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The hardest place to rock climb in the US

Indian Creek is a premier climbing area known for its sandstone cliffs and perfectly parallel splitter cracks. It’s located south of Moab and east of Canyonlands National Park in the newly designated, and now threatened, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. People come from all over the world to test their skills on these cracks, making it one of the hardest and most beautiful places in the U.S. to climb.

RELATED: Why the fight to save Bears Ears National Monument matters so much

Indian Creek Valley
A view of the valley in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: David Sandel

Here’s why this should be on your climber’s bucket list, and how to tackle the tricky topography.

The allure

Internal Scars
This is not a squeeze chimney. It’s actually a splitter crack. Photo: David Sandel
Unlike granite cracks, which have constrictions and variable shapes, the cracks in Indian Creek are almost perfectly parallel and rarely vary by more than a couple inches from bottom to top. They range in size from fitting your entire body in them to nothing but the very tips of your fingers.

And there’s no shortage, either, with well over 1,000 documented routes and more still being developed.

The brutality

Not seen: the other 60 feet below the climber. Photo: David Sandel
Most people think of “hard climbing” as overhung (or upside-down) bouldering and sport routes. But if you’ve never gone crack climbing, then you can’t understand how physically demanding it is.

Picture jamming your hands between two pieces of sandpaper over 100 times in one climb. When you stick your feet in the crack, you put them in sideways and then literally crank them over to wedge them between the walls of the crack.

RELATED: 'World of Adventure' heads to Indian Creek for world-class climbing

You may not have tiny little handholds, but you still have to cup your hands, make fists or wedge your knuckles in a seemingly parallel crack and then pull your body up and hold that position while moving your feet. And don’t forget to keep your hips into the wall.

You may not feel it the same day you climb, but you’ll definitely feel it the days after.

When to go

Indian Creek Winter Landscape
A little snow on the ground means it’s almost Creek season. Photo: David Sandel
Indian Creek is the ultimate shoulder-season climbing destination. Whether you’re saying goodbye to winter in March or trying to hold onto summer in November, you’ll want to make your way to Utah.

Spring runs from March to early May and fall is October to early December, though, depending on the year or your eagerness to climb, those dates can certainly fluctuate on either end.

How to get there

Getting to Indian Creek is pretty simple. Drive or fly into Moab, head south on U.S. Highway 191 and then turn west on State Route 211. You’ll know you’re in The Creek when towering 200-foot cliff bands surround you on both sides.

Where to camp

Indian Creek Camping
You’re welcome to bring whatever you like. Just make sure it all goes out with you too. Photo: David Sandel
The entirety of Indian Creek is located on Bureau of Land Management land that former President Obama designated as Bears Ears National Monument. Legally, you are allowed to camp anywhere for 14 days; however, due to the popularity and delicateness of this place, there are designated campgrounds and campsites you are strongly encouraged to utilize. Practice Leave No Trace ethics.

RELATED: The best Bureau of Land Management places to explore

As you come into The Creek on 211, you’ll first drive past Newspaper Rock. The Donnelly Canyon parking lot is roughly 4 miles after that on the right. There you’ll find a map of the designated campgrounds. Some are free, some are not; some have toilets, some do not. None of them has water, though, so make sure to bring your own. There are several places in Moab where you can fill up for free.

For more comprehensive rules, suggestions and ethics, please visit the Friends of Indian Creek camping page.