Every year I say I'm going to go to Alaska in the spring and try that game out, but by the time spring rolls around the call of warm rock and air is too great to resist and I end up not going to Alaska... This year is no different--after somewhere over 100 days of swinging ice tools I just can't see doing anything involving sub-freezing temperatures, so Bender and I loaded up and drove 20 hours south to Canyonlands. As we drove down into Indian Creek I realized that it was almost exactly 20 years ago that I first had at the cracks of Canyonlands, or rather they had at me. I don't climb in Canyonlands often, about every five years, but it's one of those reference points in life I keep coming back to. I've driven down into "the Creek" with so many different friends and partners, and each trip is a sort of time capsule lodged in my brain. As Ben and I slid out of Moab and down into the Creek I DJed a set of Grace Jones into Ice T/Minor Threat into Sisters of Mercy into Fat Boy Slim to commemorate the different trips and eras the Creek marked in my life, it seemed fitting.
Ben and I hopped out of the van and into the warmth of the Creek with the same psyche as I had had 20 years earlier, and soon we were up on some steep wall having at it. I always try to restrain myself the first day but don't, we stuffed ourselves full of steep cracks and gave blood. We started with the first thing at the top of the trailhead, which looked like hands but wasn't, blue Camalots all the way and much cursing. Then it was off to Gurka and fingerlocks, then some grunting corner, finishing off with Slot Machine, another mega-classic. My tape ripped off halfway up Slot Machine and a large portion of my left hand followed shortly. That route is a "pack a lunch" kind of rig for me, but totally fun, and Ben did battle on it too. Climbing cracks is a lot like riding a bicycle, I haven't done much of it in in a decade but the moves are still in my body.
Yesterday we went to Battle of the Bulge and climbed some perfect corner then got involved with Rengle something (the start of Air Sweden). I was too psyched and fell off the easy section, then sent it second try with some pain--desert cracks just hurt, call me a wuss, but that's how I see it. I wanted to work Air Sweden but gave that idea up after climbing the crack again, I can only take so much pain. Ben and I wandered off and somehow convinced ourselves to get on Ruby's Cafe, a 5.13. It looked steep so I thought maybe it wouldn't hurt my feet so much (now there's some logic for ya), but it hurt my fingers like a SOB. I gave it a couple of efforts, but the final one ended in a early-90s style full on tantrum (those who lived that era know what I'm talking about, anyone else can just visualize a three-year old in full meltdown). It's been a while since I've been so frustrated on a climb--I could climb the moves, but I couldn't stomach abusing my fingers that savagely. Eventually it was possible to laugh about the experience, but Ben and I decided that what people really need to prepare for climbing in Indian Creek is a "Creek Preparation Kit." This kit would contain two or three hammers of various sizes from finish to sledge... These hammers would be used to whack hands, fingers and feet until swollen like over-ripe fruit. Plus some bathroom towel sized sandpaper to rub all over your arms, elbows and back until you looked more like a skateboard punk than a climber. Finally, a mini cheese grater would be perfect for tearing chunks of skin off, just rub your fingers and hands with it until covered in blood and plasma. Add in some weak acid to simulate all of this on mild sunburn and you've just "trained" for the creek... I'm only partly joking.
Today we're in Moab along with the 15 or so other "Canmorons" down here, it's great crew to hang with in the desert. I think I like Indian Creek despite the climbing--it's about the place, Indian Creek just resonates with me and, I think, most people. Camping in the desert, watching your friends get worked and succeed, grinding your teeth on desert grit in the morning cereal, it all adds up to something greater than the parts. My friend Greg was stuck neck-deep on an offwidth crack a few days ago and, after a long period with no movement, Greg's partner asked him what he was looking for with his head stuck so deep into the void. Greg said, "My soul." I like that answer, your soul does indeed seem closer down here than it does in other places, just out of sight instead of on the moon. I'll have to climb a few more cracks and see if I catch sight of the sucker--pain is clarifying according to several religions, climbing in the creek isn't so much climbing as it is practicing some bizzare religion involving stigmata and the vertical spaces between the rock. As Ice T says, "Oh yeah!"