GET OUT: Motley crews command the desert

By on April 14, 2015

Dana Larkin provides a top notch top-rope belay. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – I escaped time this week. Leaving Jackson early in the day, I initiated the trek toward Moab via I-15. The roads were high speed and the drivers were maniacs but I managed my way. After about nine hours, I reached said oasis. Then, I got sucked into about an hour of errands — getting food, water and necessities for my adventure.

After observing the happenings in Moab, I became fully aware of the many possibilities. At 6 p.m., people were decked out in gear of their various favorite. The Jeep people had their equipment — slednecks of the desert armed with gasoline cans on the back of their rides and lots of cheap 3.2 percent beer. The bikers scared me away from any bike-related shop. They gleamed in tight, neon spandex with hard, turtle-looking helmets. They even wore their speed racer glasses into the indoor coffee shop, and didn’t take them off to order. The trail runners pranced around town with their water bottle holding fanny packs, prepared for pretty much anything and everything endless and miserable.

Lastly, there were the climbers. I first spotted some at the laundry mat, although it appeared they were more interested in using the free wireless internet networks than washing their clothes. I based this observation by the smell and the looks of their tattered, sun-rotted clothing. Their hands were spotted with scabs and dirt. It looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in months. Their eyes were wild, and to be honest, I was intrigued.

I always heard climbers ventured somewhere outside of Moab. To me, this seemed like the most relaxed and least serious crowd, so it was easy to find a way to hop on their program. My redheaded, vagrant friend had told me she might be climbing in Moab, and I tracked her down.

She told me to meet her 70 miles south of Moab in a place called Indian Creek. After she specified the location, I anticipated her sleeping somewhere on a bed of sandstone behind a random bush. Upon my arrival to the camp spot, I was surprised to see other people of similar dusty-appearing character there. They hung out in groups with tape on their hands. Many of them also had dogs and Toyota Tacomas.

I must admit I felt a little out of place. People kept asking me if I was a “climber” and if I “sent it.” To be honest, I didn’t understand most of the language. I gathered that sending something means “doing something well.” Despite the communication barriers, the people were legitimately friendly and positive. They were very sharing, and it was common for the climbers to look you in the eye and initiate conversation.


Climbing creatures assemble items for sandstone recreation activities. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

I always thought of people on “climbing trips” as doing these crazy long things, but here, they were simply hiking 20 minutes up to a climbing spot and hanging out all day. There was a little climbing involved in between snacking, chatting and drinking copious amounts of water. In all, it was more of a lifestyle than an activity. The most consistently extreme part about the place was the desert wind. Wind was certainly an understatement, but this element carried sand into every possible orifice. It encased my inner ears, grinded between my teeth and crusted into the corners of my eyes. In all, braving the wind was worth the scenic views of black and red streaked walls of Wingate sandstone, and it was certainly worth the sunsets in this gem of Bureau of Land Management area.


A dusty climber traverses a wall to scope out climbs. (Photo: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Climbing is comparable to other enjoyable leisure sports like surfing or golfing. It’s very mellow to watch and prepare for, but when you’re actually doing it, it is intense and can take up the majority of your energy and concentration. One of the most important parts of the sport is relating to the people around you and trying hard when the right time comes. Another thing that did not exist there was the idea of set time. Days were measured from sunrise to sunset and they stretched as far as possible. I was glad I chose to hang with the climbers rather than the other athletes in the town of Moab. Even though they were the dirtiest bunch, it seemed like an open environment where people of any ability can enjoy life, escape time and maybe even “send it.”

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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