Indian Creek – The kingdom of crack climbing
Tim Kemple himself as our guide to the secrets of Indian creek, and Caro’s teacher for her first pictures!
One of my go to phrases when speaking in public, or trying to explain climbing to a journalist is this…
Climbing is not only one sport, it’s an umbrella covering all sorts of different things, allowing us to go out every day and try something new. From Bouldering to Trad, Sport to Alpine, we’re protected from boredom by our umbrella of “climbing”.
If that wasn’t all too clear, the variety in climbing is what I love the most, and I think its fair to say that if climbing was limited to just one of its sub disciplines, I’d have probably given it up long ago. I like learning new things, and I’ve always been very curious to find out how things work, so having a whole host of different activities to discover, often along with a load of new rope or protection techniques to understand is just the perfect ‘sport’ for me.
and there are quite a few tricks that are very specific to the cracks…
So here’s where things get complicated. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a terrible ‘beginner’. I say I like learning new things, but that’s not exactly true. What I actually like is being able to do new things, and do them well; to add a new string to my bow so to speak and have a new skill that is useful for something. But what use is a sport if not simply for having fun, and can you not have as much fun on your first day as a beginner discovering a new world, as an expert with their art crafted to perfection. Logically speaking I’d have to say yes, or at least I hope it is so.
My ‘problem’ is clearly my own, it’s something based on who knows what from who knows when, and maybe one day I’ll sit down with some psychologist and figure it all out. Today however is not that day. I know my faults but I’m lucky that I pick up most things pretty quickly. For those that I don’t, I forget and leave to one side. I know I suck at football, and thus have no interest in that.
So why am I talking about that today? As professional climbers that are known for travelling and exploring, evidently we travel and explore a lot. Over the 15 years I have been climbing, I’ve visited incredible places all over the world. From Trad climbing in the desert of northern Chad, to discovering a new Deep Water Solo heaven in the Philippines, the list is long and has been a lot of fun. Yet despite all of this there are still many places I am yet to see, some of which might surprise you!
Up until very recently I’d never been crack climbing! We’ll that’s not exactly true. I’ve climbed short cracks on many Trad routes, and been lucky enough to climb with some of the best crack climbers on the planet, but I’d never been ‘real’ crack climbing, somewhere like Indian Creek, where the splitter cracks go on for days and days. I knew how to jam my fingers, hands, and fists, and knew even more that when none of those fit life suddenly gets very hard. I also knew that going to Indian creek would likely be a slap in the face, and by not going I could continue to pretend that my crack skills were adequate, or acceptable, or whatever other collection of words I could find to lie to myself. Ignorance is bliss!
James practising the subtleties of hand jams, finger jams, finger stacks…
Well, just like the Quarryman escapade, life has a habit of rocking the boat, or sometimes simply throwing you overboard. The North Face decided to hold their 2016 Athlete Summit in Moab, Utah, and so with Indian Creek less than an hour drive away and a bunch of our friends planning on going climbing in the desert, the decision to spend a few weeks on those long red splitters was almost made for me. We would be joined by photographer and friend Tim Kemple who planned to show us around and help us with some of the more obscure crack techniques. I’ve known Tim since 2008, and we’ve been on many adventures together. He’s seen me in all of my states, the good and the bad, and so I felt comfortable with the chance of Tim seeing me sliding out of 5.10’s because quite frankly he’s seen it all before.
So what happened, did it work, and would I go back?
All in all we spent about 7 days ramming and twisting various bits of our bodies into countless differently sized cracks. Some cracks were easy, some cracks were hard and some cracks just seemed downright impossible. I found that the difficulty had less to do with the grade and more to do with your hand size, and happily for me, sport fitness can actually get you pretty far if you choose your routes well and can live with yourself for lay-backing!
In all seriousness, Indian Creek was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and a thousand times better than I imagined it would be. Pure Crack climbing is an incredibly interesting skill to learn, far more detailed than I would have ever imagined, and I can see how even a short time in the Creek could massively improve my all-round trad skills. Whilst it is true that all routes are ultimately quite similar, the subtleties of the different techniques for each size of jam, the irregularities (they may be splitter, but these things are still natural!) of the crack and the surrounding rock, and finally the steepness of the wall, all make for surprisingly unique routes.
I learned to talk about route beta in terms of friend colors, and for the first time in my life really understood why American Trad climbers often suck at placing gear! I learnt that like alcohol, off-widths are a lot of fun, but that too much too soon might make you sick. I learnt that green .75’s were made by the Devil, but that 2’s are as good as a rest, and I witnessed first hand that if you can jam, and I mean really, really jam, you can live up in Alaska having not climbed for 3 years, and still burn me off!
But more than anything I think I learnt to accept that grades, and ultimately performance are kind of meaningless. I learnt to let go of some of my ego, and the worry of what people might think of me, and simply enjoy going climbing. During those 7 days in the Creek I was able to climb some great routes. I climbed The Carbondale Short Bus, a route that people would technically call the ‘hardest route in Indian Creek’ at 5.14. I also fell off some 5.10’s and 11’s – go figure! With just 3 locker finger jams in the whole route, and a load of awkward, technical and dynamic climbing, I felt right at home on the Shortbus. Yet put me on a .75 warm up and I’ll cry for my mummy.
Our comfort climbing here, just like our comfort climbing anywhere depends on so many factors, many of which I’m not even able to understand. I’m going to try a lot harder in the future just to take a step back and appreciate my climbing for what it really is – me, moving over rock, and trying to figure out what it all means…
James sending the Carbondale Shortbus 5.14-,on paper the hardest route in Indian creek….
Eye candy, Caro on another beautiful route…
And just to show you Caro’s proudest picture of the trip: Richard starring!