutic. Vinny and Nacho soaking in views of North and South Six Shooter from 2nd Meat Wall at the Creek.

My friend Nacho caught this shot of me working some partial-invert offwidth climbing technique trying to pull the burly and insecure roof of Incisor 5.11- at Broken Tooth Wall. Not exactly the gentle training plan I had in mind, but effective for exercise regardless.

Our campsite as we get ready to turn in for the night down Kane Creek Canyon in Moab, Utah (a campsite that I'd coveted previously but was vacant likely due to the cooler temperatures.)

Mount Wilson, in my mind the proud centerpiece of the humbling array of desert canyons and sandstone mountains that make up Red Rocks National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas.

Mount Wilson at dawn, a display of colors and textures hard to do justice with a picture.

Armed with a new camera, the light bodied but full frame Sony Alpha a7, it was hard not to get carried away trying to capture the intoxicating landscape.

Vinny caught this one of me flaking my rope on the way down from a climb in one of Red Rock's canyons.

Vinny following some fun terrain as we climb multi-pitch routes in Red Rocks.

Waking up and breaking down camp outside Red Rocks at dawn, a pretty fitting time to be taking in the sights.

I thought about posting a picture I took of this route but I decided that I was more excited about the shot Vinny got of me making some of the hard moves on Yaak Crack 5.11c, a steep and powerful but surprisingly manageable climb for the grade.