Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Climbing Road Trip in a Pink Cadillac - Episode 3

The 'Desert Rose', off-road, myself and Chris

We left the 'Desert Rose' at the side of the road, slightly scraping bottom at the base of Supercrack Buttress in Indian Creek, Utah, hefted our overweight backpacks and headed up the climbers trail to the base of the climbs.

In 1976, Earl Wiggins, Ed Webster and Bryan Becker made the first ascent of the Supercrack of the Desert, which they named "Luxury Liner". Stewart Green and Michael Gardner filmed the historic event and it will soon be a full-lenth movie. For a 6-minute diversion, you can watch a short version on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO8ZPrFvqWQ

I love Indian Creek. Although I've climbed all my life, it is only in the last few years that I discovered the area, and it spanks me every time I climb there. The cracks are difficult; nothing is easy; but the satisfaction of having ascended one of the routes is supreme. So, I was hoping that Chris, being new to the area, would not be too disheartened when she started out. Jim had scoured the route descriptions to make sure we had some moderate routes for her to start on...and for me to get back into the grove after a winter off.

At the base of the climb we dumped out all the gear: carabiners, caming devices, slings, ropes, and harnesses, sorted the right sizes for each crack, and hung it on our harnesses. The cams are spring loaded devices that fit in the crack and resist a downward pull. The rope is threaded through a carabiner attached to the cam and would catch the leader if he were to fall.

Jim and the gear

Then we wrapped adhesive tape around our hands to protect the skin from the abrasive cracks. Sandstone=sandpaper, and even with lots of protection, we all ended up with big abrasions and goobies on our elbows, knees, and ankles.

Taping up

Jim is really the master of Indian Creek, the subject of videos, and many of my photos. He started up a beautiful crack called "The Incredible Hand Crack", that goes straight up, then veers right under a huge overhang, so that you are stuck to the wall only by the friction of the crack; it's an incredible feeling!

Jim starts up the "Incredible Hand Crack"

Jim's has jammed his hands into the crack, and placed his left shoe in sideways, then cammed his foot upright to hold his weight.

Jim working up the underside of the crack

Gymnastic chalk takes up the sweat of the fingers and palms making it easier to hold onto the rock.

Taking a rest and putting more chalk on his hands

Even 'Yours Truly' at the top of 'Incredible Hand Crack'

It was a great day on the rock. We camped at 'Creek Pasture', down a dirt road next to Indian Creek. I set up a table, got out my stove, pots, pans, and coolers full of food. The first night we cooked shrimp fettucine with a large salad, red wine, and pecan sandies for dessert. Car camping is different from backpacking, so there is no scrimping on food or the production. We had packed two loads of firewood on the floor of the back seat, so after dinner we would unfold our chairs, gather round the fire, and share stories.

Your Humble Servant as camp cook!

The next day we head to "Optimator Wall" which lies in the shade, a great place to escape the
heat. The 'Desert Rose' dragged bottom often, a humiliation after a lifetime on the streets of Phoenix.

Chris, Jim, and the 'Desert Rose' at the Optimator Wall.

Two approaches to the desert: Jim exposes all, Ralph in dress shirt to protect his "Alaska Tan"

Inga works up the double crack system

Inga is originally from New Orleans, but has lived the past twenty years in Australia in the winter, and guides oar-driven rafts on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River each summer. She is incredibly strong, smooth, and fluid on the rock. She and Charlotte have teamed up and are ticking off the hard routes. Charlotte is honed: she is a ski patroller in Telluride in the winter, and like the rest of us, a climbing bum in the summer. After climbing three 8,000 meter giants in the Himalaya, including Mount Everest, this stuff is a blast for her.

Chris working the underside of a thin crack

Even Charlotte's dog Max wants in on the action!

On day three we attack the "Battle of the Bulge", a bit of sun in the morning, but shade in the afternoon.

Cactus in bloom

With names like "Hole in the Wall", and "Jane Fonda's Total Body Workout", "Pigs in Space", and "Think Pink", the Battle of the Bulge is a favorite cliff. Jim takes off up the extremely strenuous and difficult 'Hole in the Wall' scraping the skin off his knees in a flaring body-sized crack that is more like a bombay chute.

The names and grade of climbs are often inscribed at the base

Jim begins the squeeze up "Hole in the Wall"

And now he's a tiny dot over 100' up as I belay.

Laura belays Chris...

As Chris jams her feet in the crack and moves up...

While Angela photographs the whole event.

It is becoming blistering hot for an Alaskan in the desert, way over 80 degrees, when I rarely see temperatures over 60. We hike down the red dirt and boulder trail through cactus, mesquite, and juniper to the shade of a single tree near a large boulder next to the car. I fish out warm PBRs for all, and we spend the next hour with a bag of corn chips enjoying the shade, our eyes cruising the surrounding red cliffs, and our minds wandering for new routes.

Angela, Jim, 'Max', Charlotte, Inga, and Chris rest in the shade with PBR and chips.

It has been a cool wet spring and the desert is in bloom with saturated Kodachrome colors everywhere. The cacti are succulent, their flowers iridescent and tempting to the insects that are alight on every blossom. Indian Creek is stunning.

Barrel Cactus flower

After three days climbing, everyone has bloody knees, elbows, and ankles from fighting the huge cracks. So, that's about the perfect amount of time to stay. One by one the party dissolves. Those who live close by make the three-hour drive back to Telluride and Ouray. Chris and I have other plans.

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