|One of many crags at Indian Creek.|
Day 1 in Indian Creek. Having just warmed up on the classic ‘Dr Karl’ 5.10, I glanced at the route next door. It was graded 5.11. Looked piss. "Aye, I’ll just give this a burn Pete. See where we are at".
|Pete on Dr Karl|
I couldn’t get off the ground. This stellar crack was guarded by this body width off width, about 15ft high. I had my new big green size 6 camalot in. It was in the way. I kept re positioning it. Then I was laybacking up the thing, then slumping onto the cam. Meanwhile Pete is buried in my big duvet jacket pissing himself with laughter. Upping and downing, jamming and laybacking, every shot was just one more go. Eventually I turned the simple grade converted E2 offwidth into a desperate E8 layback and I gained the hand crack. Easy, I’ll just nip on up. 3 meters higher I was burnt. Aiding on red cams (which I later found out was a desperate crack size for me) I eventually I reached the wider crack above of gold cams (later which I found were piss but satisfying to climb). Then a roof was reached. I had no cams left despite taking the guidebook recommenced number. There was a variation finger crack out left. It wasn’t so much the finger crack was appealing, more the fact the chains were at 30m rather than the 40m hand crack above me. I made a little belay and lowered a loop of rope to haul the small cams up. Aiding out, I managed to get established. 5.12, the same grade as Moonlight Buttress, I’ll just give it a cheeky go. Finger crack, that might be more my style. Eh no! More aiding took me to a widening in the crack. A blue cam in then the chains. Thank god. Annoyingly the blue cam was over cammed. Totally jammed. Day one, we cant loose a big blue. Dave Cowan gave me some advice, pour water over the cam and work it out. Essentially you are softening the rock. After a painfully long time the cam came out. This whole process from tying on, then me reaching the ground must have taken around 2hrs. Oooops. Well that was Moonlight Buttress off the list. I walked away from the crag that evening with my tail between my legs. For months I had been talking all about Moonlight Buttress. Basically I had built it into my head that it was ‘ok’. But this first day just shut me down. Ok, I was choked with the cold, sleep deprived and jet lagged, but even still, that was a comedy for anyone watching.
|You just can't appreciate how cool this is... I want back now!|
Indian Creek. The world famous destination for sandstone crack climbing. I had my personal reservations about visiting there. But in retrospect, it’s probably the best investment of time I and the others have made in our climbing so far. Yes, we got spanked. But during that process, you develop a new skill set which not only paid dividends for the rest of the trip but for life. One thing I did struggle to get my head round was top roping some routes. I’m a very British climber and hold the onsight/flash attempt at high value. Not that we did much TRing, but Pete got me into doing a few routes, particularly 5.12 finger cracks. They are basically desperate. But, the process of stringing 3 or 4 moves together and learning the body positioning was priceless. One does feel like a complete punter, but its just part of the process.
|Shade (Photo: Rory Brown)|
|Me, Pete, Emma and Rory on top of Castleton Tower (Photo: Peter Herd)|
|5.11+ lay backing, easy. (Photo: Peter Herd)|
Anyway, in the Creek we sampled what we could. 5.10 hand cracks became easy along with 5.11 finger laybacks. We dispatched some lots of classic routes some of which you may have heard of, 'The Incredible hand crack’ and ‘Supercrack of the Desert’ (which team Scotland thought was shit despite its world famous must do status).. One thing I found with the cracks was, they are very physical, fairly satisfying, but can get a bit monotonous. Same move after another. Don’t get me wrong, its good fun, but I suspect we are use to more face climbing in the UK with varied moves on a pitch. After 2 days, we were all broken. I think Rorys hand is still swollen 5 weeks later! Living in the creek was cool. No phone signal, no towns or cities or major roads. Just a mellow relaxed feel with a few climbers dossing about. A pretty good place to be for resetting the social media button. I could keep ranting about the Creek. But I won’t. As far as I’m concerned it got 10 out of 10 and I will certainly be back. Thanks to Emma for her drive to go there.
