December 1-2, 2012
I had the great fortune to get a call from Paul Brenner–West Virginian, goat herder, chicken raiser, and climbing hardman–to say that he and Lauren would be travelling to the Southwest rather than Mexico for their annual month-long break from farming. One of their first stops on their trip would be Indian Creek, a short 4ish hour drive from Salt Lake City. Even though the Black Diamond Christmas party at a swanky mansion type place was going on that Friday, Nov. 30th, I decided to skip it and visit with some good friends down in the desert who I hadn’t seen in over a year.
Late Friday I headed out, perhaps around 5:30pm; a little later than I’d hoped but a few things needed to be tidied up at work. On the way out of Salt Lake/Provo area on the Wasatch Front I ran into some traffic. The highways out here are pretty wide, 4-5 lanes in places so it was always moving to some degree. Once passed Provo I was able to open it up. Unlike the Northeast which has lots of people and stuff everywhere, there’s a whole lot of nothing in Utah. This allows for regular state routes to have 65 mph to 80 mph speed limits. This of course means that I’m travelling at 5-10 mph over those. Given that it was night and quite dark I never really opened it up though. Approaching the Creek I had to slow a bit since there are open ranges and a possibility of cows in the road exists.
Pulling off the main road in the Creek, Rt. 211, I headed down the dirt road for Bridger Jack Campground. The campground is little more than an official place to park a car and sleep. There are no amenities, no trash, no structures, no fees, just nothing. Well there are some bitchin’ views of the Bridger Jacks, a tower-esque formation of sandstone. It also has a moderately difficult road to travel to get there. After my Red Rocks incident a few weeks prior, I was hesitant to drive down the road, especially at night. But I figured that I was able to get the WRX through a lot on that trip and this road would be easier from beta I got from Kevin at work. The road did prove to be tricky in some spots but no major hills so a little momentum was all that was necessary to clean the difficult sections. Paul and Lauren were already in the tent, it was about 10 pm when I arrived but they came out and we caught up a bit on things before retiring to our tents.
In the morning we had some breakfast and headed off to the North Sixshooter Tower which is a bit of a haul from Bridger Jack CG. There is also a fairly lengthy dirt road which luckily with their Pathfinder didn’t prove to be very difficult. The side of the tower we decided to approach on isn’t used very often as a result we didn’t find a good trail from where we parked the car to where the tower is. One good thing about the desert is that you can see for miles so we could see where to go, but the down side to the desert is the fragile environment and just ‘shwacking across isn’t the most environmental thing to do. We stuck to sand and rock as much as we could, avoiding the delicate cyanobacteria fungus.
After some scrambling and two talus fields, there the tower is on a plateau and the car was at the bottom of it, we finally reached the base of the tower. The view even from the base was pretty amazing. I’ve commented before but I’ll do it again, the scenes of the west are striking, more so than most on the East Coast. I think the only thing that might compare is a brilliant autumn day with all the foliage bursting.
If the view was this good at the base it’ll be even better at the top, eh? Lauren decided on a rest day and left the climbing to Paul and I. We chose Lightning Bolt Cracks (5.11) a classic line up the Eastern-ish side of the tower. The first pitch starts as a finger sized crack but quickly widens to a little big near the top of the 100 ft pitch. Paul lead this one as I’m still not in shape to lead that difficulty, especially at the Creek. The pitch had some good moves and a tricky finish around a bulge.
The second pitch was still tricky and had a traverse which was nice. The difficult portion of the second pitch was a chimney section which I found very awkward and difficult. This type of climbing continues to be my worst.
