I moved our blog to a new server a couple of days ago. I somehow confused Feedburner into thinking that every post on the blog is new, so updates were sent out. Sorry for the spam.
In our last post, Brian mentioned Alan Howell, the photographer we met in Indian Creek. Alan is a professional photographer and was kind enough to take some amazing photos of us. Here’s a link to those photos. Enjoy!
Brian drove back to Seattle a couple of weeks ago (he Tweeted about his trip here) for some time in the mountains and with friends and family. I’ll be joining him next week. We are hoping to head down to Indian Creek in March, then back to the Pacific Northwest for the summer.
Just think: Soon, we’ll get to this in bloom:
We’ve arrived at Mel and Gunter’s place in Socorro, NM after a brief tour of Arizona. We hit the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Organ Pipe National Monument, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings (in New Mexico). The weather has been great and my back is feeling much better.
Here’s a video of a javelina eating a prickly pear cactus in the camp ground at the Grand Canyon:
A little over a week ago we were forced to bid farewell to Indian Creek. Bridgid and I both agree that it is the nicest climbing we’ve ever done and we look forward to returning next spring. Unfortunately, it was just too cold. We packed as many climbs into the short periods of midday warmth, but we spent the other 18 hours of the day freezing our butts off. These conditions are fine on a one week climbing trip, but after a few weeks we were ready to leave. It also didn’t help that we were hit by 3 rain/snow storms during our time in Moab.
We had a great last day of climbing after the big storm. I finally redpointed Supercrack and Bridgid followed it with only a couple of falls. We repeated Incredible Hand Crack and Bridgid almost flashed it. Bridgid led Twin Cracks (5.9), her first trad lead since leaving Squamish. Also, we met some nice climbers from North Carolina and Pennsylvania named Alan and Debbie, and Alan, who is a professional photographer (check out his web site), took some photos and videos of us. We’ll post these as soon as they are available.
Unfortunately, the cold weather had encouraged me to slack off on my PT and stretching for a couple of weeks, and after our last day at Indian Creek my back felt horrible. We immediately made the move back to Las Vegas, where the nighttime lows are nearly as warm as the daytime highs at Indian Creek. Even Bridgid admits that the heat feels nice and my back is getting better slowly. Unfortunately, I’m forced to take time off from climbing until my back heals, which will probably be several weeks.
We’re revising our plans for the next month. We’ll probably save Joshua Tree until we return from North Carolina. Instead, we’ll visit Mel and Gunter in Socorro, NM earlier than originally planned (probably next week). Until then we’re thinking of exploring southern Arizona.
We’re back from two more days of climbing at Indian Creek. Climbing here leaves me feeling more worked, worn out, and ravenously hungry than any other place I’ve ever climbed. I love it!
The Creek is the ultimate crack climbing training ground. Brute force and thrashing can get a powerful climber through a short section of crack, but when 100 feet of perfectly parallel, vertical crack lie above you, only graceful and efficient jamming will work. Like most climbers new to The Creek, we’re starting with two inch cracks, the size that provides the easiest and most secure jams. The two noteworthy climbs of this size that we climbed are Wavy Gravy (5.10-) and Incredible Hand Crack (5.10). These cracks both feature perfect 2-inch hand jams but also feature overhangs, with the large overhang on Incredible Hand Crack being especially brutal. My hand jamming technique is pretty solid and I was able to power through the steep sections. Bridgid had a harder time with the steep sections, but on her second try she pulled through the crux on Wavy Gravy!
Supercrack (5.10) was the next step in our learning curve (even though we got on it first). It features a long section of 3-inch crack at the top, which means loose and insecure hand jams. I managed to work through the surprisingly challenging technical crux low down then I cruised a 2-inch crack. But when the crack suddenly widened I was in for a rude awakening. After about 10 feet of poor technique, my arms were so worn out I could barley hang long enough to place a cam and hang. And I had 60 feet of this same size crack left. Lots of thrashing, hanging, and 6 #3 cams got me to the anchor (barely). Unfortunately, Bridgid wasn’t able to pull through the technical crux so she didn’t get the pleasure of being worked by the wide crack.
