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The Uncertain Future of Indian Creek

Luke Mehall  /  May 24, 2017  /  4 Min Read  /  Climbing

Luke Mehall stands in between the two Shooters. Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Greg Cairns

As I write these words, the future of this place we humans now call Indian Creek is up in the balance. In December of 2016, President Obama designated Bears Ears—in which Indian Creek is located—a national monument under the Antiquities Act. But lawmakers are pushing to rescind this designation in favor of privatization and development. From what I hear, people are proposing roller coasters in the Grand Canyon and changing the names of things in Yosemite. It’s hard to keep up with it all.

I liked the land the way it is was, BLM land where you’re basically free to move around as a climber without overbearing rules and regulations. But you know what, I don’t know how much my opinion really matters. What matters most is that the organization that fights for us, the Access Fund, gets my support, and they advocate the policies that will be best for climbers. There’s a long history of compromise and conservation out in Indian Creek, and the best thing for the land now is protection, well, as far as I can see it at the moment.

I can’t imagine my life without Indian Creek, without that land. I’d have to go on Prozac or something—the desert medicine is necessary to my soul.

When the world drives me crazy, with all the unhinged people and all the violence that we can’t seem to escape, Indian Creek makes me feel sane again. Sometimes I never want to leave, but of course, everyone always has to leave to refuel and resupply. I imagine even the ranchers who live there go to the grocery store. Sometimes I envision spending more and more time out there, but then I realize I need to make a living, and I don’t want to go back to the days when I lived out of a vehicle. It’s just not me. Not right now.

But I like the fantasy, and these days the days seem to go by so fast. My spirit never wants to leave. And I guess it doesn’t because here I am, typing away, drifting, back to the Creek.

Photo: Andrew Burr

Nick Berry climbs The Cleaner. Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Andrew Burr

Always, like always, it’s about the climbing. Those are the best moments, and when you think of the grand scale of time and the history of climbing, Indian Creek becomes so exciting and fresh because it is so new. No, we aren’t the first group of climbers; any research on the ancient people of the red rock lands will show that they reached perches and places that demanded climbing. I mean, look at the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde! There was some fifth-class X-rated climbing going on, for sure.

Recently there’s been a surge of bouldering going on in Indian Creek. At first, I thought it was a couple novelty roadside problems, but hearing about what’s going on, it seems like it’s this cool adventure bouldering thing, and they’ve established hundreds of problems throughout the Indian Creek corridor. I’ve yet to sample any of the bouldering, but already, it’s opened my mind to more creative thinking out at a place that so far has mostly only developed the splitter cracks for climbing.

Chris Schulte has been at the forefront of this development, and he’s also responsible for most of the writing that has been done. Recently, he reflected on the tunnel vision of only looking for splitters in Indian Creek and what happened to him in the process of bouldering and thinking outside the box (or the crack): “You’ve heard that tired, old phrase about taking the skills learned on the boulders/cliffs to the cliffs/big walls, and it rings true here in the desert. Once again, the broad promise of the future is all around us, for the Creek has new runout routes that abandon the cracks and quest up grips and geometry. The Creek has 5.15 arêtes and 5.11 slabs.”

That statement right there just makes me want to quit writing about this place and pack up the Subaru to be there. All good things in all good time, I guess. I’ll be back there soon enough. Somehow, that place has consumed me entirely, and it’s the only place I really want to climb these days. That may change with the rules and regulation, and someday I may lament the changes and talk about the good old days. But the good old days still seem to be at hand in the desert.

The stillness of the desert, the azure of the sky, the contrast of the red rock with everything else, it makes me think about things in a different way; it makes me feel different. Lately, I find myself worrying about the world, a lot, and I probably should. I find solace and comfort in an uncomfortable place, with a community of people that are hungry for the same thing I am hungry for, and a desire for peace that I can’t seem to attain in the modern world.

Change. Change. Change. It’s all the world does. Indian Creek will change. It once used to be an ocean. Perspective on the cliffs will change. I hope that respect for the land remains though—how can we give back to a place that gives us so much in such a quiet way? The answer is out there.

This story first appeared in Luke’s latest book, Graduating from College Me, A Dirtbag Climber Grows Up. Catch more of his work at The Climbing Zine.


Take Action!

Tell the Department of the Interior why Bears Ears National Monument, and all of our national monuments should be left alone. The deadline to comment is July 9, 2017.


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Updated 6/27/17

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