HMI Gap – Climbing and Stewardship in Utah

Rock Climbing Group (F-Rock)

By Jill Pollard, Forrest Peck, and Nick Jones


We received a cold, wet welcoming to Ken’s Lake, a campground a few miles south of the town of Moab, Utah. After a six hour drive from Leadville, we set up our basecamp, finding it difficult to avoid the seemingly endless groups of puddles and scavenge for hefty rocks to hold down our tents. The following few days looked a lot like day 1: cold, windy, and wet. This is not what we had expected from the desert, but came to realize the power and extent of Hurricane Michael’s reach. Though the weather prevented us from climbing the next few days, getting to watch the desert soak up the rain, after months without a drop, was incredibly refreshing.

HMI Gap students at Brumley Crags in the La Sals, UtahDespite the persistent rainfall, we made good use of our time. With what appeared to be some clearing, we headed to Lower Brumley to learn how to rappel.  Right as we began rappelling, light rainfall turned into a spontaneous hail storm. Before we knew it, we were starring in our own action movies. Our next noteworthy adventure was an hour long hike in which our strength of mind was tested. We trudged along, slipping and sliding all over the muddy, snow covered path. At the end of the day, the rad climbs and beautiful views made up for the grueling hike. After warming up our numb toes, we strapped on our climbing shoes and hit the crags. As the weather cleared, our days were finally filled with sunshine and sick sends – “we got really sendy with it.” Our stoke was high as we packed to go down to Indian Creek, a place of mystical splitter cracks.

As we descended into the Creek it felt as if we were entering a distant world, but we are now fortunately able to call this incredible environment home. We’d never seen anything like this place, it is truly unique. There is no other place on Earth that obtains such magnificent splitter cracks. Before entering, a common thought about the desert was that it was barren, with little life and water, and full of sand dunes. To our surprise, none of that is true. This landscape is full of incredible organisms all working in harmony to support each other and thrive together. One collection of organisms is called Cryptobiotic Soil. It is fundamental to the survival of many other species and plays a huge role in environments hundreds of miles away. It acts like a topsoil, allowing plants to stay rooted in the otherwise loose sand. This “soil” is what holds the high desert together.

HMI Gap students climbing at the Scarface Wall, Indian CreekThe cracks in Indian Creek are found nowhere else on this planet. The cracks are formed in the Windgate sandstone layer. The Colorado Plateau was once underneath an ancient ocean. Over millions of years, the landscape has drastically changed from being a swampy marsh to being a desert with massive sand dunes. Layer after layer became compacted from the new layers forming on top. Millions of years later, after the uprising of the plateau, the layers started to erode away allowing the Windgate to emerge once again. With the weight of the top layers gone, the Windgate decompressed causing the sandstone to fracture, creating its magnificent, parallel cracks.

Trail work on the Scarface Approach trail with FRCSA major part of our time here has been spent on conservation work. We spent 8 days creating stairs, with the help of the Front Range Climbing Stewards (FRCS), in the washed out trail up to Scarface wall. Thank you FRCS! Without your help and knowledge, the trail would not be as spectacular as it turned out. Every stair took tremendous effort and collaboration from our small groups of 3-4 people. We also obtained help from various volunteers, a large part from the Montrose High School outdoor program. Seeing the finished result of all our hard work was truly inspiring. It amazes us that this contribution will last longer than we will live. You can read a local news article about it in the Moab Times. Our time spent trail building was a “double duo,” as Nick likes to say, because our time also allowed us to bond with each other even more. Working in some harsh conditions made us appreciate everyone’s hard work and determination, as well as encourage one another when they were beat.  And after a day of hard work building stairs, we would hike up to the cliff to get a few pitches in, not letting our exhaustion overpower our enthusiasm to learn the crazy crack climbing technique. And who can argue? Climbing a classic route like Scarface, overlooking the vast expanse of canyons and Six Shooter towers, makes this magnificent place one that will forever be cemented in our memory.

Our community. Conquers rocks for enjoyment. We will never stop.

P.S. Shoutout to Jill’s mom and dad: “hi mom and dad”-Jill

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