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When Hope is Not Enough - Indian Creek at Risk

Submitted by danielmcneil on 2006-12-04 | Last Modified on 2006-12-10

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by Daniel McNeil

by Dan McNeil

Friends of Indian Creek Mission Statement:

"The mission of the Friends of Indian Creek is to preserve the unique experience we all love at Indian Creek. We support dispersed free camping, reasonable management policies, access to crags, limited development and a voice in future land management decisions. Our vision includes responsible recreation to ensure the conservation of Indian Creek's natural resources and primitive character."

Indian Creek is a truly wild climbing area: remote, undeveloped, and beautiful. The Friends of Indian Creek make the noble commitment to preserve these qualities with minimal management, primarily with the aim of maintaining the Creek’s “primitive character.” Through grassroots efforts and ally-building strategies, Friends has been the key force in shaping important components of the Creek’s new management plan. The plan rests heavily on: 1) informing the public, 2) the responsibility of climbers to regulate themselves, and 3) the expectation that significant growth of climbing use – and therefore crag access – can be supported with limited facilities and fees.

While the aim of Friends is honorable, current circumstances and oversights in the management plan could ultimately jeopardize access to Indian Creek.

The following sections will anecdotally discuss:

A. Current trends
B. Shortfalls of the Management Plan
C. Questions
D. Alternatives

A. Increasing numbers of climbers and protraction of the climbing season is significantly stressing the stability of the crag trail infrastructure, access roads, anchors, relations with the ranchers, and, of course, the health of the natural environment.

i. Trails: Many crag trails are being eroded significantly by higher use and are without repair. Increasing the impact of each trail system, hikers must extend switchbacks and cut new paths. Many crags do not have well-defined trail systems, and even experienced Creek users are cutting random tracks across delicate areas.

ii. Roads and Anchors: Deeply rutted roads and shoddy anchors are proliferating. Rutted roads, without maintenance, push drivers to each side, causing greater, unnecessary impact to the area. High use of anchors dependent solely on individual renovation is increasing the danger of fatal accidents.

iii. Ranchers: Campers, hikers, and dogs are using areas that the paying ranchers own the rights to. Innumerable tents have been pitched and RVs or campers parked in plain view of the Dugout Ranch. Climbers with seven out-of-state cars camped at the kiosk pullout to Beef Basin for a weekend and initiated a drumming circle late into the night. A trailer and bus was parked at the Fin for a weekend. Campers have been sighted in front of Supercrack Buttress and allegedly spread across other unestablished camping sites. Dogs disturb cattle with their barking and have been known to harass the grazing cows. The ranchers have reportedly expressed annoyance about and even threatened to shoot dogs that are unleashed. Most climbers close gates after they’ve driven through, however the risk of leaving them ajar could be significantly mitigated by proper signage and improved latch mechanisms.

iv. Ecology: Dogs, humans, automobiles, and cows come with a heavy toll to the natural environment of Indian Creek. Unrestricted camping, unmaintained trails and roads, lack restroom facilities, and unleashed dogs place the local ecology in pointless risk by increasing the likelihood of damaged cryptobiotic crust, disturbed flora and fauna, erosion, and litter.

B. Due to increased use and the abovementioned current trends, Indian Creek’s present management plan is falling short in several areas:

i. Restrictions – Lack of camping, parking, driving, and pet regulations fail to minimize climbers’ impact on the environment and ill will of the ranchers. Signage to inform users is clearly inadequate as confirmed by rampant misuse of the Creek Basin.

ii. Enforcement – The absence of official monitors to oversee the area allow irresponsible use of the land go unanswered.

iii. Facilities and maintenance – Lack of proper parking, roads, trails, and restroom facilities all but guarantee a greater impact on the Indian Creek Basin.

iv. Funding – Proper signage, improved latches and gates, monitors, road and trail maintenance, anchor renovation, and public relations efforts are inadequately funded by donations. Proper tracking of use for management planning is deficient.

v. Priorities – Maintaining “primitive character” of Indian Creek should not be the principal objective of any management plan. Unrestricted, unmonitored, unmaintained use of the Creek puts climbing access itself in jeopardy. While the pioneer character of Indian Creek is quaint, it is not realistic to expect a world class climbing area, an area that draws thousands of foreigner and Americans each year, to be as it once was. People are flowing into the Creek in greater numbers than ever, and the current growth trend seems to be constant. Sustaining responsible use of the environment and maintaining good relations with the ranchers should be the two paramount priorities of the management plan. Restrictions, regulations, and fees should be minimized only to the degree that they are still extremely effective in supporting access to all Indian Creek crags.