This climb presents my favorite type of climbing challenge. A good bit of improved technique is needed and a little more fitness wouldn’t hurt. But more than anything I need to deal with the psychological challenge as my arms start burning, the jams feel less secure, and the fall potential gets larger as the distance widens between me and my last cam. As my mind tells me to stress out, over-grip, and shove in an excessive number of cams way above my head, I need to remind myself to stay relaxed and balanced over my feet, place a small number of cams efficiently near my body, and keep moving.
We’ll be back for more punishment tomorrow. Stay tuned…
After just one day of climbing at Indian Creek two things are clear: the climbing is really that good and we’ll need plenty of rest days. Since writing is a priority for Bridgid we were a little worried by the amenities, or lack thereof, at Indian Creek. Fortunately, it’s looking like things will work out perfectly.
We’ll climb at Indian Creek for a couple of days until our muscles need a rest then we’ll move to Moab for a couple of days. There are tons of convenient amenities here, including bookstores, cafes, wifi, cheap showers, laundromats, and free filtered water at Gearheads. The best part is that there are great campgrounds 5 minutes drive from downtown, so we can hang out in town without a big commute. And to keep our rests days active there are plenty of trail running destinations, like Arches National Park, the entrance to which is 5 minute drive from town. And to top things off, a climbing area called Wall Street, which appears to be Indian Creek’s little sibling, is right across the Colorado River from our camp.
The heavy rain yesterday has forced us to take another rest day. Unlike granite, sandstone absorbs water during a heavy rain and becomes soft. This means that holds can break (which isn’t a problem here since there aren’t any holds). But more importantly, the holding power of cams is reduced, which is certainly a problem. But it’s sunny and warm today and we’re going running at Arches National Park then we’ll make the trip back to Indian Creek for more climbing tomorrow.
On Saturday, we arrived in Moab, Utah, then drove on for another hour to Indian Creek (known among the cool climber kids as ‘The Creek’).
Saturday night involved a lot of campsite searching in the dark (think: not a lot of signs, lots of long-eared bunny rabbits doing kamikazi-leaps across the highway, and many wrong turns). It wasn’t very fun, and it didn’t help that our brand new guidebook (David Bloom’s Indian Creek Climbing Guide) had an area map with incorrect mileages. We chose not to explore the road towards the popular Bridger Jack camping area, and instead looked for options that were less harsh on our low-riding sedan.
At some point in the night, we came upon a fence that opened, and a big dusty area that may or may not be a campground. We’ve adopted it as our new home, and so far no one has told us to leave.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, and were finally able to see the spectacular canyons and rock formations that we had been seeking. Our drive towards the climbing area showed us canyon after canyon of beautiful rocks, covered in cracks. Plus gorgeous deciduous trees (I am working on identifying these) with bright yellow leaves; a striking contrast to the red dirt and cloud-strewn blue sky.
Our first day of climbing went very well. There was a cool breeze that made the hot sun not too horrible (Brian didn’t seem to mind it), and we found patches of shade when it got to be too much (um, for me). We started on a 5.8 (the first pitch of The Naked and The Dead), as our introductory climb. It was short and fun, and didn’t leave us with scraped up hands.
The rock is Wingate sandstone, and it is a type of sandstone that doesn’t erode as quickly as others. It also breaks off cleanly instead of crumbling – resulting in wonderful parallel cracks. It is beautiful rock; simply viewing the sweeping lines is enough to inspire, and climbing them is even better.
The texture of Indian Creek’s sandstone cracks is a compromise (Brian would say that the texture is perfect). The rock is rougher than the polished granite of Yosemite, but less painful than the sharp rock of Joshua Tree. The long cracks and rough rock take a toll on hands unused to lots of hand jamming. Imagine putting your hand between two sheets of fine-grained sand paper (Molly and Megan should be very familiar with this), and then doing a pull-up on that hand (not that I do lots of these, but you get the idea). That’s kind of like climbing these cracks.
A few people tape their hands to climb any cracks, some people tape only when necessary, and others shun tape use in its entirety. Brian and I don’t usually tape, although I have regretted this a few times. I have found that if my technique is lacking, then I will probably rip up my hands.
While we were finishing up at our first climb, a friendly fellow climber offered to lend us his gear for Generic Crack, a very popular climb. It sounds strange, but it is actually common practice to borrow and lend gear in Indian Creek.
