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Up the Creek

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
After 20 years of climbing in Indian Creek, Black Diamond Ambassador Chris Schulte finally set out to explore the boulders that had been calling to him for years. And with each new line he climbed, he realized more and more the importance of protecting the delicate ecosystem that allows for such incredible movement.

After 20 years of climbing in Indian Creek, walking, looking around and up and fiddling about on the smaller lines, all the key elements began to come together last spring. A dedicated group of friends and I decided to come and finally have a go at the things I’d been spinning tales of for years. With a good pile of pads and plenty of bacon, we set to cleaning and climbing on things that had always caused me little shivers and doubts: Is the rock good up there? Will the holds run out? We’re miles from the nearest hospital! Will I get bored and flip my lid out here?

As it turns out, the bouldering is outstanding. World-class. My favorite shapes and styles, my favorite stone and damn do I love the desert. But now, a year and over a hundred new lines later, the questions rattling around in my head have shifted. What will come next? How will we take care of this place? Where do we fit in?

Climbers have been incredibly fortunate in the Creek. We’ve worked with the Access Fund, Friends of Indian Creek, the BLM and others to help legitimize our presence as a growing and conscious user group. We’ve built trails, defined campsites, gained a parking lot at the most trafficked area and built pit toilets. We’ve set the bar pretty high for the way to behave in this fragile environment.

Indian Creek is the example of a delicate area. There are numerous user groups and agencies with interests across the board. Traffic can be high. The soil is held down to the ground by an ancient symbiotic relationship we call the Crypto that takes between 50 and 100 years to establish itself. The weather is extreme—from death-valley hot to planet-Hoth cold, sometimes swinging that pendulum in as little as 24 hours. There are coyotes, mountain lions, wild turkeys, owls, blackbirds and hawks. I’ve even seen a young golden eagle out sailing about, its great pale eyes scanning the sage for rabbits and stragglers from the armies of mice. The winds can blow away the world, and the rains wash it all down the canyon to the river. The snow can pile a foot deep in just a few hours. The creek can freeze up, then thaw with a sudden melt and rush of water, stranding you up Beef Basin for the day.

Our place as climbers in the Creek has historically been one of relative freedom: We have the open air, miles of cliff and thousands of cracks. We stand atop the talus at the base of each climb and set out on long, airy pitches that devour every cam we can scrounge. At the chains we whoop, with all that air beneath, all the way down to the valley floor. The days are a sequence: park the car, walk the trail up the hill to the cliff base and climb.

But with the blocks and boulders, things are a bit different. They’re everywhere. They spread across grassy flats, collect on high benches, choke gullies and gather on high hillsides. You can’t just charge out across the sage to get there; that’s not how we’re going to play this one. Instead, you walk the drainages, follow the cattle trails, walk single-file.

Boulderers should think of it this way: Picture yourself in Hueco, on tour. But there are no cops, no rangers stopping by. There are remnants of an ancient civilization all around, and nothing is closed, save for the private land. You respect that land and keep out of the neighbor’s yard.

If we want to keep things free and easy in the Creek, we must be a step ahead. Don’t make it easy for Them to shut us down. Let’s show that we can take better care of the place than anyone before us! We’re so lucky to have something like this. We’re so lucky to be able to walk this land, find something that looks great and set-to. Let’s keep it that way.

—Chris Schulte


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