Desert Cragging, UTAH
Indian Creek, Potash Road (Wall St), Naturita
April 6-10, 2004
Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton, Matt Alford (Will, Jared, Kelly, Kristen)
.... after a long winter of skiing and partying Telluride natives need a vacation. Many use Mom and Dad's money to head for exotic, tropical locales such as Mexico and Costa Rica. I prefer the desert. Most associate 'desert' with dead, dry and boring. However, some of my fondest childhood memories involve the Desert Southwest (Sandstone Southwest, Canyon Country), and after last year's road trip with Matt, my love of the desert was again renewed. You can have your warm, tropical beaches, but for me and my thin wallet, I'll take the desert.
.... just south of Moab, UT near the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP is the desert's finest cragging area, Indian Creek. Its buttresses and canyons are truly a paradise of cracks. Splitter cracks perfectly laser beamed into Wingate Sandstone are so numerous that God himself must have had crack on his mind when he designed these cliffs. The effect of the crack here is addicting.
|THE THUNDER ROLLS Anvil cloud forming near SuperCrack Buttress|
.... two days after the lifts closed our convoy of dubious characters made the three hour drive to the Creek. Only Jared, Matt and myself knew which end of a camalot was up. Some didn't even know how to pee in the out-of-doors. Before we had even sorted our gear, Kristen, a southern gal with a heart of gold, but an outdoor IQ of zero left her mark on Jared's vehicle. "Hey y'all. I just peed on Jared's tire. Didn't know how to do it, so I just lifted my leg and did it like a dog." We searched for the easiest climb on the cliff.
|EXPERT CLIMBERS Matt, Will, Jared, Kelley, Kristen trying to find the cliffs.|
.... as beautiful as these cracks are, it is no place to learn how to climb. Stories abound of 5.11 sport climbers getting spanked by the steep and relentless cracks of Indian Creek. We started on the famed Supercrack Buttress with Twin Cracks, the easiest route in the area. Only Jared, Matt or I would be able to lead, but none of us had climbed rock since October. When nobody else feels like climbing there's only one thing to do - give the rack to the Redhead. Everyone in the group, including Kristen got up the climb, so we moved to where Matt had selected the next climb (unnamed). It wasn't long, but the splitter off-width was extremely difficult. Pulling on cams Matt was able to set a toprope, for the rest of us to flail on.
|CRACKHEAD Matt struggles up another crack. To see a sequence of this difficult climb click here.|
.... our second day, Wednesday, only Matt, Jill, Will and I remained from the original group. Upon reaching our selected climb in Donnelly Canyon the skies opened slamming us with with a downpour. The only thing to do was make the drive to Moab. Matt was shocked by my decision to pay for restaurant food (to see an example why, click here), however he gladly accepted my offer to pick up the bill. We downed a couple of Mormon 3.2's - may God forgive them - and headed back to the soggy desert.
.... camping was 'primitive', dirty, and lacking in facilities. On the positive side, there were no rangers, Winnebago's, or fees. Not sure you can really call it a 'campground' as it lacks anything one would associate with the amenities of campgrounds. Nonetheless, Bridger Jack Campground is a rough dirt track through BLM land, that from my observations, is the preferred camping spot for dirtball climbers visiting the area. We camped near the end of the road close to our nearest neighbor, Jeffrey Dahmer. His name turned out to be Alf, but before becoming acquainted Jill was certain that any inspection of his camper would reveal dismembered corpses. Friendly and eccentric by just about anyone's standards, Alf told stories of the old west and the coming revolution at our campfire, while dispelling any notion Jill had that he was a cannibal.
|GOD'S PROMISE Like Noah, the Almighty signals the end to this week's desert rains.|
|FINGER LICKIN' GOOD Jill licks the remains of the Adam's Peanut Butter off Matt's finger at the Bridger Jack Camp.|
.... nothing would prove to be easy. I started up a short 5.8 crack and ran out of cams after 20 feet. Matt had to lower off Generic Crack, a perfect handcrack that takes all the same pieces, to retrieve more gear. No effort was dedicated to maintaining good style. Matt walked cams, pulled on gear, and taped his forearms. When not cheating we bled, belched and farted our way through the cruxes.
|PATH TO HEAVEN Crack seems to meet blue sky on this long pitch.|
|ATTENTIVE BELAY Will keeps one hand on the brake while Matt ascends Generic Crack.|
.... a star was born in the desert. With total disregard for her new pedicure Jill cammed, jammed and grunted her way to the top of nearly everything the boys climbed on just her third day of rock climbing. Even more impressive than her mastery of a male dominated sport was her ability to adapt to the dirtball aspects of climbing life. Think it's easy to take care of business in the woods? Well, try it in the desert. Try squatting behind a dead cactus.
... just by looking down a climber can instantly realize his own mortality. Matt often tells his devout Christian mother that climbing puts him closer to God than she'll ever get in church. One night over a perfect desert campfire Matt declared his wishes if something dreadful were to happen while climbing. It may not sound like a typical funeral service, but I think it fits his personality. "Please, no open caskets, no crying and no preaching. I'd prefer a celebration. A couple of kegs and a slide show. I don't want my body buried and cremation is a waste. After the slide show grind me up and feed me to the coyotes." Not sure if his mother, Chris, will approve, but these are Matt's wishes.
