November 11, 2009

Pain and Suffering...Life at Europe's favorite American Crag

Fall in Utah is amazing (as are the other 3 seasons.) But autumn is especially stellar when the yellow leaves of Aspen and Cottonwoods are juxtaposed against a backdrop of red sandstone cliffs. This feast of color is easier to appreciate when you get your feet back on terra firma after jamming them sideways into 2" wide, 100' tall, vertical cracks. This is Indian Creek: a paradise on earth, assuming you like crack climbing; i.e. assuming you like to suffer. But that’s what climbing is when you push yourself out of the "comfort zone:" suffering. Your success is dependent on your ability to suffer. No one actually LIKES it, but some people suffer better than others. These are the climbers who succeed, and everyone gets stoked on that!

- Tyson Bradley

Veteran crack-climbers drop their knee away from the crack, insert their foot sideways, and rotate their knee back in-line with the splitter groove. This locks the foot securely in place, making it a solid hold. It also hurts like hell, until you get used to it. These are the folks who recognize suffering is going to happen, but they'd rather suffer early than suffer later.
Others prefer to shove their toe straight into the crack, or smear painlessly on smooth wall outside it. They concentrate on their hand-jams instead of their feet. These climbers avoid the excruciating pain of tarsal bones smashed against stone. However, they experience the pain later when their feet peel and they are left hanging on their killer hand jam. Now they are REALLY glad they used tape gloves! Usually they have the strength to hang on their arms for a certain number of moves. Maybe 20 feet worth. Maybe 50. Some powerful individuals can fly 110' feet up Generic or 3 Am Crack. But eventually, they gas out.
Most climbers recognize sooner or later, that the sport is all about the feet, and crack climbing in Indian Creek is no exception. No matter how strong you are, or how solid your hand jamming technique it, you will achieve more highly if you suck it up, and jam your feet. Once you figure this out, and you realize you can usually place a cam wherever you want one, climbing at the greatest crack crag in the universe gets fun.

Soon the jammable sections are the easy ones and the pumpy lie-back is the next technique to master. This is required when the crack size shrinks to fingers only. That means toes don't fit in and its easier to put your feet on the wall just below where your fingers are pulling on the edge of the crack, and boogie up with considerable exertion. The trick here is saving enough strength to place a piece of protection before you run out of steam.
Then there are the dreaded off-widths where a combination squirming, stemming, the above techniques and anything else you can think of, is the bag of tricks. But that’s another discussion...If you avoid towers and multi-pitch routes and read the guidebook carefully; you can dodge the cracks that are too wide for feet, hands, and reasonable-sized cams. Instead you can stay on the popular, friendly cracks, such as the "Incredible HAND Crack" and "Supercrack" and meet the international crowd that frequents these areas.
For Europeans, Aussies, etc., Indian Creek is the best-known American climbing area outside Yosemite. There is nothing else like it on earth (at least as far as the general climbing public knows.) Half the fun is hearing the accents and getting the diverse perspectives. They are bound to be friendly as they ask you, “Do you have any extra # 2 Camalots?” Everyone has a story of how they got half-way up their first I-Crk lead and ran out of the cam size they needed. They have to lower or down lead, and go begging, or shopping in Moab! Some cracks need up to 10 of the same size cams!! Sharing is a good way to make friends, increase good karma, and save a fortune.

So bring as many hand-size cams as you can gather, bring an open mind and gregarious personality, and go get pumped in Utah's fall (or spring) paradise. Or call UMA and have a guide put the rope up and belay for you so you can just concentrate on technique while climbing on a top-rope.