Saturday, April 15, 2006

Canyonlands redux

There's nothing like calling home and hearing that it's snowy there... Still sunny and warm here in Moab, although we had biblical winds last night that turned our campsite into a garbage mess and ripped up a few tents. Sand everywhere, it reminds me of a theory I read once that the Anasazi commonly died young because their teeth were too worn down from eating sand-filled food. I can see the truth in that idea after munching sand for a while, I'm starting to notice flavour differences; desert patina, Cutler vs Dakota, they all taste different... Not really, but sand is a integral part of the culinary experience here.

We had to take a break from cracks on Thursday and went into Mill Creek with the ever-psyched Lisa, who pointed a team of us at various routes. Mill Creek is a great place to climb, a lush oasis (still some snow down there despite the new leaves and sun) after the starkness of Canyonlands. Lev is close to senind "The Bleeding," an old Noah Bigwood route that hasn't seen a second ascent despite some good efforts, he again came close but no chains. Good to see him and Lisa as always, we had so much fun that we destroyed our fingertips, so it was back to Canyonlands on Friday, a hot day.

I talked to two of Moab's more prolific crack climbers last rest day, and they told me their secrets to climbing hard cracks: Aspirin and tape. Yep, even the pros find the harder cracks painful, it's not just my wussy ice climber skin and feet...

We were going to head up to the Optimator buttress but it was in the sun, so Greg, Ben and a new arrival, Nathan, and I headed to whatever buttress is across the drainage from Optimator. A couple of Aspirin, lots of tape, and a fun 5.10 corner later I was fired up to try something a little harder. Greg and Nathan had both had a go at a supposed 5.10+ just down the way, and then I had the battle of the trip on it, green Camalots on bad rock (we trundled a small car out of the start) to Red cams (OK). I got up to where it was supposed to turn Gold cams (good hands) and found another 25 feet of overhanging green cams, of which I luckily had two. I got excited and sent it with some choice words, definitely the hardest thing I've succeeded on this trip. Ben made me feel better by also using self-encouraging words on it. It felt like an exam or something, I was happy to get by with a pass if not an A for technique. The tape and Aspirin are essential, thanks to Dean and Steph for that info, I've never used Aspirin for rock climbing before, it's key for nasty cracks.

We then had a cool hike contouring around the drainage to the Optimator buttress; it was cool because it's very shady, lots of green grass, little seeps under huge soaring rock buttresses, I'll remember that hike for a long time. The contrasts in the desert are what make it so special I think, green and red, blue and white, the boundaries between the colors are sharper down here.

At the Optimator buttress we found a very cool overhanging crack on the back of a big block, Annaki or some thing (I don't have a guide down here, just climb what looks cool, so all names are phonetic guesses based off what people are saying). Annankai is the best single-pitch crack I've ever climbed, steep, good pulls, good gear, not painful. Ben and I both sent it first go, then did a few victory laps on it 'cause it was just so much fun to monkey around on the steep jams. I'd spend the rest of my life climbing cracks if they were all like that! You've gotta do that route if you're ever in the area, it's stellar!

Today we're thrashed, we've been 2 on, one off cycle since before leaving Canmore, time for a rest day. It was a bit sad breaking down camp this morning, the Canadian Invasion is splintering apart. Steve and Paul are on the road for a while longer as are Ben and Sarah, Erica and the other Sarahs have headed out. We're all headed to Castle Valley way in the morning for one last day of crack-whacking, then who knows, Greg and I are likely heading to Salt Lake City for some flying and bouldering/work. I need to turn some circles on my glider, I've been dreaming about flying a lot and the itch is turning into something immediate...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


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!"