Indian Creek, USA, October 2008- awesome!!
Well here I am, back in good old blighty again. A bit later than expected though, I was having such a good time that I extended my trip by another ten days.
So where to start, how to write three weeks of blog as concisely as possible?? I’m not known for my short punchy sentences but I’ll try.
I suppose I can split the trip into two halves; the American Alpine Club International Climbers Meet (AAC ICM) and then International climbers travel some more.
The AAC ICM.
The venue was Indian Creek in Utah and having known about this for a good few months and chatting to people who had already been, I had tried to do a little prep before getting there. Finding the right shoes for cracks (my Scarpa vision velcros were perfect. A good flat toe profile, extra rubber on top of the shoe, not too tight but the downside is that Scarpa don’t make this model anymore, so next time I’ll have to find something else). I did a bit of work in the gym as I knew the climbing was physical and looked like bigger biceps would help, unfortunately my biceps didn’t dramatically grow in size before I went. And other things like how to tape etc but really nothing could prepare you for Indian Creek apart from climbing at Indian Creek- it’s a very unique place.
Compared to some of the other Internationals, at least I’d had some crack experience. The grit is a pretty good introduction to jamming and it helped to have done quite a few grit cracks (which I love). Some people just couldn’t ‘get’ jamming and even right at the end the French climber, Gabin Piat, was still trying to pull the crack apart or layback. Needless to say he got pumped, a lot!
Anyway, we all met up in Golden Colorado, then travelled to the Creek in mini buses. We stopped in Moab for some last minute gear shopping then got to our campsite. The journey took about 7 or 8 hours, it was a long day. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining in Utah, not a great welcome but spirits were high.
The Creek is a desert and you really are out in the wilds, as there are no facilities, everything had to be brought in. The AAC did a great job of providing all the food and cooks and also some portaloos. It was felt that as we were such a big group (80-90 people), our environmental impact could be minimised in this way. We were also provided with ‘wagbags’. These provided great hilarity, especially when Malcolm Daly tried to explain how to use them around the campfire one night. The desert is so dry and fragile that human waste doesn’t get degraded as quickly as it does in damp areas. So ‘The Friends of Indian Creek’ try to encourage all visitors to carry their poo out with them. And that was what the wagbag was for.
We also had to bring lots of water with us, the days were hot and with no washing facilities, a lot of water was used.
It’s also frowned upon to use the wood in the desert for fires, so there were piles of firewood brought in by the AAC. And every night the whole group would gather round the campfire, exchanging stories and gnarly eastern European spirits/liquor. The fires were great and without them, bedtime would probably have been significantly earlier!
The days panned out similarly. Brittany Griffith (one of the main organisers) would somehow put everybody into groups, while breakfast was consumed. Then the vans would head off at about 9am and everybody would go climbing for the day, not to be seen back at camp until between 5pm and 7pm. With so many different climbing areas and only five climbing days it was tough to decide where to go. But to be honest it didn’t really matter as all the venues seemed as good as the last and they each felt slightly different. Especially the towers. Myself, Brittany and Claudiu (Romania) climbed a couple of towers at Bridger Jacks on the third day and it was great. The climbing felt more varied than the cragging we’d done, the cracks weren’t so unrelenting and it was nice to gain height and views and to actually sit on top of something. On one of them, there was even a book in a tin that you could sign, which was cool. The other notable towers to do are the south and north six-shooters, which sounded great but I didn’t have time but hopefully they won’t fall down by the time I get back there!
Then in the evenings when we got back, dinner would be ready (this was a real luxury having dinner cooked for you), a campfire would be built and we would ensconce ourselves round it. There was always some sort of entertainment every night, we were never bored, in fact at times we wanted to just sit down and chill but the AAC entertained us well.
Jim Donini (US climbing legend and AAC president) gave us a slide show one night. Yes, a slideshow in the desert- only in America! Even though I was feeling a bit weary, it was fascinating and very interesting to hear about all the amazing routes he has done, especially in Patagonia. Jim was there the whole week and it was very obvious that Indian Creek is a special place for him, so he was a great host and provided some good entertainment when he climbed a 30 metre crack with only 3 cams. Still going strong at 65 yrs old!
