Indian Creek Blues

As part of my adventure elopement, the group of us went climbing in Indian Creek. This was my first time and I was so excited about it. I love crack climbing, it’s kinda my thing, my style. Its why I’ve identified so much with Yosemite climbing where I first really got into trad and Indian Creek is a crack climbing paradise.

The Head Game, The Ego

In my head I would show up to Indian Creek, climb a 5.8 to calibrate and then climb 5.10 all week because “grades don’t matter” in The Creek (and everything is 5.10 or 5.11). I figured I was big hands and I could climb that all day. However, after waiting two hours to hop on that 5.8+ calibration climb, it felt true to the grade instead of 5.8-easy. I moved areas to get away from the crowds of Supercrack Buttress so I didn’t have to wait another two hours and have a peanut gallery watching me climb.

Over at Blue Gramma I retried my calibration on a 5.9+ big hands and I hung my way up the short 50 ft climb of off-hands to tight fists (i.e. 3s to tight 4s) and it also felt true to the grade. Another 5.10- tight hands to off-width climb I backed off because it felt also 5.10- true to the grade and I couldn’t get past the tight hands (1s) section.

5.9+ big hands corner

My first day’s calibration climbs told me Indian Creek was true-to-the-grade and rated for my hand size. The problem was I wasn’t a 5.10- Yosemite climber right now, most of the climbing in Indian Creek is 5.10 or 5.11 and I was also the primary leader for the large (7 person) group. I didn’t crush, and I felt crushed. Most of the moderates in Indian Creek were on the 1/3 of the walls closed for Raptor Nesting or required access from “Jeep roads”. Outside of these walls, only a handful of routes were less than 5.10. I was supposed to be the rope gun, crack climbing ambassador. However, I felt like I was letting my group down and not living up to my own expectations about what The Creek was supposed to feel like.

Trying Again

For the next day, there were two other accessible walls that had moderate climbs on them: Donnelly Canyon and Habitado. Habitado’s blurb in the book about being away from the crowds with an 5.8+ and 5.9+ climb (in hand sizes) attracted my attention and we brought the group out there. When I hopped on Lightning Bolt Crack (Unnamed in the book) it finally felt like I had wanted it to. Hand-jam city to the top with amazing protection. The 5.8+ similarly felt 5.8-easy and I started getting some more confidence back.

Jia going up the 5.8+ hands

However, the 5.10- off-width we top roped did feel true to the grade. The majority of signals still told me grades DID matter.

Sierra starting up the 5.10- off-width (right) and Sadie on Lightning Bolt Crack (left)

The classics like Incredible Hand Crack and Supercrack of the Desert were in the 5.10s and in my hand size but they were Mega Classics with much competition. My biggest fear was to wait in line for A Classic Climb and then fail the lead in front of a dozen other climbers waiting their turn. I didn’t want that to happen so I was afraid to try.

Sadie (my partner) however, had faith in me. She convinced me the next day to give Supercrack a try since it was all in my hand size. She had been to The Creek, knew how much I love crack climbing and wanted me to have that amazing experience I also had wanted but was uncertain if existed now. She had found that “grades don’t matter”, but my grain of salt was that she also wasn’t leading those routes. Her (good) solution was to ask others to drag a rope up for us before they were finished if I didn’t want to lead them. However, I felt ethically that if no one in your group can lead a classic climbing route you haven’t earned the right to be on the climb.

Supercrack Day

Whether I would have crushed Supercrack or not will be an answer for another trip because the third day we planned on going climbing we woke up to high wind gusts and late-morning moisture. That is besides the fact that I was not at the top of my game. I had to mitigate a hangover at 3am by chugging water because apparently four beers for this 200 lbs man is enough to give me a headache. This is about four more beers than I typically drink so maybe that should be expected or maybe this was self-sabotage. Unclear.

How is a Man to Think

I had an amazing trip in the Canyonlands area. I mean, I got married to my life-partner, canyoneered near Moab, climbed in Indian Creek and my tribe filled me with love! However, we did a lot and we only climbed in The Creek two days before being rained out the third day and only climbed five routes. I don’t think I really have enough of a cross-section to know what The Creek is about. To know whether grades actually matter for my body/hand-size… However, all my signals point towards Indian Creek not giving me a free pass on harder grades just because I know how to crack climb. I thought 5.10 would feel Yosemite 5.9, but 5.9 felt 5.9 so I can only assume 5.10 will feel 5.10.

I haven’t given up though. I would go back again. With a smaller group and a stronger leader than myself to take some of the pressure off. With the expectation of waiting in line and asking others to put up a top rope. Of the small number of climbs I did, their style was my style. Just harder than I expected.