.... on our final day of climbing we left Indian Creek and drove an hour north to Potash Road, otherwise known as Wall Street. Just outside of Moab the spectacular section of road is sandwiched between the Colorado River and steep, 200 foot vertical faces of foreboding sandstone. This roadside crag offers what must be America's shortest approaches - simply park your car next to the desired climb. However, convenience comes at a cost. Instead of rushing rivers and mountain breezes typical of other crags, the climber at Potash Rd hears engines, horns and other sounds of the road. This has to be one of the few places in which the rock climber feels safer climbing than belaying. In addition to the trucks roaring by on their way to the mine there was an unusual abundance of 4x4 Jeeps and their drunken drivers. Not realizing our lousy timing, we were in Moab for the annual Jeep Safari, which from my observations was Moab's attempt to congregate the world's biggest idiots all in one place. Jeeps with 22" lifts and even larger tires rolled and crushed the slickrock country wherever the chance presented itself as their mullet-sporting drivers whooped and hollered with every pull from the whiskey bottle. Somewhere Edward Abbey rolled in his grave.
|WALL STREET Dave gives Matt a roadside belay. Jill Wolverton|
.... the close proximity to the road lends itself to tourist gawking. One old couple, probably grandma and grandpa several times over, looking for some climbers to watch pulled over to where we were climbing. Little did they know what they were about to witness. Better than any zoo animal. An angry redhead pulling a roof. From the safety of their rented Ford Taurus they watched Matt much like they would an exhibit at the zoo lead a scary and difficult roof. The pitch started with a mellow corner, but as he started the roof the grade picked up causing the Redhead to grunt like an overworked mule. A lizard darted effortlessly up the cliff. "Fuck you lizard." From this point Matt launched into a savage, expletive laced tirade as he desperately struggled to pull the roof. Grandma and grandpa covered their ears in horror and rolled up the windows of the Taurus. Despite their horror they stayed and watched. This was too good to miss. Matt continued valiantly upward finally pulling the roof after only one leader fall. Grandma and grandpa "ooohed, and aaaawed" and gave Matt an ovation before speeding off in the Taurus.
|ALL ARMS, LEGS, AND RECEDING HAIRLINE A rare picture of Dave climbing. Jill|
|DANGLING Matt works the crux of the roof.|
.... the wounds weren't as bad as those inflicted at Joshua Tree last year, but then again, we didn't have as much time. Skin was missing from much of Matt's left arm, as well as from the knees and other portions of his legs. Nothing was broken, but it was still enough to make the average person lose his appetite. Celebrating the end of a good week we pulled into the Moab Pub and Brewery and found ourselves waiting outside with the rest of the crowd. Matt, uninhibited as usual thought this the opportune time to take care of his climbing inflicted abrasions. Paying no attention to the crowd or Jill and I standing beside him, he stripped down to his underwear. Most use a cotton swab to dab wounds with hydrogen peroxide, however most abrasions don't cover your entire body. Matt turned the bottle of hydrogen peroxide upside down and dowsed himself. For me it was like being back in the chemistry lab watching the reactions - hissing and fizzing as the liquid disinfectant met scar - take place all over Matt's body. For the crowd waiting for a table it was pure entertainment watching the mostly naked Redhead dance and squeal like a savage around the parking lot.
|DESERT SCABS 2004 Another hard spring break for the Redhead. Last year's wounds.|
.... before the ski season ended Jill and I snuck away for our first desert trip. Driving west from Telluride the landscape becomes more desert-like and just before passing the La Sal Mtns my guidebook notes a climbing area just a few miles off the road past the town of Naturita. Needing all the clearance the Toyota offered we arrived the bottom of the hill with a giddy feeling in our stomachs. Perhaps it was just our first time rock climbing this year, but more likely this ecstatic feeling came from our surroundings. Dead snags, sandstone rock, the mountains of the La Sal and San Juan in either direction - complete solitude. Judging from the road it is likely this place goes weeks without seeing climbers.
.... there are no cliffs, just very large boulders strewn on top of a hill. Climbs are short, approximately 50 feet, but above average in quality. Real life cracks as well as good face climbing abounds on the light colored, gritty Dakota sandstone. Overcome with spring fever we enjoyed climbing several routes in our t-shirts and shorts while the sun baked our backs. Views on top of the hill were outstanding, particularly those looking back towards the San Juans, where the trained eye could make out the ski slopes of the Telluride resort. The highlight occurred while, thinking we were alone, a real-life cowboy herded his cattle past the crag in the valley below. If not for our climbing gear it felt like we were part of a scene from the Wild West.
|Jill all smiles after devouring an open-faced peanut butter and honey following a day of rock climbing.|
|Working out the moves on the day's first climb.|
|Dave looking back towards Wilson Peak and Telluride. Jill|
-written May 2004