8 Tips to Minimize Your Impact at Creeksgiving

Avoiding the traditional American Thanksgiving has become its own kind of ritual for many climbers. If you live out west and you like to climb cracks, then you’ve probably been to Creeksgiving at least once in your climbing career—or at least considered it. What started out in the 90s as a small group of friends making an annual pilgrimage to Indian Creek, Utah to climb and celebrate a simpler version of the holiday has exploded into a large-scale event that draws a few hundred climbers to the world-class cliffs each Thanksgiving.

Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument | Ute (Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu) and Pueblo Territories | Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr

But here’s the thing…Indian Creek is an incredibly fragile ecosystem. And as visiting climbers, we need to be extra diligent to tread lightly in this landscape, especially during events that squeeze more climbers into the area than normal. If you’re headed to Creeksgiving this year, here are a few things you should consider as you’re packing and making plans.

1. Carpool if possible.

Parking at Indian Creek is limited, and jamming too many cars into trailheads and crag access points is illegal, unsafe, and significantly expands our environmental impact. This is especially true during Creeksgiving, when parking is even more limited.We recommend posting on one of the regional forums on Mountain Project for carpool partners/opportunities.

2. Be prepared to pack out your poop.

There are limited toilet facilities at Indian Creek, and digging a hole isn’t appropriate in this area, since the soil doesn’t contain the microorganisms necessary to break down human waste. The only responsible option is to pack it out. For longer stays like Creeksgiving, we recommend a bucket system like this one, to make waste collection and disposal clean and easy.

3. Choose a camp spot away from trailheads.

Trailheads are considered day-use only, and camping there is frowned upon by the land manager because it creates even more parking and human waste challenges. There are plenty of established campsites in the area to choose from, you just have to look for them. Scoping the area ahead of time on Google Maps satellite view is a good way to identify and drop pins on potential campsites.

4. Limit group size to 2-4 people when climbing.

There will be plenty of time for hanging around the campfire after the sun sets, but bringing a large group of people to the crag significantly expands our environmental impact at the base of the cliffs, which are already suffering from severe erosion. Spread out in smaller groups and keep yourself and your gear as close to the base of the cliff as possible to minimize your impact.

5. Stay off vegetation.

The desert may look like a barren landscape, but it’s actually full of fragile plant life that protects the desert floor from erosion by wind and rain. Cryptobiotic soil, the dark crumbly looking soil prevalent at Indian Creek, is a living biological crust that draws nutrients in while protecting the landscape. This crust can be destroyed with a single step and it takes decades to regenerate.

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The new Indian Creek Climber Stewards are hosting climber coffees every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through December 5. Bring your travel mug and join them for a free cup of coffee.
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6. Artifacts—look but don’t touch or reveal locations.

Indian Creek is within the broader Bears Ears National Monument landscape, which is rich in human history. You could encounter artifacts like rock art, pottery shards, or historic caves during your visit. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act makes it a federal crime to steal, destroy, or disclose the location of discovered artifacts. Also, the oils on our fingers, the chalk on our hands, and the rubber on our shoes can ruin these remnants of human history forever, so enjoy the discovery, but don’t touch or post their location on social media.

7. Keep dogs close and under control.

When temps are warm, many dogs dig to try and find cooler soil, and this contributes to erosion at the base of Indian Creek’s cliffs. Consider leaving the dog at home, or keep it on a leash and close at hand so it doesn’t dig or chase wildlife. Take our crag dog quiz to help determine whether it’s appropriate to bring your pup.

8. Respect private property and nearby landowners.

Indian Creek has a rich history of ranching that predates climbing activity. The Dugout Ranch, owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, is home to the Redd family who has lived there for decades. Know where the private property lies and please do not trespass. The ranch is a working cattle operation with grazing permits on public lands that are critical to the ranch. Never park in front of gates and be sure to leave all gates as you find them. Give cattle and horses their space, control your dogs, and be extra mindful when climbing within earshot of the ranch property, at places like Reservoir Wall and Way Rambo.

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