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.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.
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.
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
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.
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.
|Travis working Incredible Hand crack|
|Me Struggling on the roof.|
|Me leading Twin Cracks|
|Me working Scarface|
|Travis pulls the roof on Wavy Gravy|