Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Running out of Time

"It's not the size, it's how you use it" - Good advice in general

Two more moves. That's all iv'e got to do. The only thing is, they're steep fingerlocks and i can't stick it. I'm on a route called 'Annunaki' and it's the hardest line iv'e attempted on gear. It's a crack that tapers from fists all the way to fingers and is overhanging. The steepness means you've got to get your jams dialled with no time to loose. I clip the rope into a .5 camalot (a finger sized cam) and stuff my fingers into the crack adjacent to the anchor. I fumble and try to find the right lock. Thumbs up or thumbs down? My feet are jammed lower down to my right and it feels like im almost horizontal. I continue to fight but the jams aren't working. My breathing sounds like im at full sprint. Im spitting distance from the chains. At last i reach terminal pump and i slip out of the crack and into space.

Spent, i lower down and ask my friend Sean for advice. Welcome to Indian Creek.

Sean Nelb cruising 'Annunaki' 5.11d
We had made the migration for warmer weather, a week earlier, in late October straight from the Valley with the resolve to be a better crack climber. Driving down the 211, the road swerves left and right as it slowly  descends below the rim. It keeps going until your level with the creek bed. During the autumn the trees hang over the road shedding their golden leaves indicating that snow will be coming soon. It's beautiful, but only a matter of time before you need to move on again. Time is precious as i don't have the gear to endure a winter. It's all back in Canada. 

Keep going. The canyon begins to open up and the steep brown walls of varnish begin to rear up. All kinds of cracks start to appear in abundance until you reach the famous 'Supercrack Buttress' and the true expanse of the canyon appears ahead. As far as the eye can see there are canyons and buttresses that look like the prows of huge sandstone ships with their flanks sliced like butter. The only features on the walls are the cracks and corners that split the perfect rock like an egg. Perfect. The wide open space evaporates any remaining fatigue from Yosemite as we step out of the van to look at the two 'Six Shooter' towers that fortify the centre of the domain. Sweet... So where's the campsite again? Ah. The guidebook was sold out so we decided that a few photocopies from the library would suffice. The crags yes, the map...not so much. Oh well it's almost dark anyhow. We camp next to the road for the night. Wriggling into the sleeping bag the coyotes start howling in the night from somewhere nearby. Pretty quickly they're supplanted by an earth shattering thunder clap. The inside of the tent is fully illuminated for a second before the roar catches up with it. I unzip the tent and watch lightning bolts from the storm, light up the sky and silhouette the towers in front. We had arrived!

Sunset from Scarface wall, with the Six Shooter towers in the back
Sitting under 'Annunaki', i listen to Seans advice and decide to have another go. Starting up the crack i feel nervous. I want it bad. The initial jams are good hands for me. Just tuck your thumb under your palm and squeeze. I keep going and am able to move past the thin hands section which always pumps me out. Your hand can only go in as far as your knuckles. Hook your thumb inside and squeeze some more. The crack goes out right and it's time to perform the dreaded 'ringlock'. This is when the crack is slightly too wide for your fingers but too narrow for your knuckles. To jam you've got to fill some of the space with your thumb and then jam your fingers against that thumb. Its painful but not as painful after a while. Then theres the jug for you to shake out. Phew, calm down. Now the crack snakes left and it's time for the finger locks...again. Suddenly im in the same place ive fallen a few times before. I plug in a cam and go once again for the locks. My left hand is so tired. No. The right hand fingers sink in, thumbs down, all the way past the first joint and i turn my elbow clockwise as much as i can. Bingo. My body instantly relaxes and buys me some time. I do the same above with my left. Im still holding my position as i shake each hand and breath before clipping the chains. Yes! Got it. My first 5.11+ but more importantly i learned how to fingerlock. Just turn your bones!
The kind of damage you can expect from lots of finger cranking
Walking back to the trucks, the sunsets the sky alight with hot pink that contrasts sublimely against the autumn trees and mud stained walls. So much to learn. The creek will always be here and i will always come back to this place and enjoy the simplicity of the desert. I am so happy i feel like my chest is going to burst. Later that night we sit around the fire and hang out like family. Im still smiling as i stare into the smouldering embers. It was my 25th birthday.