|The Incredible Hand Crack|
|A full day's climbing was never enough. So some evening bouldering was needed (Photo: Rory Brown)|
Every route we did, every crag we visited, it always got compared to Scotland. Every night in the RV, team Scotland went into serious discussion on how things compared to the 'Ruthven traverse', 'Ashie Fort', 'Am Fasgadh'. Obviously Far East Wall on Beinn Eighe top trumped it all ;-). The skye lines were compared with the Cullin ridge and the 3 sisters of Glencoe was spotted in the Creek. Why did we even bother leaving?
|Pete Clarckson loving the scottish summer. Why would you leave?|
Zion, excuse my language, but fuck me! What a place. I basically wet myself as we drove into the national park. After a total ass kicking at Indian Creek, I had to admit to the team I had my concerns about attempting Moonlight Buttress 5.12+. Pete said himself, it had slipped down on his priority list. We gleaned tiny bits of information from other climbers regarding it, but it was all very mixed. Some said it was tough and as hard as the cracks in the Creek. Others, said it was more friendly and positive for the fingers with pods and some features on the wall. However, I realised that we were in America, the other side of the world. Zion was nearby. I had been banging on about it all year. What’s the worst that could happen? You end up doing one of the finest 5.9 C1 Aid routes in North America. I have limited aid climbing skills so this could be an opportunity to practice….
A switch was flicked, bags were packed that night, confidence appeared out of nowhere. Pete and I jumped on the 8.00 am shuttle bus in search of Moonlight Buttress. We had 4 days in Zion. It was a tough decision on how to spend our time. Not feeling confident on free climbing Moonlight Buttress in a day, we thought to give ourselves the best chance of doing it would be at least to pre inspect it, and try various sections over the next 2 days. The plan was, we could do the first half to the top of the crux, then the next day, rap in and check it out. From that, we could decide is it worth an attempt in a day. We had no portaledge or bivi kit so were limited to a day ascent.
Day 1, we arrived to find 2 teams already on the entry pitch's. Paul Tattersall warned me that could be an issue. The first team were French wads who disappeared in a blink. The next team were 2 young aid climbers from Colorado or California. In fact I’m not sure, not that it matters. Meeting them at the top of pitch 1, they too felt out their depth and kindly let us past. The first 4 pitches of moonlight buttress are good, but basically entry pitches to get onto the main pillar of rock. The first hard pitch was the boulder problem off the rocker block. Right, first things first. Alex Honnald soloed this. Flipping hec. I was hanging off the bolts, brushing holds and trying to work out which feet worked best for me in the maze of ticked smears. All were shit. A few attempts, I eventually dispatched the problem. Above lay the initial part of the corner. My mouth was dry from a mix of dehydration and intimidation. But as I got established, the climbing was very amenable. Positive finger locks with occasional footholds which provided a welcome rest. Arriving at the belay, I felt like a hero. Pete flashed the boulder problem and soon got absorbed into the stellar layback. This pitch in its own right would be 4 star, 3 star whatever starring system you use. Above lay the crux pitch, the upper part of the corner. Racking up again, I quested on up. The guide mentions that this pitch is all about endurance. Somehow I managed to get up and into the flare. Boxed out ma face, I managed to fiddle in some kit (wires of course. None of the cams I carried!). Making a poor job of trying to de pump and relax, I persevered. At the back of the flare is a line of awkward finger locks. The walls were smooth and devoid of footholds. I attempted to jam my way up the flare but kept sliding down. So I eventually resorted to lay backing up the thing. The left edge was rounded, but at least it felt like a hold. I got level with some random bolts on the left. Eyeballing them, desperate to clip them, I couldn’t move. I was practically horizontal. The body tension in me snapped and I was flying sides ways. My left testicle got squeezed in my leg loop which was rather sore. After some petty grumbling, I was hawling my way back up the rope. Sitting on the kit, I took a moment then got up to the bolt. Clipped that then worked the flare out. Meanwhile, 4 folk gathered at the hanging belay above. Team France and the US/ Solvenian team, Kirk and Peter Juvan. My plan was to get to the belay then have a look at this pitch. It all became a bit of a cluster fuck. The French team moved on but that left us with Kirk and Peter. These guys had tried Moonlight Buttress a few times and were checking it out for a free ascent in the next day or so. It was good to get some more information regarding the upper pitch's. These guys were honed crack climbers, so it was hard to gauge the real difficulty. Basically it came down to looking at Pete and my hands/fingers. I was fine they said. Poor Pete with his skinny fingers may struggle. I think that was one thing that really stuck out on the trip was grades became irrelevant. It seemed to be more about hand size. I struggled on red cams, whilst Pete slotted his hands in and got purchase…. Anyway, to avoid more faffing we binned the day.