The reason for this is that many cracks in Indian Creek require lots of the same size of gear – the recommendation for Generic Crack is ten (yes, ten!) two-inch camming devices. These cams are about $70 each. Let’s just say that most people do not own ten of them. Usually, people own a variety of sizes, and at least two of each size (if they can afford it). This works in places like Yosemite, or Squamish, where the cracks vary in size and shape, but in Indian Creek, where you can have over 100 feet of the same size of crack, it doesn’t work.
Before coming to Indian Creek, we wondered about the whole gear thing. We hoped that we’d make friends at some point, and somehow get them to lend us their gear (using bribes of cold beers or possibly boxes of macaroni and cheese). It was a pleasant surprise that we were offered gear right away, and Tomas (the gear lender) didn’t even want the warm beer we had to offer!
Brian led Generic Crack, 120 feet of solid hand jamming and a little bit of spicy flared pods requiring some off-width technique (a couple of fist jams and a few arm bars). He flashed it, with only a few grunts, and lowered off the climb with a huge grin. Brian also looked as though he’d survived a battle in the hot sun, but he seemed very, very happy.
I took one look at his hands – slightly pink and sensitive, which, for Brian’s hands, is saying a lot – and decided to tape. Fifteen minutes of swearing, tape ripping, and stickiness, I was ready. Hopefully the hand taping learning curve is a steep one.
At some point, I made it up the climb, happy that I had worn tape (even though it rolled a bit and cut off my circulation – I need to practice taping!) and with a new appreciation for abrasive rock. The length of the climb challenged my endurance, the hot sun challenged my Irish-ness (I thought I was going to throw up), and the variations in the crack – from parallel lines to pods of off-width (bigger than my fist, not quite large enough to crawl inside) – challenged my technique. It is a great climb, and I look forward to sending it the next time we climb it.
We did a couple of laps on a fun 5.9, Binou’s Crack, and then called it a day.
Brian and I ate dinner while watching the sun set – purples and blues! – over the canyons and shrub-covered desert floor. What a spectacular day!
I am looking forward to climbing more at Indian Creek.
We bailed to warmer and dryer places last Tuesday. We thought that we’d stick out the rain storm that was coming to Yosemite. When our camp site flooded and we woke up to a stream flowing through the vestibule and two inches of water inside the tent (our inflatable pads were floating) we decided that the desert sounded mighty fine. We hopped in the car and drove to Red Rocks, which is about 20 miles west of the Las Vegas strip. Our waterlogged gear dried in about 15 minutes in the desert sun and we’ve enjoyed two days of half-naked sport climbing in the warm shade.
Also, the proximity to civilization has been nice. There are good cafes for Bridgid’s writing and unlike in Yosemite, we can actually get fresh fruits and veggies here. Unfortunately, everything here is a giant strip mall crowded with agro people in bling-bling SUVs.
Today we’re hitting the road again towards Moab, Utah, where the worlds finest splitter cracks await. We’ll stay until either the weather gets too cold or until our bodies can’t take any more crack. Then we’ll probably head back to Red Rocks and Joshua Tree before making the big push to NC for the holidays.
The hallmark of the journey that has taken us away from “real world” things like jobs and into the climbing bum counterculture are the happiness that we experience while climbing and living in natural places, and the personal growth that we experience while expanding our comfort zones on the rock. We avoid making arbitrary goals that feed our egos with big names, high grades, and notorious reputation. With that said, we do find motivation by striving for goals, both long-term and short, which are in line with our passions.
We arrived in Yosemite for the fall season with two routes on the agenda that would act as indicators of our progress while we improve our competence in the art of Yosemite climbing. These routes are Royal Arches, (5.7 A0) and East Buttress of Middle Cathedral (5.9 A0) and we completed the second goal yesterday. Although we feel a strong sense of accomplishment for meeting both of our goals way ahead of schedule, the climb was not particularly pleasant and if we had known what was in store for us we likely would have scratched the climb off of our list.
Yesterday morning we packed our bags by headlamp and were on the trail before dawn. Despite our early start, there was already a party in front of us. We stretched on the amazing pedestal at the base of the route and watched the headlamps of climbers across the valley, high on El Cap, preparing for another day of pushing for the summit. While we waited, we noticed that the party in front of us was a bit slow but had we known how bad they were we would have turned around and headed back to the car.
