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Welcome to Rocktober in Indian Creek, Utah

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Nestled on the southern edge of Canyonlands National Park, Needles District is a land that, until recently, was hard to tell where you were.

Today, this is the crack climbing promised land.

The season to get off the ground: The author casting shadows while climbing one of the countless perfect cracks in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo-courtesy Luke Mehall

By Luke Mehall

Even five years ago there were no signs for this place that is now known world wide as Indian Creek. Today “The Creek” is included in America’s newest national treasure, Bears Ears National Monument, designated late last year.

For many, this landscape — a series of sandstone walls and towers — was simply on the way to Canyonlands, where more intricate formations and geology awaited. But for the last 40 years, to climbers, this landscape has been “the ultimate,” a vast landscape to explore and recreate to their heart’s content.
A feature that makes the first impression to most visitors is Newspaper Rock, a compilation of petroglyphs, or rock art, from the ancestral Puebloans, who used to live and hunt within this landscape. Though there are petroglyphs all over Indian Creek and Bears Ears, these are some of the most accessible; they are right off of the road. A quick stop will spark the curious mind to wonder the meaning of these drawings, some made over a thousand years ago, still preserved in the Wingate Sandstone.

While the desert environment of Indian Creek can be hot and harsh in summer months, climbers flock there in spring and fall, and some even during winter months, when weather can be temperamental. Plus, you never know what you’ll find off the beaten path. Photo- courtesy Luke Mehall

Going down the road, one might expect these canyons to be barren and devoid of life, but there’s more than just stone and sky. Wild turkeys roam the valley floor. Above, the Peregrine falcon, one of the fastest birds on the planet, flies at speeds of up to 240 miles an hour. Hopping from rock to rock are colorful collared lizards, spiders and snakes. Scorpions await the unsuspecting visitor at every turn.
Though barren, Indian Creek has a long history of ranching, and still today the Redd family continues that tradition. Their cattle and horses graze all over the valley, in a tradition that was here long before the visitors came. The Redd family has worked with the Nature Conservancy to secure both their interests as well as that of the recreationists who increasingly enjoy the area.

While many of Indian Creek’s more popular routes are “hands”, hand width cracks you can slide your fingers and hands into with ease,  others are narrow tests of finger strength and tolerance for discomfort. Here skill and strength come with experience. Photo-courtesy Luke Mehall

Atop that list of users are the climbers. Each spring and fall rock climbers from all across the world descend into the canyon to test themselves on the unique parallel cracks, of which there are thousands. Walls span miles of the canyon, offering such cracks, that vary in size — some swallow your entire body, some you can squeeze only your fingertip into or the edges of your shoes onto. While there are other crack climbing areas in the world, none can match the perfection of those here, in Indian Creek.

Tim Biggert reaching the summit of South Six Shooter, one of a handful of towers in Indian Creek. North Six Shooter can be seen in the distance. Photo – courtesy Tim Biggert

In addition to perfect “splitters,” as climbers call them, there is a variety of towers, the most prominent of those the North and South Six Shooters. One can only imagine those towers being named by an explorer or cowboy back in the day and nding the name aptly tting. The Bridger Jacks, a series of seven connected towers, are also popular among climbers.

In the summer and winter the climbers mostly vacate, leaving behind a quiet place once again. Even in the busy season this landscape is so vast, like many places in the Colorado Plateau, a quiet corner can always be found if you know where to look. But that knowing, and learning,  can take decades;  the desert only gives up its secrets with dedication and devotion.

Indian Creek is perfect for climbing, and though it may seem tame compared to other desert locales, it’s a vastly wild place, full of creatures and history. And, if nothing else, simply knowing that all this exists on the way to another national treasure, Canyonlands National Park, is worth it on it’s own.

Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and the author of the memoir American Climber.

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