|Pete following Pitch 5|
Day 2, we rapped in from the top. The aim was to just suss out the upper pitches. The top hard pitch is known as the ‘Nutting Pitch’5.12b. We both had a play on that and it seemed fine. Sport climbing as Peter Juvan (the Slovenian) described it as. That was music to my ears. Just another F7b to finish the day off. That’s how I lodged that in my head. Easy. The pitch below, now that’s not so easy. Its described as ‘splitter rattley fingers'. Its purple cams for about the first 10 meters. Then a ledge is reached. Above that is some technical balancey climbing to get into an easier lay back. Basically I couldn’t string any of the splitter together. I was a bit like 2 moves up then I fell and sagged onto the rope. Pete had a play and just said ‘pfffft’. It was a bit frustrating as I knew that this section would need to be aided. Oh well, we are two face climbers after all….
|On top on Moonlight Buttress|
|Rapping down 'The Nutting Pitch'|
The next pitch below, eh pitch 8 I think, is a lovely splitter but much more friendly. The crack was slightly podded and there was one or two foot holds on the wall. We both top roped this with ease and felt much better. Then there was the flare below…the pitch above the crux. This starts off as a smooth chimney, that narrows. You need to get into the crack and turned, into a desperate jamming lay back on green cams. As the topo said, much harder than the grade suggests. Well we both flailed on this. My heart sank again. Maybe we just need more miles on the cracks? Anyway, what the hec, whats the worst that can happen, It would be a nice route to French free!
That night we discussed a plan. I was keen to try it in a day the next day. Mainly due to that fact it was a Friday, we could get an early lift up with Kirk and Peter. Plus if we had a rest day, then it meant a day push would be on a Saturday… there could be other teams in the way. We have put a bit of work in and wanted to give ourselves the best chance possible. For 2 useless pastey white Scots, we needed all the time in the world. But Pete being very open (and sensible) said he was not psyched and needed a rest. To be fair he does talk sense unlike me who is full of shit. So we agreed on that. To give ourselves the best chance in doing the route in a day we opted for climbing the first 4 entry pitch's on day 3 and fix our rope. This meant on the Saturday, we could get a head start. Combined with the offer of an early lift up the canyon from Peter Juvan who had a permit for his car (Basically we were relying on the shuttle bus service which is excellent but, not ideal for early starts.), that seemed a fair deal.
|Wading the Virgin River.|
Day 4. Jugging our dynamic fixed ropes was a total ballache. I had one jumar and a gri gri. Pete had a Jumar and a crawl. Dick! Hauling our bag was also another ballache. It got caught in a v groove near the start so I had to rap down, free it, faff, re jug up… I am not cut out for aid climbing jugging, hard labour ballocks (Well I love it really ;-), just like Scottish winter). We both arrived at the Rocker Blocker pissed off and wasted from messing around. In retrospect, climbing the first few pitch's would have been quicker. You live and learn. Anyway, the main thing was, we had a head start and were at the front with no one on front. Pete, dispatched the Rocker Boulder problem and made light work of the first part of the corner. I came to second this. The boulder problem went fine… the corner I just got the seconding fear really badly. Cold, not trusting myself, I was a shambles. I climbed the pitch fine but only just. Admittedly I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Racking up for the crux, the sun began to try and push out from the clouds. Great. So off I went, a jibbering mess. I reached the flare totally boxed and flash pumped. A brutal warm up. Arranging the kit, I got into my layback sequence then transferred into the top of the flare. I became a bit stuck. I was sliding out of the locks, finger tape peeling, it was like a sinking ship. Bugger. I tried hard, but nothing worked. Eventually I fell. “Bugger!” I said. Pete lowered me and I stripped some gear as they would block the finger locks. His wise words of wisdom calmed me down. The next bank of clouds rolled in and I was off. This time, my nerves had been shot and I was significantly more relaxed. The pitch felt piss. However, a cheeky face hold I crimped on, crumbled from my raw power. This sent me into a barn door swing, I stopped myself... the chains were reached, thank god! Pete followed cleanly and was well psyched. This was a full on very airy hanging belay. So after a bit of faff, we swapped the ropes etc and I was back on the lead. Then some rain drops started to fall.... FFS
|Pete leading up the initial part of the corner above the boulder problem.|
|Pete following pitch 6 with Kirk and Peter Juvan below.|
Above was the desperate chimney flare. I’m not sure what happened but I felt totally solid on it and the pitch went without any hassle. Maybe having no expectations was enough to relax me. Above this was a nice ledge we could walk about on. We stashed some food and water here so it was nice to take a moment, enjoy the situation and re fuel a bit. Pete was up next. He racked up and off he went. I felt sorry for him as his fingers and hands were much slimmer than mine, Kirk and Peter (Juvan). He gave it all he had and got most of the way up the pitch before sliding out of a lock. He looked down and kindly passed the lead to me. He knew I may have a better chance of climbing it clean. For me, the locks were solid bar 3 at two thirds of the pitch.