The climbing: well, it’s hard. What can I say, there’s no point lying about it. Although on the first day, it wasn’t quite as hard as I was expecting- there was the odd foothold on the faces- but it never really felt any easier by the end either.
The gear seemed to be pretty bomber, 95% cams; I think I put in 1 nut maybe 2! But it’s sandstone (Windgate, one of the more compact types), so you had to be careful and it was advised not to run it out too much. If a piece did rip then you could go a fair way, especially because we pretty much always climbed on single ropes. The small cams were a bit iffy at times; if the rock in the crack was a bit softer then their limited camming range meant that they could pull straight out. There were stories of people taking whippers and ripping gear, one International ripped 3 pieces in a row, hmmm not nice. He didn’t deck though so all was good.
Personally, I found it hard to run it out at the creek. I always took more gear than the guidebook suggested and always used most of it. I guess it was because I wasn’t so confident with the climbing style and didn’t believe in my ability to climb it. So I was fully putting in gear as often as possible.
Leading seemed like hard work at times too. Normally I will always want to lead everything but I was certainly happy to top rope some routes when someone left a rope up. This seemed common practice here. If the rope was long enough (the belays were generally pretty good bolt/drilled peg anchors), then ropes were left up for everybody else to have a go. The pitches were generally pretty long and I found it mentally taxing leading more than 3 pitches a day. Even though you were doing the same move over and over again and knew what to expect, it was hard graft.
I found the laybacks especially intimidating, as you just knew as soon as you left the ground; you were going to get pumped. So just starting up one took a lot of psyche. I led a very memorable 5.11- at Way Rambo called Layback Method (or something like that) and it started up a layback corner then finished with a roof at the top. I was really pleased to do this one, as it just wasn’t my cup of tea. But I did enjoy it, once I had clipped the belay!
After that route Brittney led a great feature called The Serrater. An off width that led to an amazing jagged flake. It was a brill lead and I was happy to top rope it, just such hard work. I would’ve liked to have tried more off widths, as I didn’t practice much hand stacking etc but there were just so many good looking lines, that the off widths kind of took a back seat.
I learnt to interpret the guide in terms of what route I should try. IE. It made sense for me to get on routes that suited small hands. But to be honest I was up for trying anything and enjoyed all the routes that I tried. Well ‘enjoy’ is maybe not quite the right word. Crack climbing seems a bit of a masochistic style of climbing. You know it’s gonna be hard, it’ll probably hurt a bit but when you’ve fought your way to the top, the satisfaction is pretty big.
Brittany actually climbed without taping her hands at all. I don’t know how she managed but she just did. I fully taped up (along with everyone else), sometimes my tape gloves went a bit wrong and fell apart but by the end they seemed to work well. Taping is def the way forward.
The feet get quite a battering too, especially the ankles. As I’ve broken my right ankle quite badly, I was worried that it wouldn’t stand up to the stresses of shoving the feet into cracks, then twisting on the ankle and putting all your body weight through it. But actually it held up amazingly well and I wasn’t hindered at all, which was a relief. Also, I’d injured my shoulder in Jersey a few days before the USA trip and I was worried that would be a problem too. But miraculously it was fine.
So with no excuses, I just climbed for five days straight. Phew it was pretty hard work and by the end of it, I really didn't want to climb another crack again for a long time. Some people had a rest day and I did consider it but I just thought well we’re only climbing here for five days, who knows I may never make it back, so lets make the most of it. It was very tiring but ultimately very enjoyable.
The combination of Indian Creek being a very special place, all the International visitors enjoying the experience and the USA hosts being great company- the meet was a brilliant event. The AAC (especially Brittany Griffith, Jim Donini and Dana Richardson) did a fantastic job of organising things, which meant we all had a memorable experience.
Thanks to everyone who was there, helping to make the meet happen and especially to Brittany who made my first Indian Creek crack climbing trip, FUN!!
I will upload some images from the trip (when I’ve worked out how to do it!) and will post the next instalment of my trip soon…