The Indian Creek Slog, No More

Indian Creek, outside of Canyon Lands National Park, is best known to climbers for its amazing Wingate Sandstone cliffs and splitter cracks soaring hundreds of feet to the cliff tops. Climbers flock to this crack-climbing mecca, forming into cadres in an effort to piece together enough cams from their otherwise plentiful double racks to ascend these amazing lines. It’s paradise in many people’s eyes, and who could argue given the amazing vistas, world-class crags, and plentiful camping?

If you’ve spent much time schlepping a pack full of cams and ropes to the bases of these cliffs, you’ve no doubt become familiar with “the Indian Creek slog,” where you follow a steep, loose, eroding path, up a drainage or slope, every step sending a layer of soil a few more feet down hill. At their best, these climber trails are arduous and unsafe; at their worst, they create erosion issues that have significant impacts on the fragile desert environment.

A volunteer stewardship team works on a rock climbing access trail in the desert

It was with this in mind, that 3+ years ago the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), led by Mark Hesse, endeavored to improve the nasty approach to the Pistol Whipped Wall in Beef Basin. The approach followed a drainage and was severely eroded, making it a less than ideal route. Hesse and others scoured the hillside for the best route, eventually outlining what would be a 1,900 foot long trail to the cliff base. The new trail would traverse the hillside in places, but would take the most direct line that was sustainably possible, utilizing technical trail building techniques like dry stack stone stairs and walls to harden steep grades and prevent erosion, requiring the mobilization of many tons of stone, all moved by hand. It would be a monumental effort requiring many hours of work over several seasons by both paid professional trail builders and a host of dedicated volunteers. To be a success, the local BLM field office would also need to be engaged to provide signage and construct a parking lot at the new trailhead, which was a quarter mile up the road.

It was a prospect that many would have found daunting, but RMFI forged ahead, tackling section after section of technical trail work. With every stone step placed, the trail moved a few inches upward. Crews of students from Montrose High School showed up frequently to help move more stone to the work site, and in the last two seasons the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team and Front Range Climbing Stewards lent their sweat and blood to the effort (no tears for this crew).

On March 21, 2015, in one final and monumental push, it was done.

It was a surreal moment with volunteers and professionals on hand that had been involved from the beginning, save one: Mark Hesse, who had passed a year earlier in a tragic climbing accident. A toast was raised at the top of the trail, the site of one of the more impressive stone stair sections, expertly crafted by the Front Range Climbing Stewards. Crews and volunteers had a moment to reflect before descending the new trail, with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

The new Pistol Whipped trail is a testament to what can be accomplished when climbers and land managers collaborate for the betterment of the areas we love. If you have the pleasure of using this new trail, take a moment to consider the beautiful stone work and thoughtful layout as you ascend the hillside. This trail is for you, the Indian Creek climber, and we hope you enjoy it.

Thank you to everyone that gave hours and days to making this project whole, especially Rocky Mountain Field Institute, The Bureau of Land Management, Monticello Field Office, Front Range Climbing Stewards, the students of Montrose High School—and Mark Hesse, may you rest in peace.


Blog Comments

Your article is very inspiring. I hope many would realize that climbers are taking part in preservation and improvement of nature, we don't only discover great places but we help to keep them. You have great Climbing Photos !

Posted by: Julie | May 05, 2015 at 11:25 PM

This new trail is amazing!! Thank you to all the people involved in the renovation of this trail!

Posted by: Jenn | May 26, 2015 at 10:21 AM

Join The Conversation