I was right at that sweet spot where I had had enough beer to have some bravado but not quite enough where I couldn’t remember what I had said the next day. I was bullshitting with a friend about all of the different climbing destinations we could hop on a plane and go visit and casually mentioned that we should go to Indian Creek to learn how to crack climb. Crack climbing locally means finding the one crimp in the 4 foot section of off-width that you can use to get into a forearm-destroying layback as you whimper your way to the top. Going to the Creek to learn to climb cracks is probably akin to flying to Pakistan to learn how to be a mountaineer (only with restaurants and beer instead of death and finger amputation). He called my bluff and within 24 hours we had flights booked to the land of plural wives and prickly cacti.
We talked about training for the trip, but as I mentioned real cracks around here are in short supply so our training consisted mostly of watching videos from Steph Davis and the Wide Boyz and practicing how to put our tape gloves on. We only had a month, so once a weekend we would drive for an hour to get to the only gym in the province with a sustained crack and beat ourselves silly on it. The training did help. I was able to add to new trad leads to my tick list (who knew that hands and feet can fit where gear can go!), so brimming with the confidence that comes with not grovelling up two 40′ 5.8s I jumped on the plane to Utah.
Utah is gorgeous. No lie. This was my first time in the desert so the landscape really took my breath away. One of the nicest things about climbing and having the resources to travel is that I`ve gotten to see some really, really nice places. The people, as always, were fantastic (special shout out to Will and Naomi, proof that normal people actually live in Yosemite and climb there as their home crag). The climbing, on the other hand and perhaps being true-to-form for the rugged and wind-blasted landscape, was brutal.
I was lucky to be in the company of three much more experienced climbers. I think all three of them have climbed, or come close to climbing, 5.12, so I figured I’d have a rope gun for most of the week. As it turns out, in our 5 days of climbing, the best we could manage was using the team approach to get our rope up a 5.10. They don’t bother with letter grades in the guidebook there, as the grading is mostly subjective based on how well your hands, fingers and feet fit in the cracks.
That being said I was pretty happy with my own climbing. I held my own with the other guys and got up a couple of routes on lead. Climbing splitter cracks felt a lot like ice climbing to me, so I wasn’t totally surprised when I caught the feeling for the technique by day two. However, something I never caught on to was just how destroyed I would feel at the end of each day. There’s something unique about jamming all of your body parts into a rock slot and then trying to convince yourself that it doesn’t hurt (much) and if you can only get to that next bomber hand jam you’ll be able to shake your feet out so that your toes aren’t screaming in pain (much). I think the best I managed was 5 routes in one day, all at 5.10 or less.
If you’re new to the Creek, you could do worse than to follow our itinerary. It looked something like this:
Day 1-2: Donnely Canyon to climb The Thing (5.10-with a terrible-for-my-girth squeeze chimney at the top), a really fun 5.7 mini-tower who’s name eludes me and who’s exploding rock took my gear confidence down a notch or two, Binou’s Crack (5.9), The Naked and the Dead (5.8), Generic Crack (5.9+ and 120′ of one of the coolest lines I’ve ever been on).
Day 3: Took a rest day trip to climb The Looking Glass, a 3 pitch 5.4 that ends with a 180′ free-hanging rappel. Bring some doubles cause one rope ain’t gonna getcha down! This was a great day, we ended up talking to a dad who was somehow going to get his 6 kids (gotta love Utah) up and down this thing. We didn’t stick around to see how he did it. We also did some more touristy stuff, including a trip into the amazing Arches National Park.
Day 4-5: Donnely Canyon to climb Chocolate Corner (5.9), Elephant Man (5.10, super cool. I tried to put the rope up but got cruxed out and had to lower off and have someone save the gear). Scarface Wall to climb a cool 5.9 chimney, a ‘regular’ 5.9 with actual face holds and finished off with a BRUTAL small hands 5.10 that we had to aid climb up to get to the anchors.
By the end of the trip everyone was destroyed. Two of our party took off to Vegas for some ‘real climbing’ at Red Rocks and I came back home to sit on the couch for a week and recover. I still have cuts, scrapes and scabs on my ankles and wrists as of writing this and I’ve been home for two full weeks.
All in all it was an amazing trip. Even though I got beat up, my crack climbing is 1000% better so I can’t wait for our rope season to get started again so I can go crazy on all the moderate trad climbs that scared me off this season. On top of that, there’s nothing like ending a climbing season on a positive note.Now I just need to wait patiently for ice…
On the more touristy side, make sure you head into Moab at least once to check out the tasty restaurants (Wake and Bake and the one across the street were both fantastic) and one of the local gear shops, Pagan Mountaineering, was way too well stocked. All of the National Parks in the area are fantastic as well so you won’t regret a trip here.