|Pete following Pitch 7 above the chimney flare|
|Pete leading off up pitch 8.|
|Pete following pitch 8|
However, looking up at the next pitch that 'splitter rattley fingers' 5.12b/c crack wiped the smile off my face. By this point, I was beginning to tire a bit with cramping hands and biceps. I racked up and started jamming up muttering something about French freeing if need be. Anyway, similar to the flare, I was psyched and with no expectations. Yes, I was trying hard, but somehow I found myself eyeballing the tapered jams at the top of the splitter. But you cant have it all and I slipped out with excitement. Shit! After giving it that effort, I wasn’t sure I had it in me for another go, but I had to try. Back the belay, ropes pulled, another piss down the route, I was back on it. This time, I gained the halfway ledge, just! For me, that section of climbing was one of the best leads I've done. There was still the technical section above but at least that was more ‘normal’ followed by some easy lay backing. Pete followed again. Blooming hec, I owe him for this. One last hard pitch; ‘The Nutting Pitch’. What did I say earlier, just like sport climbing? Sort of. The weight of the rack, cramping hands, abs and back, I was in my element. A pure test of endurance. This went with no hassle. To save time, I combined this with the top 10c pitch which the guide recommends. That was awkward enough but satisfying. We topped out at 17.20. Heaps of time for the last bus down the canyon. Jogging down amongst the tourist, one girl asked, ‘have you just done Moonlight Buttess in a day?’. Needless to say a blunt Scottish ‘Aye’ came out of me. Then an excited ‘Ride on!!!!’ was her response. Very good.
Jeepers, we weren’t even down at the road and we were discussing going big walling in Norway next summer. But firstly we had to deal with ‘The Original Route’ on the Rainbow wall.
As a British climber, we are all very aware of Alex Honnald soling these big routes in America and around the world. From the armchair, its all very impressive but hard to comprehend. Every pitch, both Pete and I were glad of a rope clipped through a cam above our head. Honnald is on a different planet with another level of fitness.
For 2 Scots who had limited crack climbing experience, I think we did ok. As Pete pointed out, what a route to learn the art. I owe it to Pete. He saw that I maybe had a more of a chance of freeing the route so gave me the opportunity to fulfil a dream. Thanks Pete for been a solid partner and keeping me safe with your new found MIA techniques. He is off to North Wales next year to do the Assistant Imstructor scheme. The whole trip I pushed in into sending an application form off. Of course I knew he was suitable and so was offered an interview. He doubted his suitably but I gave him the encouragement knowing the Brenin would love this genuine bloke. Annoyingly the bugger got the job! Nice one, but that’s one less good climber in the North of Scotland. Meanwhile, North Wales has the privilege of having this young fresh faced beast! Please take a moment and enjoy his photo's on his Flickr page.
Anyway, the next day we both felt a tad broken. Sad to wave good bye to Zion, the 4 of us headed for the bright lights of Red Rocks. But that’s another story in part 2 along with more stories from RV life ;-)
Refueling before the drive to Red Rocks (Photo: Peter Herd)