Enjoying 'cupped hands' on the mega classic 'Supercrack' (Luxury Liner) 5.10
Lauren smashing 'Soul Fire'. 5.11 relentless thin hands.

Scarface 5.11-
Grades, they are interesting here. Because most of the first ascents here were done by men with big hands, the cracks that are 3 to 4 inches are regarded as 5.10, such as the first ever climb 'Supercrack'. Fine for me, not so much for women with smaller hands. They find routes like 'Soul Fire' much easier as it is a 1 inch splitter but is regarded as 5.11 as its harder for the guys. 5.12 means fingers and 5.13 is well...5.13. Although there is one kind of climbing thats a special breed of its own..Offwidth.

This is the kind of crack thats around the width of your knee and shoulder but too narrow to squeeze your whole body into. (Which is called a Chimney). Ever since 'Generator Station' back in Yosemite, i've been eager to learn more techniques to turn this exercises from a gruelling battle into at least a minor skirmish. The first attempt is on a climb called 'Incisor' 5.11- (Previously known as 'Pussy Wuss Crack' / Sucker Crack' 5.10+). From the ground is doesnt look too bad, just a 5 inch bulge. I approach on the ramp, performing what's called 'butterfly jams' where the cross over your hands, the backs of your hands touching, and squeeze as if performing a double hand jam. Ok, not so bad. It turns out you've got to wedge your feet above your head and perform a sit up to commence tight laybacking. Whoa, that's new!

Doing the offwidth bulge. Inscisor 5.11-
Trying similar moves on 'Cedar Eater' back in the Valley, which seemed completely inconceivable at  the time
By mid November the icy fingers of winter tighten it's grip on the creek. You can see your breath when you go to bed at night and wake up stiff as a board from the unrelenting cracks with all your water frozen solid. The climbs are fantastic for the merciless endurance that require you to get your technique down to a T but your bones become more and more bruised from the using your body like a torque wrench on an almost daily basis and besides my visa is due to expire in 10 days and it's time to make a decision about what direction to head in. That week is thanksgiving and many good friends come to join us in the Creek. I don't see the point, i've been thankful many many times over this past year but at least it's a holiday for my friends. After another great day climbing, the subject of Mexico comes up around the fire as we tear into fresh turkey and pass around the whiskey. How long can i put the winter off for? I go to bed with my mind made up. Anyone going south?

Slack lining with some friends
Dawn of an Age 5.10+
Van saves the day by offering Jib and I a ride. Yes. This even gives us one extra day to climb. Might as well get on 'Big Guy', since iv'e been putting it off for ages. The last of my energy might as well go towards this! The meat of this pitch is a splitter that slowly widens from fists to 'off knee'. After learning some new techniques for offwidth the fist jams go well, as do the 'chicken wings'. (This is when you put your arm into the crack and then bend your elbow back and tense your bicep). It continues to widen slowly to fit the knee. Only 20 feet to the anchor. This proves to be a fight. My hip wont go in but my knee wont lock. The result is red ankles that begin to drip blood down the climb. Damn. After miserably falling out and resting, i struggle until im at the top and completely done with the creek. Happy... but done for 2012.

The next day we are set to go and say goodbye to our remaining friends. Ok!...Oh..the battery's dead. Narf.

Playing tetris with all the gear. 
Several long hours later they arrive back into camp with some jumper cables and we are finally good to go. We roll out and get one last look at the North Six Shooter. That was a good day. Even though i slipped out of the fist jam, flipped upside down and slammed by back on the arĂȘte it was a good day. As were many, many others...

We head south and continue the migration. Thank you for teaching me so much. Goodbye for now.

For the love of life! Topping out on the North Six Shooter with Sean.


  1. You Rock Toby!! :)
    Keep living it up my friend, I'm excited for when we see each other again and rip it up!!
    Indian Creek is SO AMAZING!!! Can't wait to go back!!

  2. YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!