C. While a more robust management plan seems requisite for proper use of and access to Indian Creek, the plan devised by all land users and stakeholders must accommodate the top priorities of each.

  • Who are the key users and stakeholders? What are their priorities?
  • Can long term Indian Creek crag access be viable without enforced restrictions on camping and user fees?
  • How can the current arrangement be adjusted to be a responsible management plan?
  • If fees and enforcement are necessary, how will collection and funding be administered?
  • Is it possible to use the current framework to patrol the basin, collect fees, and/or complete regular maintenance of roads, trails, and anchors?
  • Can an evaluation be conducted to reveal more (about: a. numbers of visitors, b. crag usage, c. camping habits, and d. environmental impact) that will help planners target the challenges and put effective measures in place?

D. Placing an excessive amount of importance on maintaining an evaporating reality is shortsighted. The current management plan is proving itself inadequate for the numbers of users, delicate environment, ranching colleagues, and layout of Indian Creek. Some alternative plan must be explored to better protect access to the amazing cracks of Indian Creek.

Please post comments, suggestions, and critiques.

Check out the Friends website at the following address:


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11 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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5 out of 5 stars I love IC. Keep it open, even if that means some development. Thanks to those working constantly to keep the area open and accessible. It's not an easy job and typically a thankless one. I wish it could remain primitive, but realistically there are just too many people going out there. If it has to be developed, keep it to a bare minimum please!

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No, nein, no. Sorry. Though your consternation w/ FOIC is obiouvs, and in some senses laudable, the thesis of your argument encourages growth of bureaucracy, instead of climbers taking care of their own sh*t.

In particular: the out-of-bounds camping, shoddy anchors and trails, rutted roads, etc. are all factors controllable by our community. IF anyone has the chutzpa to step in. Were the offending camping parties informed of their misdeeds and potential impacts?

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Thanks guys we love you and will help spred the word, and a seg. if you see people doing what they are not sopose to do say somthing to them!!!!!! We saw the people camping on beef basian road and told them to move camp to a desagnatd spot, they did not like that idea and we had words. They wer just mean people but a lot of people dont know better so its up to everyone to educate othors on area ethics.
thanks again
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5 out of 5 stars slobmonster,
I would be interested in hearing more about 'management by chutzpa'. Has this been effective in high usage climbing areas where climbers are competing for resources with non-climbers? An example or two would be great.
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The problem is that not many people camping and climbing in the Creek know about the unspoken rules; I can't tell you how many people I spoke to didn't know what a wag bag was, let alone where to get one, or how to use one. There should be at least some small signs on the bulletin boards with some up to date information for people. Better yet, the gearshops should put some typed up inserts in all the guidebooks being sold with wag bag and camping information.
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5 out of 5 stars Thanks for posting this information. Very informative.
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What I was alluding to by (as you say) "management by chutzpa" would be, quite simply, to address issues personall, personably, and immediately with whoever might be throwing a wrench in the works. If, for example, several years ago some of the full time seasonal residents of the Bridger Jacks had been informed of their impact, maybe they would have simply moved up the road, and quieted down a bit. And then we wouldn't be under the watchful eye of the BLM.
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I couldn't agree more. Though there are many well-meaning, conscientious climbers out there, the majority are at best ill-informed, and at worst selfish and in-considerate.

The only way IC will go on being "primitive" is if people stop going there, and I don't see that happening any time soon. A possible suggestion would be for the legions of dirtbags living there to take turns serving as some sort of enforcement person, but as far as my understanding of climbers goes, especially the so-called "dirtbags", this will never happen. That is what is meant by "policing ourselves". I don't think signs are adequate. Consider the lengths many climbers will go to to violate regulations (such as camping illegally) at places like Rifle or Red Rocks, and these are places that are heavily you expect climbers to "do the right thing" in a place with zero enforcement?? Yeah right!

Unfortunately the reality is that climbing is becoming popular, bringing crowds and things will change...that is life.

