“Do you think the Creek has changed?” Matt asks, from his perch on a pointy boulder. Above him cracks of all sizes soar upward from the black, varnished stone into the pink glow of the setting sun. Behind him clouds streak the once blue sky, while the Six Shooters silently stand, saluting the setting sun. I am belaying Anna as she takes the day’s final lap on another quality piece of real estate. Unfamiliar voices chatter all around, giving beta, talking about supper, future plans, and Creek Pasture. People stuff things into packs and pull ropes as dogs snooze in the dirt.
I could be in a time machine.
“It is the same thing. . .” Tim said several days earlier. His hiatus from the Creek and from climbing had been over a decade. Prior to that we spent weeks at a time living in the dirt, climbing cracks, writing poems, and exploring the hallowed nooks and crannies of the Creek’s escarpments. We had the drive, we had the ambition. “. . .except we are older” he continued. “These young kids sit around with excitement and stupidity and talk about and do the same things we were doing.” In many ways my partners are even the same; from Tim in the beginning, to Matt in the middle, to Anna spanning more than twelve years of trips–I climbed with them all this time around.
It is the same place. The sunsets still awe me and the cracks still shut me down when I choose to challenge myself. The dusty burritos cooked on gas stoves taste as good as ever. The golden can of Coors held with grimy, aluminum, dirt, and taped covered hands goes down smooth as it always has. Standing around the campfire, dodging smoke, and sharing stories feels timeless. I read back on A Love Affair and reflect on the continuity of emotions through the years. My desire for the obscure, new, or different is still there. This time around my goals centered on new to me routes, new to me crags, and placing rigid stem Friends. Like then, but not like the decade prior, I didn’t focus on a number; like then, it likely has to do with protecting my ego and not thinking about “what used to be.”
I kept throwing out almost twenty years as a measure of my time at the Creek (sometimes when it is convenient, I round up.) The Cat Wall holds the distinction, if one could call it that, of being the first place I climbed those fabled walls. A sunny February day in 2002 saw Ellen Shinkle, Dave Sadoff, Dave Casto, and a few others lost to memory venture up the trail to the right side. Cat Man Do and Tweety were two routes I remember maybe leading. I was in awe of Dave Sadoff’s lead of Bachelor Party, which I think I top-rope hang dogged. Later memories from that winter include trips to Donnelly Canyon and Supercrack Buttress. In the years that followed dusty patches of earth on the Bridger Jacks’ road became like home. It is where I cut my teeth, where I developed as a rock climber, and where I proudly wore (and earned) the label of a desert rat. It is a place that helped me gain my dirt bag credentials. Looking around I see the same in the faces and the ways of a younger generation. I hear it too in the stories told and dreams dreamt.
I could be in a time machine, but in truth it is way different. There are so many more people now. There are more bathrooms. There is more designated camping; there is more pay camping. There are more bathrooms and less surface shits and less toilet paper. There are more regulations on camping and climbing. No climbing due to raptor closures and no camping along 211 corridor near Newspaper Rock. There is more education. There are better trails and better parking lots. There are cattle guards instead of gates. Incredible Hand Crack is wider as is Slot Machine (for two, very different reasons.) There are more developed crags. The guidebook has evolved. Less tat filled anchors exist at the top of climbs now; where once we were continually replacing webbing, now it is almost all metal, even the obscure things. There is more traffic.
There are more wrinkles on my face now and more aches in my body. Time hasn’t been kind to my climbing goals either; somehow I escaped Indian Creek this time around only trying to lead one 5.11 route, a 5.11- at that. It didn’t treat me well either, though the two top ropes I did in those grades felt good enough.
I don’t know how to answer Matt’s question, so I verbally process. I talk about tat at anchors, having to wait to turn on to 211 because a parade of cars is on the highway, bathrooms, and fees. But I can’t shake the time machine that Tim brought up. So much of it is the same. So much of it is different.
When the feeling is the same and the place is different, but also the same, it is a confusing question to answer. I guess it doesn’t entirely matter. The rock is timeless, as are the cracks, the challenges, and the sunsets. So much is different and so much is the same. Whatever it is that elicits feelings in me is still there.
So fuck it. Yeah, it has changed. It has changed a ton. Would it be improper to argue it has changed for the better? Bathrooms, picnic tables, trails, anchors, parking lots, informational kiosks, etc all make life better and easier as a denizen of The Creek. My respect and awe for the place hasn’t changed though. And that is what matters.
Featured Image: Just another desert sunset over Indian Creek.