So, for those of you who have found me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my photo album running down my time in Moab. I’m enjoying the photo journal as a way to easily
show off brag explain to people what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately there’s no really good way to present such a photo album here on WordPress. So for now, if you want to find out the nitty-gritty of what I’ve been doing, you’ll have to check out the photo albums (which I’ll link here).
As I write this I’m sitting in a Starbuckles in Reno, NV. I wrapped up my three week stint in Indian Creek on Monday and took my sweet ass time getting up here to pick up Laura for our week in Lover’s Leap. Definitely stoked for some time in the Leap — there are a lot of moderate classics I still haven’t done, not to mention old projects that were out-of-reach a year ago that I can likely crush, and new projects to thrash on. It’s a beautiful area and I’m looking forward to continuing to push the boundaries of my hard-won confidence on gear.
The Creek was amazing. Not only was I able to summit several desert towers–Castleton, Ancient Art, and the South Six Shooter–but the value of the Creek as a training ground blew way past even my wildest expectations. In a little less than three weeks, I went from feeling like I had to top-rope everything (really unusual for me) to routinely manhandling cracks sized thin hands through fists.
For the non-climbers out there, crack-climbing is a discipline of climbing very different from what I’m used to. The sort of rock climbing you see at climbing gyms involves climbing on holds which protrude from the rock. This is called face climbing, and is probably the most common style of climbing these days, as it is typically protected by bolts and thus easy for beginners to get into.
Supercrack of the Desert 5.10+ (from MP.com)
By contrast, crack climbing involves climbing what’s not there. You’re trying to move up a fissure in the rock by cramming your body parts–mostly hands and feet but sometimes shoulders, knees, or your whole body–into the crack in a way that lets you stick and make upward progress. Because you can build a safety system inside a crack without modifying the rock, i.e. without bolting it, crack climbing is sort of the rough and tumble old-school way of climbing. It takes a bit more thought than climbing on bolts, and a totally different sort of technique.
Anyway, three weeks in the Creek served me very well, and my crack technique has improved dramatically. Likewise, my confidence climbing on gear I’ve placed myself (as opposed to bolts) has also increased quite a bit. By the end of the trip I was jumping on 5.11 cracks no problem, and even managed to send a very sporty 5.12 called Anunnaki. Granted, this climb was mostly face climbing, but you’re doing it on gear–climbing 5.12 face on gear is something I’d have thought I was a year away from before I came to the Creek.
Learning a new technique like this is pretty intense. You can make an incredible amount of progress very quickly when you’re such a novice, and it almost seems like magic. You can recognize improvement not just from day to day, but from hour to hour. Even when you take a few days off and come back to it you find your technique has improved. It’s pretty amazing.
Crack climbing in particular is special since it has such a long and storied history as the “original” climbing style in the United States. Having marched up the classic Supercrack, which was originally led on hexes, a type of gear not well suited to the crack’s geometry and thus very unlikely to catch a fall, I have a much better appreciation for that achievement.
On the one hand, when you have the technique dialed, crack climbing feels incredibly secure. You know that you could hang your entire bodyweight from that one good handjam without falling. Even on easy face climbing, there’s always some feeling of insecurity. You never feel as safe as you do when you’re really wedged into a good crack.
On the other hand, moving up these jamcracks is a much more full-body experience than face climbing. Although you feel secure, staying in these things can hurt your hands and feet. At Indian Creek, many of the cracks are exactly the same size for 50+ feet, meaning all you have to do is pull the same move over and over. Thus, when you figure out how to move, the tendency is just to keep moving and not stop until you’re done–the better to limit the pain and risk of wearing out. In a lot of ways, climbing these things, once you figure it out, becomes less of a technical challenge and more of a workout. The stairmaster from hell.
Huffing and puffing on Generic Crack 5.10-.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my time down there. My sport has probably degenerated while I’ve neglected it, but the skills I learned there will stick with me for a long time, and open up a lot of new options to me, which was exactly what I wanted. I’m feeling ready for the next step, which is the legendary Yosemite Valley. I won’t get there until the fall, but I’m looking forward to continuing my education there!
In the meantime, I’m psyched to climb at the Leap with Laura, whom I haven’t seen in six weeks! After that I’m off to Red Rocks to climb with Juan and Marie. Since I haven’t been sport-reaching in a while, I’ll have to figure out some way to shoehorn my newly acquired jamming skills into the sport climbing down there. I think I can handjam those crimpers if I tape my hands in just the right way.
I still want to talk about the towers I climbed, which were gorgeous and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I think that’ll have to wait until another post. Until next time!