Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting Worked in Indian Creek

As part of my training for alpine climbing and skiing I’ve delved deeper into rock climbing.  I’ve rock climbed on and off for years, mostly sport and only gone a few times a year.  I could comfortably lead 5.9 and usually fake it up a 5.10 sport route.  However, I’d never really climbed enough to make the leap into trad climbing.  That’s all changed given my aspirations to ski bigger mountains, the need to protect said climbs, and the amazing trad climbing we have in the Wasatch Mountains.  So, this past spring I bought my first trad rack and have been climbing one to two times per week.  I’ve been fortunate enough to hook up with a couple of well experienced and fearless trad climbers from the valley.  These two knuckle dragging chemistry phd students have been known to rock climb outside at night in February using headlamps and propane torches for light.  They know the Cottonwoods very well, are always down for adventure, and aren’t afraid at all to take a whipper on TCUs (small cams).  Most importantly, they are patient teachers who haven’t gotten me in over my head yet.  Keyword there I think is YET.  Anyway, after climbing with these guys for the past one and a half months or so I was finally able to make a trip down to Indian Creek for some serious crack climbing.  Indian Creek is a crack climbing mecca 55 miles south of Moab just outside of Canyonlands NP.  People travel from all over the world to climb the laser cut sandstone cracks and I am a measly 5 hours away from this place.  I’ve climbed now some of the classic routes in the Wasatch like Bong Eater, Goodroos, and Bushwhack crack and felt at least a bit prepared for what the boys were telling me where 100ft hand jam pumpers and the like.  Holy crap was I wrong.  I learned real quick why Travis’s rack has 7 each of number 1, 2, & 3 cams.  The plan was for Ali and I to head down there with Travis to climb on Saturday.  His girlfriend, also a very good climber, would drive down later that evening and then we would camp out and climb the next day before heading back home.  On account of me losing my wallet at a restaurant the night before – No, I was not drunk – we made the drive down later than expected Saturday afternoon and reached Indian Creek around 4:30.  The first thing I noticed was, “It’s hot.  It’s dry.” Go figure.  I mean, after all we are in the Southern Utah desert in mid June.  That’s why peak season for Indian Creek climbing is spring and fall.  But, like I said, these boys are always down for a bit of adventure and aren’t afraid of a little heat.  “Bring more water.”  I digress, the second thing I noticed was how absolutely gorgeous this place was. 
Scarface Buttress
We were in belly of a desert canyon surrounded by massive vertical red sandstone monoliths and buttresses on all sides.  “If there’s a crack it’s been climbed,” announced Travis.  You couldn’t climb all these cracks in a lifetime.  We pulled into the parking lot of Supercrack Buttress and made the short hike up to Incredible Hand Crack.  Incredible Hand Crack is a 5 star 100 ft 5.10c with perfect hands and a challenging roof that’s been climbed so many times the stone is permanently chalk stained.  The walls adjacent to the crack are glass smooth without so much as a finger pinch to use.  The cracks are “laser cut” 2-3 inches the entire length demanding hand jam after hand jam for 100 feet.  Places to rest are scant. 
Travis working Incredible Hand crack
At a glance, its a right facing corner 
vertical wall leading to a roof.  From there the corner crack continues slightly over hung up to the anchors.   Nice warm up I think sarcastically.  Travis leads and works the hell out of it finishing in under 5 minutes and placing only 5 pieces of protection.  Cleaning I make the first section clean until I reach the roof.  The roof is flaring and between hands and fists for me.  Trying to pull the roof I peeled out 3 or 4 times before getting a boost from Travis.  Once above the roof good hand jams abound and I was able to complete the route without any further belay assistance. 
Me Struggling on the roof.
After rapping down we packed up and contoured the buttress for 3 minutes to Super Crack; another 5 star 100ft 5.10 laser cut crack with glass walls.  Here, we run into the only other climbers we would see for the weekend.  It’s hooottt!  Fortunately they were just finishing and we didn’t have to wait in queue.  Travis again walked easily up the wall – hand jam, foot jam, hand jam, foot jam – placing minimal protection and finishing in a few minutes.  Have I mentioned yet that he and Mark have built a “crack machine,” at home to practice?  I again struggled up behind and after pulling a small roof, and peeling out half a dozen times, was to worked to finish.  And so set the tone for weekend; Travis making 5.10s and 5.11s cracks look easy while I struggled like a dog to clean.  Before heading down to make camp Travis did find a nice 40 ft 5.8+ called Twin Cracks for me to lead.  As the name implies it is a set of parallel cracks about 100 feet lookers left of Incredible Hand Crack.  It’s a vertical wall adjacent to a nice right facing corner to stem off.  No, it’s not a 5 star crack.  But, the protection was good and I felt much more within the realm of my current crack climbing ability on this pitch.  Travis and I took turns leading this before heading down for the evening. 
Me leading Twin Cracks
At least I didn’t feel completely defeated on my first ever climbing experience using true hand jams.  The next day Travis’s girlfriend and badass climbing partner Ches had arrived and we headed to Scarface Buttress.  With already tired forearms and bruised hands and feet, I knew today was going to be a struggle.  Luckily Ches was there to buffer me with now two climbers to wear out Travis.  First on the list was Scarface.  Scarface is 5.11 110 ft aesthetically gorgeous crack with a view to boast.  It’s mostly hands but narrows to fingers and bad feet at the crux where it transitions to a right leaning crack.  Travis’s set off leading with the goal of redpointing it. 
Unfortunately, as in past attempts he took a small whip at the crux.  He then proceeded to repeatedly curse his mistake as he easily sent the rest of the route clean.  Following, I set off with a little bit of rage up Scarface.  The jams were tight and I could feel the bruises deepening on the back of my hands tops of my feet.  With exception of the crux the jams were pretty solid.  I struggled a bit as the crack leaned right and peeled out a few times.  With each peel I had less and less skin on the pads of my fingers and the burn in my forearms was building.  It was easy climbing above the flake and I managed to finish without any more takes. 
Me working Scarface
Ches followed and demonstrating mad skills was the only one of us to climb it without a single take.  Now she just has to lead it; I have no doubt she can.  My final climb of the trip was a 50 ft 5.10- called Unnamed.  I struggled on lead but did manage to take my first whip on a cam.  It was small but I’ll still take it.  Travis finished my lead while I cleaned.  After this climb I was done for the day.  I tried a 5.9 near Wavy Gravy but couldn’t even make the first move.  I belayed while Travis redpointed and Ches cleaned probably the coolest route of the trip, Wavy Gravy. 
Travis pulls the roof on Wavy Gravy
After this, we hike back to the car for a couple of cold beers.  Ali and I headed home while Travis and Ches hit up a few more routes before calling it quits.  What have I learned from my first experience with Indian Creek?  It’s absolutely gorgeous down there and I am stoked to go down there and climb some more.  However, I got worked pretty good.  I’m told it’s a pretty common occurrence for Indian Creek first timers but it's little solace.  Climbing down there is basically all jams, something I’d never really done before climbing there.  Clearly, before going down there again I need to get to the gym to specifically work on jams.  I would have liked to have gotten my wife Alison up on the wall too.  However, IC is not the place to teach someone to climb, not even on top rope.  Hopefully we can get Ali on some gym walls and easier stuff in the Cottonwoods as I would love to climb with her.  For now, I’ll lick my wounds as I ice the bruises on my hands and feet.  Thank you Ali for being our photographer.  Good times. 

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you were having a good time, I guess! Kind of scary if you ask me. Allie does take beautiful pictures. Also I want it to complement you on your writing, you are an excellent writer as well! Thanks for sharing your moments with me.