Moab locals have long been associated with dramatic sandbagging. Anyone who has ever stopped at the Big Bend boulders for an afternoon has surely tasted an ounce or two of rejection on what the locals warm heartedly call 'V1'. I can remember being sandbagged even as a mountain biker in Moab.. 'oh, yeah, you can for sure ride to that trail head..'
With such a stigma about them, I entered my first weekend to Mill Creek with little expectation, and much excitement. Pictures of this hidden sandstone gem have adorned my walls since long before I ever thought I might be able to tackle any of the test-piece routes there. I've drooled over Boone Speed photos of Tommy climbing on 'Prosthetics' too many times to count. Could such a beautiful area truly exist?
Seeing is believing. And after a long drive from Boulder, narrowly escaping the incoming storm, we arrived just as the sun was setting. Homegirl Heidi (Wirtz) guided us down a seemingly hidden trail to the rim of a canyon where a installed metal via-ferrata style ladder lead us to the canyon floor and below the amazing Wicked Crag. Far too stoked to call it a night, Paige Claassen and I busted out headlamps and began our Mill Creek journey the only way we should have expected - sandbagged. 5.10+ is what they call 'Ferns'. Maybe it was the chilly temps, the pitch black or the 7 hours in the car (most likely it was the local hard men and women) but this felt bonafide 12a to us... hmm.. Next logical step? Try harder. 'Technochrist' (12c) is a wicked, precision crimping, technical masterpiece that packs an extra punch when done under headlamp- Incredible climbing. Enough said. I finished the evening with an unbelievably strenuous (barely) on-sight of 'Flaming Groovy' (12c), which reminded me of some kind of hell- upside down wide corner body stuffing, holy-crap-I-just-moved-one-inch kind of climb. I found myself whispering 'I don't know what to do' a number of times. Paige was laughing hysterically.
Under better lighting conditions and with renewed excitement we returned the next day. Again, I found myself shocked with the beauty of this place. I was drawn to a notoriously sandbagged route, that had thwarted the efforts of many a hard men and women over the years called 'The Bleeding'. Rated 14a, it has been called potential 14b or even c by the few that have managed a repeat. Honestly, I was hesitant to try it, thinking that I would be better off searching for sure success in the land of the sandbagged. Paige, however, was not having it- she wouldn't let me not try hard, and eventually I agreed. On my sample burn I was impressed to say the least. To be more accurate I immediately considered this to be one of the better 5.14's I had ever climbed on. I also managed to pull through all the moves first or second try. The crux involves interesting body positions to negotiate a few horrible crimps, a couple shallow pockets and then a very hard exit move out of a left hand undercling to an accurate two finger pocket stab. It is incredible. I shocked myself by falling from the final move on my second attempt and really shocked myself by redpointing on my third attempt. I tried hard, It felt awesome, I was stoked. I right away carried my excitement next door to flash the crag classic 'Tikki Man' 13c. Paige one-hung the crap out of 'Tikki Man', primed for a send the following day.
With a few hours of light left, I decided to turn my attention to the other outstanding inspiration- 'Prosthetics' 13d (sandbag). All that drooling had not been for nothing. Now I was standing in front of one of the most beautiful walls I had ever seen, thinking aloud- I must try this thing. Just as I expected, it climbed as good as it looked. Hanging draws on this route is a freaking taxing event given that the climb has a 25 foot downward traverse. After having a good sample run and thankfully getting giant slings and draws hanging, I was EXHAUSTED. Lights out, warm down, time for the camp fire and red wine.
Chilly morning temps the following day inspired a hurried camp exit and a jump start on our last day at Mill Creek. After watching Paige crush 'Tikki Man' I was all fired up to take a crack at 'Prosthetics'. The crux on this route is managing the burl through the first two thirds of the climb (including a mostly campusing traverse) to get to a long, powerful lock-off before tackling an amazing black wall of crimps. I could feel on the traverse that I was perhaps on my last feasible attempt (read: getting tired), which was enough to kick start my try hard and help me get through the crux lock-off to finish the third ascent of this other-worldly rock climb. So Stoked. I wrapped up the killer weekend with an on-sight of the wild and crazy 'Bow Spirit' 13a and some warm downs. Content in the back of the Honda Element with Paige, fully crashed out, we cruised back to the front range to find freezing temps and patches of snow..
Thanks to all the Moab locals for keeping the grades stiff as hell and developing such an incredible area. Lisa Hathaway filled us in on details whenever needed and was happy to offer long sling advice (crucial Lisa! thanks). I'll be buzzing from last weekend for a while, or at least until I take off for Kentucky this Saturday...
In the meantime! BCS COMP SERIES!!!! FIRST INSTALLMENT THIS FRIDAY!! do it. it's FUN.
And check out this ridiculous electronic genius (S.Q.L.) I have just stumbled upon if you have a moment..
photos: rock and lichen at ML CRK, Paige stretches out in front of 'Tikki Man' with 'The Bleeding' in the background. photo from below the amazing 'Prosthetics'