Find Solitude for $130 by Climbing in the West Desert

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(Photo by Derek Edwards)

(Photo by Derek Edwards)
(Photo Courtesy of Derek Edwards)

Sometimes vacations call for real solitude. You want “getting away” to mean something different than heading to a resort or hotel filled with other tourists. Luckily for those of us living in Utah, we have some options for escaping in a state that still has real wilderness.

With its high winds, extreme year-round temperature variance, and lack of water, the West Desert might seem unappealing to potential vacationers, which is what makes it so ideal for avoiding the crowds. The solitude pairs well with opportunities for some stellar rock climbing. Since the early 2000s, people have taken advantage of the crags and boulders in areas like Ibex, Masada, and Marjum Canyon.

Ibex probably gets the most traffic out of the established West Desert climbing locations. On a busy weekend evening one can see headlamps and cookfires at about four small camps pitched around the main area. The location is about 55 miles west of Delta and 40 miles east of Baker, NV on Highway 6 — nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America.”

The area has been best chronicled by climbing route developer James Garrett in his essential book Utah’s West Desert, which my climbing partner and I picked up at REI for $40 in preparation for our trip. This guide is an absolute must-have for anyone looking to rope up. Finding the main boulder areas and camping spots would be easy enough without referencing anything but the Internet, but with mixed-gear routes (trad and sport equipment required) scattered among the few bolted climbs on the crags, it’s crucial for any climber.

Most of the roped routes at Ibex cater to advanced climbers with several rope trad setups. With the nearest medical services back in Delta, it’s probably not the best place for beginning lead climbers (pack a first-aid kit, just in case).

Ibex features traverses rated from V0 to V10, but the main bouldering area seems to be the most popular feature. Some of the boulder routes are tall problems large enough to be listed as single-pitch free-climb routes with regular U.S. grade ratings.

Ibex is on BLM land, so there are few restrictions with regards to camping. With little precipitation, arid conditions, and no area maintenance services, a strict “leave no trace” policy should be the norm for all visitors. Campers and day trip visitors must bring enough water with them for their trip. Packing plenty of food is also recommended due to the frequency of vehicle breakdowns and flash floods in the area.

You can’t rely on other people to help you in an emergency as the only real “locals” in this part of Utah’s West Desert are big spiders, including tarantulas and solfugids. My climbing partner and I found a camel spider the size of my thumb in our tent on the last night.

From my own experience I found the West Desert to be one of the quietest places in Utah. Locations such as Ibex are fun to climb, but the real attraction of camping there is getting away from all the light and noise pollution of Salt Lake City. It cost my partner and me about $130 for the whole trip, and I couldn’t recommend a Spring Break destination more.

Disclaimer: I brought my own sporting equipment. Some climbing and camping gear could be rented from the U’s Outdoor Adventures for about $20 more. But you should have experience with climbing before you go out.

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