Dirt. Red dirt everywhere.
Every surface, every crevice, everywhere.
Hands caked in dirt, blood, tape residue, and that inexplicably impossible-to-wash-off black grime that only comes from days of climbing without access to running water.
Cold mornings, spiderwebs of frost etched on the windshields of the various Tacomas, Subarus, and vans parked around the campsite.
Mornings in the Creek are leisurely affairs. Few people are up and moving before the water boils and the coffee starts flowing. Hands pass around a guidebook, the pages smudged with pen, and dog-eared to mark the day’s destination.
Despite the increase in popularity of sport climbing and the increasing number of climbers who got their start in the gym, I believe the soul of American climbing still lives in places like Yosemite and the Desert (yes, capital D. There may be multiple deserts, but only one Desert in climbing), places steeped in a history of exploration, bold lines, and adventure.
Sunset from the summit of Castleton Tower, outside of Moab. Castle Valley has some of the best tower climbs in the desert. (photo by Matt Zia)
Although many of my formative climbing trips occurred in Indian Creek, this fall was the first time I didn’t have school on the schedule, so fellow Blister reviewer Hannah Trim and I packed up the Honda Element with every cam we owned and took off for the splitter cracks, endless stars, and wide open spaces of the Creek for a month and a half of climbing.
Even when stacked up against places like Joshua Tree or Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Creek has a wildness about it that’s found in few other places. There is no cell service in the canyon, and no water. The only buildings are primitive outhouses, and the closest town is Monticello, about 30 miles away. (Moab is 60 miles.)
The most important thing about the Creek is the gear. Pull an FDR and, “beg, borrow, and steal every [cam you can find].”
In other words, bring your friends, both kinds. If your friends don’t want to come, plunder their rack and buy them a six-pack for being so generous. The splitter, perfectly parallel cracks of the Creek require the most absurd collection of cams imaginable. For example, “Tricks are For Kids”, a 180-foot Steve Hong classic requires somewhere in the realm of 12-16 cams in the #.75 C4 range (and also clocks in at 5.13). “Supercrack of the Desert”, perhaps the most climbed route at the Creek at a more reasonable 5.10+ requires approximately 6-8 #3 C4’s. So grab those cams!
If attempting a Creek trip with an inadequate rack is the easiest way to not climb anything, leaving the water jugs at home is the second easiest. I’ve found a five gallon container will last approximately four days for two people, so unless you want to make the hour drive to town to get water, bring a bunch, then bring even more.
This is the desert, remember? Expect hot days, cold nights, and all manner of wind. Like most of the US, the fall is the best time to be in the Creek, and October is generally ideal.
Earlier in the season, plan on chasing shade most of the day, and later, limit yourself to the sunny south-facing walls (which happens to be most of the Creek).
That said, I have seen freezing cold days in September, and have climbed in a t-shirt in the shade in November. Every day is different.
The spring is also a fantastic time for a visit. Generally, the weather is almost as good and the crowds are fewer, but be ready for days on end of cold wind, thin sun through the clouds, and lots of shivering.
Headed to Indian Creek.
As far as climbing destinations go in the US, Indian Creek is pretty far out. Although Moab has an airport, you’ll pay an arm and a leg to fly in there. If you’re planning on flying, Salt Lake City is the closest major airport, about five hours away. Denver is a solid eight hours, same with Las Vegas. If you have the resources, driving is your best bet.
From the north, take exit 182 on I-70 to US-191 south to Moab, or if you prefer the scenic route, exit 204 to Utah 128 aka River Road to Moab. Once you hit Moab, keep going south about 60 miles to Utah 211; you remembered to fill up on gas in Moab right? 211 takes you down into the heart of Indian Creek Canyon and the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park if you so choose.
From the south, US-191 is again your road, albeit a wilder and more remote drive than from the north. The major difference is you’ll want to get gas and water in Monticello rather than Moab.
Hotels? Ha! Hope you brought your tent.
There are four major options for camping in the Creek, all with different characters. Creek Pasture and Superbowl campgrounds are the most developed, with picnic tables, pit toilets, fire rings, and a message board. They’re also the easiest to access, no 4WD required, and as such, tend to be the most crowded and most rambunctious at night. Further afar are Cottonwood Creek and Bridger Jack campgrounds. Both have primitive car camping (if that’s a thing) at its best. No tables, latrines, and rock, not metal, fire rings. Keep in mind road access though. My first trip to the Creek I got my Volvo 850 wagon into the Bridger Jacks campground without bottoming out, but I know multiple people who’ve torn open oil pans and popped tires on the road, granted while driving a Toyota Prius.
At the moment, all four campgrounds are free to stay at, but the rumor is that will likely change this coming year. The BLM is reportedly considering implementing a nominal fee at Superbowl and Creek Pasture while Bridger Jacks and Cottonwood Creek will remain free. I will update this as more information is available.