P2 ends at a great belay. The ledge isn’t large, it is a little awkward for even two people but it has amazing position. I was about 150+ft off the deck, and many hundreds off the desert floor. The ledge is just a little triangle of jutting out into nothing, superb. Paul continued up the third pitch as I wasn’t feeling the lead, even on the lower rating of this section. This turned out to be a good idea. From the belay there is a bombay chimney (flaring downwards so it is wider on the bottom than the top) which then pulls up a small roof. That part went down with out much trouble. The next portion of rock from there is very slippery and sandy as the quality of the rock degrades up this high. Following that is a squeeze chimney that I found very difficult. It was just a little too small for my long arms to really push myself up. Very little protection as well. Thanks Paul! From the summit we were awarded some amazing views of the valley.
After another shorter climb that I lead, truly onsight since it wasn’t on Mountain Project, we headed back to camp. I’ve been fed many times by Paul and Lauren or her parents so it was time for me to give back. I brought some curry paste, veggies, and rice. Unfortunately I forgot to bring the coconut milk so it wasn’t quite the full gourmet I was hoping for. Nonetheless it tasted great and hit the spot.
Sunday we brought both cars to the road since I’d be leaving in the afternoon. For more of a cragging day where Paul could really try something hard we went to Scarface Wall. This crag is great as it has a short approach and a bunch of climbs. Typical to the Creek there isn’t anything less than a 5.10 or so but that’s fine. I figured that I was getting used to the length and difficulty of Creek cracks so I decided I’d lead the warmup. The climb I chose was the route farthest to the left on the wall, an unnamed 5.10. I loaded up what I thought would be a sufficient number of cams and moved up. Off the ground the crack was #.75-1 camalot sized. This isn’t my strongpoint so I quickly moved through it to get to the #2 size. From here I started to get a bit tired because there weren’t any stances. I kept moving and realized that I’d run out of the #2 and #3’s I had and the crack only kept getting wider to wide #3 size. So I started bumping pieces and leapfrogging them. This completely wiped me out so I had to end up hanging on the rope. I wouldn’t call it a fall on gear just yet since I was only about a 1 ft above the last piece. This cycle of bump and hang repeated until I was after the changing corner on the pitch, which was quite wide, wide fist for me. Clipping the chains I was glad it was over–and it was only 60ft. I have a long way to go before I’m leading much here.
Lauren went up next and had a difficult time since her small hands quickly turned to fists then wide fists, then a bit off-width. I felt better when I saw her hand a couple times :-). Paul then launched into it and predictably had no trouble, though he did complain that fists were not his thing.
Next up was Scarface (5.11). This picturesque line has the Bridger Jacks and the Sixshooter towers behind it. The position is great and the climb is as well. The route starts as #.75-1, perhaps a little smaller even. From here the crack goes into dead vertical #2’s, which are normally a great size for me. However endurance and technique are the name of the game in the Creek. After about 50ft of #2’s (hands) I got tired. Seeing the only stance on the route about 10 ft above–a block with a good foot hold–I kept going and suppressed the pain in my feet and cramps in my hands. Finally I got there and was able to shake out and recover a bit. From here there is still another 50ft or so, luckily it gets a little easier as there are stemming options on the right wall. It is one amazing route, classic for sure. I’m looking forward to leading it clean at some point.
To finish up my day I followed, Not That Funny (5.12) which Paul put up. FINALLY I got to see Paul fail at something. No big whippers unfortunately but still it was nice to see him get stumped by a route. The route had tight hands to a roof, around the roof the corner changed to a right facing one. Pulling around this roof and bulge was the crux for sure. Very difficult feet because of the roof and the hands suck because the crack is #.75 sized. Once around the roof I was able to blast through the next 15-20 feet by laying it back and forgetting about messing with the straight in crack technique. I think this is definitely the beta for that section too. Paul wasn’t quite able to get it clean on top rope, but close.
We all hiked out at this point, perhaps around 3 pm. Not a ton of pitches, but they were tough and I was worked for sure. I was great seeing some good friends from the East and climbing in a beautiful area. Paul and Lauren’s next few weeks sounded pretty awesome with Red Rocks, Zion, and J-Tree, all on the list. Hope they have fun!