My old housemate and incredible speed climber, Shane, introduced me to the term “gumby” to describe incompetent climbers. We all are gumbies at some point in our climbing careers, but the derogatory use of the term is typically reserved for individuals who severely impair the fun and/or safety of other climbers through blatant incompetence. And the climbers in front of us were supreme gumbies.
We followed the slow climbers closely with the intention of passing at a route variation 4 pitches up the 11 pitch route. As was to be the norm for the rest of the route, we spent more time standing at uncomfortable belay stances waiting than we did climbing. When we got to the passing lane, I headed up. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the extremely small cam that was needed to protect the 5.10a crux of the variation. I assessed the danger of the fall and decided to run it out, even though it would mean making a difficult move 15 feet out from my last protection. I committed to the moves but I came off and took a 35 foot fall. I was not willing to risk taking this fall again so I lowered back down to the belay and got back in line.
The gumbies were moving up the bolt ladder at a speed that would have frustrated a sloth. They seemed to spend more time hanging and doing nothing than they did making upward progress. After giving them some time to space out I started up the bolt ladder. As I reached for the first bolt, I heard a yell of “rock”, the climbers equivalent of the golfers “fore”, coming from above. Usually climbers indicate the severity of what has been dropped by the volume and level of panic in their voice, and this one was serious. We did all that one can do in such a situation, which is to bury one’s body and face against the rock, keep the head vertical so the helmet is straight above he head, and cover the back of the neck with any free hands. A heavy missle came came wizzing and hissing down behind me. A pathetic “sorry” came from above and a “dude, they dropped an f-ing cam” came from a party below. I prefaced a suggestion for them to get their act together with an, “I’m trying to be constructive here,” but they only had lame excuses.
Unfortunately, the cam was not the last missile to be fired at us that day. The gumbies also managed to pull off some rocks. This is almost entirely due to their carelessness, but it also was testament to the scruffy nature of the climb. The rock had lots of sandy edges and loose flakes and the quality of the climbing didn’t measure up to it’s reputation as a classic.
Bridgid and I tried to practice an attitude of acceptance and deal with the situation with a positive attitude, but the gumbies in front of us combined with the rude climbers tailgating close behind made the situation very taxing. Eventually, we made it to the top, exhausted, and booked it towards the descent gully. Luckily, we made it past the rappels and confusing bits as the last light of day faded.
Today we woke feeling sore and exhausted and we plan on taking at least 2 rest days. Then we’re not sure what’s on the agenda. Certainly, there will be plenty of cragging on the incredible crack lines around here and we’ll continue to focus on our technique, fitness, and confidence. If the crowds clear, we’re considering an afternoon foray a few pitches up the Nose of El Cap. We’re also considering the posibility of sampling a big wall like the South Face of Washington Column. Unfortunately, the relatively easy climbing and logistics that would make this a good first wall for us can also attract, you guessed it, the gumbies. Luckily that route can be rappeled from any pitch so we could bail quick if things got fishy.
Last Sunday Yosemite was hit by a big storm so we didn’t climb at the base of El Cap as planned. But the storm left the valley looking spectacular, with a mist hanging over the snow dusted walls, and we enjoyed an extra rest day and went for a walk.
On Monday we headed to the base of El Cap where there are tons single pitch crack routes of impeccable quality. We only got on two routes, but we did laps on both and worked on technique and got a good endurance workout. First, we got on La Cosita Right, a 5.9 finger to thin hands crack. Then, I shamelessly asked some climbers on Sacherer Cracker to drag our ropes up for a top-rope. They turned out to be very friendly and not only set up the top-rope but also hung out and offered advice.
Sacherer Cracker is a 5.10a crack that gradually widens from fingers to gaping off-width. It is one of the nicest and burliest crack lines I’ve ever climbed. I flashed the route twice, although I just barely made it through the strenuous off-width at the top. Bridgid styled the lower section, despite a few falls when her endurance waned. She was completely shut down by the off-width, but it’s hardcore that she even tried it since she had never tried an off-width before. I aspire to lead this route, but I’m not yet comfortable with the off-width.