I would have liked a bit more alcohol percentage to calm my nerves, but the local Utah beer still tasted good and the bitterness seemed to match the dust choked desert well. A few hours earlier, high up between the bright sandstone walls of a rarely visited canyon beside the languid Colorado River, I had taken the biggest whipper of my five year climbing career.
After 5 days of climbing in the famed Indian Creek, we had run out of anything new to climb that was below 5.11, and were growing a little weary of the morning ritual of waiting in a lineup of similarly dirty climbers for the pleasure of the only toilet seat in the area cheerily referred to as cell block 1. Stopping in Moab for a quick resupply and a cold outdoor shower, we had something more remote in mind. A small side note at the back of the Indian Creek guidebook mentioned nondescriptly “If you find yourself jonesing for bouldering or off the beaten track obscurities: the list below should provide some entertainment.” This sounded just right and had the approval of some of our fellow campmates who had climbed in the area a few years earlier.
Twenty or so miles down the 279, we picked a canyon which matched the vague description as well as could be expected. With the lack of any kind of route descriptions, it didn’t really matter which canyon we chose as any climbing would be the truest form of on sighting anyways. Weaving through angular orange blocks and rugged juniper trees, we made our way towards the vertical wingate sandstone cliffs, orange fissures splitting the blank wall of black desert varnish in perfect skyward geometry.
Deciding on one of the beautiful cracks which looked 5.10ish, I opted for the first lead of the day. Plugging too much gear into the parallel sided crack as per usual, I reached a ledge 10 meters up, using my last red #1 cam. Reaching as high as possible to place a gold #2, I chalked up to climb through a slight overhang to a secondary widening crack system. Climbing a few meters past my last piece of protection, I jabbed at a sloping, pinchy hold and was air born. Before I knew I was falling, I thudded hip first onto the narrow ledge, bounced, and came to a stop at a cam which had walked to the outer edge of the crack, but still held.
“Are you ok??” Rob yelled.
“Ya, I think so.” I replied in a shaky voice.
I clambered back up onto the ledge, not wanting to hang on the gold cam wedged in the gritty sandstone any longer than I had to. Despite the force of a 7 meter fall, the cam hadn’t moved a centimeter which was reassuring. I checked myself over and apart from a patch of road rash on my forearms, I felt alright. Again I climbed past my saving piece of protection, but with the adrenalin coursing through my veins, I nearly lunged past the sloping handhold and sped up the last 20 meters of the climb.
We climbed a few more stunning cracks and corners that day, but I was happy to second the pitches as my leg stiffened and throbbed. Even back at camp hours later, I was still buzzing from my fall. I had always wondered about the holding power of sandstone, and although I was sore and would still stitch the cracks of the following days with too much gear, it was a great confidence booster knowing that I could fall on gear in obscure, gritty desert cracks.
- March 2010