HMI Gap: “Like Mars, but with more atmosphere”

Rock climbing group

Written by Ally Bartels and Robert Rolfsen

Over three days, the landscape changed from white to green to beautiful yellows and oranges of the fall leaves and red sandstone of Utah. The unofficial slogan for this sandy desert was, “Like Mars, but with more atmosphere.” As we stared out at the stars that first night camped at Ken’s Lake outside of Moab, gazing at the Milky Way in our camp chairs, we truly felt like we were on a different planet.

We spent our first few days climbing in the La Sal mountains set within quaking aspen groves and sheer-faced cliffs. Some of the highlights during this time included working toward lead climbing, confronting fear with whipper therapy, bouldering, and shopping for our own food. (Who knew Nutella was so expensive?) Each tent group came together our last night at Ken’s Lake for the first, of hopefully many, potlucks. Dinner consisted of pancakes courtesy of chef Robert and sous chef Steven, homemade pizza topped with arugula, made by Ally and Jake, and penne and bowties made by Nora and Heath. Not surprisingly, the I-Team outdid us all with homemade tortillas and personal taco toppings.

The following day we traveled to Indian Creek, an hour south of Moab. It was here we began to see the international climbing community drawn to this landscape for the perfectly splitter sandstone cracks, simple living, and impeccable desert weather that we hoped to become a part of. We worked to repair and construct the trail up to Donnelly Canyon, one of the more popular crags. We were split into three groups led by the Front Range Climbing Stewards. At the bottom of the trail, Ally, Heath, and Jake constructed a new set of stairs, as the previous ones had completely deteriorated from weather and use. Mid-way up to the cliff, Robert, Eric, and Andrew worked to better define a switchback with an elaborate spiral staircase to minimize erosion. At the top, Ben, Christina, Jedi, Katie, Steven, and Nora led the effort to create a more stable and clearly defined trail at the base of the crag and a gigantic structurally stable retaining wall stretching over 75 square feet.

Over the long days of 6:30 am wake ups, moving heavy rocks in the sun, and trying to get a few pitches in at the end of the day, we ended up accomplishing more than expected. Even though we all come from different climbing experiences and backgrounds, we all came together not just to climb, but to be stewards of an area and a community that has begun to give so much to each of us.

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