Has anyone read Stewart Green's contribution to the new guidebook where he laments the increased crowds at IC? I guess it wasn't a problem when he was looking to make money off of his Climbing Utah guidebook. What a hypocrite!
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I totally agree with you on your criticism of Green, rockprodigy...

I've been really struggling the past year or so with my contradictory and often selfish thoughts concerning the Creek. Nonetheless, I'm going to try to post a few of them here.

It is quite simple, really. The problems at Indian Creek are the same problems that the entire Canyon Country faces and has faced for the last few years.- Too many people.

As far as personal relationships with the place go, I am not an old-school Creek climber by any means. I only started climbing there about seven years ago; the majority of my visits were in the off-seasons; either the dead of winter, or early summer. Crowds were not at these times of the year.

However, after becoming a local this past year, and frequenting the Creek more and more, I began to notice something different. Bridger Jack campsite is a "scene," akin to Miguel's, Camp 4, or Potrero Chico. While I love the communal nature of large numbers of climbers in the aforementioned places, it hurts to see them coming to and trashing this landscape that I love so much.

Most desert rats with whom I have discussed this agree that the draw of Indian Creek is not just the most perfect splitters in the world. It is the entire desert experience: solitude, a sense of the unknown and foreboding, and above all, the sheer, unquantifiable beauty of the Canyon Country. My personal love for this area stretches well before, and will extend well beyond my climbing career. It is just incredible that some of the best climbing is in the most beautiful landscape in the world. Indian Creek's lines would simply not be the same if the splitters were somehow transported to the Ozarks, New England, the midwest, or God forbid the Front Range. It is PLACE that defines Indian Creek.

But I'm not sure how many of the crowds at Bridger Jack campground even consider this. It is just another "scene, nothing more.

The increased publicity, and by this I am talking about the new guidebook and the film "Return2Sender" are the guilty parties. It makes me sick to read Timmy O'Neil's essay in the guidebook, which simultaneously touts the "sacred" and "spiritual" nature of the place, while throwing a fucking rave-party at the campground. It makes me sick to see travelling numbers chasers toprope and french free lines into submission while complaining of how "sandy they are." It makes me sick to see "professional" climbers who wax on about how special this place is to them scarring a line with six-inch tick marks. I'm sick of seeing The Spot climbing gym transported to the delicate and misunderstood landscape.

This is only a rant. I'm not offering any solutions, and I know that this rant is a little selfish. Bottom line is that what is going on at the Creek right now is tragic. Nothing more.

It is a catch 22. The allure of this country is solitude in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. With increased publicization, more people come out here seeking solitude, while at the same time kelling the solitude. "Herd mentalities" compound this, and the more people come to the Creek, the fewer of them that actually appreciate the solitudarian values. Sad.
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camhead and rockprodigy, obviously I'm in agreement with you, though "solitude, a sense of the unknown and foreboding, and above all, the sheer, unquantifiable beauty of the Canyon Country" is not the subject of my post. In light of skyrocketing use and abuse, I'm simply interested in sustaining crag access and mitigating the impact on the delicate creek basin.

slobmonster, it's not only the BLM that worries me, and relying on a the informed few to police the basin amounts to neglect. The recent closure of Torrent Falls in TN highlights the impact that an irresponsible few can have for everyone. An unforeseen dearth in local advocacy presence should not result a complete lack of regional policing, particularly in a heavy-use, five-star climbing area. While increased regulation and enforcement is undesireable and can't guarantee responsible use, such measures will greatly increase the likelihood of future access to the crags.
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I am with 'danielmcneil', the main issue is keeping access and reducing impact. If changes need to be made to keep access, then I welcome the changes. I would love to keep things as is, but in reality that is not possible. Things are always changing and we must adapt to that change this in reason.

We also must be careful with this issue. If we push to hard to keep it as it is, then we may loose it forever. Nobody wants that. Take the example of a recent news story out of Seattle. A Rabbi wanted to have a menorah display with the Christmas trees with in the airport. He pushed the issue with a lawsuit. In the end he did not get his menorah display and all the Christmas trees were taken away. So EVERYONE lost in this case.

I am not saying that this will happen, but there is that risk. We must walk a fine line. Let’s not ruin it for all.

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