When my friend Mark Nieport told me that he and a band of Oklahoma State University students were embarking on a crack climbing trip to Utah’s famed Indian Creek in late winter, I hesitated. I wondered if swapping skiing at Alta for climbing sandstone fins was wise. Mark sold the adventure well, promising beautiful weather and… female climbers. Did I really want to trade fat skis and epic conditions for dynamic rope and ascenders? Yet, joining fun-loving dirt baggers in the desert for five days of all-out crack climbing sure sounded like the right way to spend spring break.
Ok, I was in.
At camp, the full moon began illuminating the Bridger Jack Mesa. The air cooled. The wind picked up sand, depositing it in my tent. Our party of 18 started planning the weeks’ climbs. Forget skiing or Daytona Beach. The party was going to be here—every route sounded more intriguing than the next.
The sun did not warm the canyon floor until 11 a.m. the first morning. Toasting bagels and sipping coffee around a small fire helped get us in the mood. The excitement of racking cams and tightening tape gloves got a buzz going in camp.
We made for Donnelly Canyon. Here, the classic climbs Battle of the Bulge and Supercrack Buttresses guarded the entrance. Orange and red walls met blue sky. We walked along the sandy trail until the cracks Elephant Man and Chocolate Corner, spaced only a few yards apart, enticed the 11 of us. The party was on. Leading Elephant Man, Daniel “Danada” Bullock, began spidering up the flaky route. Jamming his hands into the narrow crack, the Canadian made it look easy as crows soared above the desert floor. OSU grad student Robert Elliot’s first cam placement in Chocolate Corner began a virtual time-lapse of climbers scurrying up the walls. The morning was finally warm. This was damn fun.
The afternoon stayed warm and climbing on Supercrack Buttress was even better than we had hoped. Everybody had big smiles, including a chihuahua who joined the group. Smooth and calm, Chase Webb jammed with contagious enthusiasm on Incredible Hand Crack, pushing us to climb harder. Later, we watched Robert make his way gracefully up Swedin-Ringle crack, the afternoon light casting long shadows on the tangerine walls. It was too late to try the route, so we popped open beers and gazed in admiration as Robert cleaned the line rappelled down. Day one was in the books.
Day two was even better. We chose to start at Scarface Buttress, where ruggedly soft Sara Moore reached into the azure sky, having a blast as she clawed her way up Scarface on top rope. “The exposure is breathtaking,” Sara panted. “My friends don’t understand why I shove hands and toes into cracks to make them bleed. I tell them, go to Indian Creek, get half way up a climb and just look out—you will understand.” That giddiness earned her ample high fives… and the day’s first beer.
Our last day promised bliss. We planned on notching Sunflower Tower and Anunnaki Cracks and, by now, that knee-deep powder in the Wasatch was no longer calling me. The rock was. I watched Danada and Mark slowly disappear into the silence, jetliners buzzing the tower, their voices fading. After three pitches, 250 feet, they descended.
After lunch, I felt absolutely serene on the drive to Optimator Wall, Anunnaki Crack was to be our last climb. As the sun dipped low, mangy OSU-grad Anthony Johnson and confidently strong Kristina Suorsa were the first up the 5.11c lightning-bolt crack. Making the last descent, Danada clapped his hands as fluffy powder from his chalk bag rained down onto us. It was a sign from the skies that our climbing at the Creek was complete.
—Jonathan Ingraham is a multimedia specialist and adventurer living in Colorado. He co-owns Everything Sports Media in Lakewood and is working on various sports stories about Colorado athletes.