Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Climbing with the Jacksons

It's a rare treat to climb with Renny Jackson. And even rarer to climb with Catherine. Now, there is a third member: Jane. This October we arranged to meet in Indian Creek, best crack climbing in the world.

Renny and I go way back: both of us are from Salt Lake City, we both worked as climbing rangers in the Tetons at Jenny Lake, and we are now both retired from the National Park Service. Renny worked in the Tetons for years, but in the early 90's he and his wife Catherine moved to Talkeetna, Alaska, where he worked on Denali for a few years. I had just left my post in Denali, so we missed each other there. Catherine Cullinane was the first woman to guide for the Exum Guide Service in the Tetons, so she holds her own in the climbing world. I'm always the junior partner (although older) when I climb with those two! This summer, Renny and his daughter Jane climbed Denali together. This launched her into the climbing world, and she took to it with a vengeance. In a few short months, she rocked upward in her skill level; check out the photos below.

On my fall road trip through Salt Lake City I passed by the Kimbrough's home on my way south to the desert. Paul, Peter, Tom, Barb and others were still up with the lights on at 9:30 pm, so I stopped in for a beer. There was so much energy among the young climbers and skiers; I was hoping some would rub off. They were psyched to climb, so we arranged to find each other during the next weeks in Indian Creek. I would be there, camped at Creek Pasture, as always.
South and North Six Shooter seen from the Second Meat Wall in Indian Creek

At "The Creek", we chose 'The Second Meat Wall' as a climbing area; it would be out of the hot sun through most of the day. We wandered north along the wall looking for an opening; most of the good climbs were already taken by the early risers. Chris and I made our way along until the vestige of the trail disappeared. An owl flew into a tree above us and we stopped to look. The owl didn't seem bothered and sat on the tree for a while; then it flew up a few more feet to a perch on the cliff. Neither of us had seen it before, so we sat down and watched it for quite a while. Chris later identified it as a Long Eared Owl, supposedly a more secretive species, but it hug around for us. Maybe we were encroaching on its territory, and it was just trying to outwait us.

It was cool in the shade, but we were wearing fairly skimpy climbing clothing, meaning expendable. The sandstone rips everything to shreds, including skin, knees, elbows, and hands. We wrapped adhesive tape around our knuckles, put on our climbing harnesses, and decided who would lead the first climb: "Two Timer". Jane was eager to lead; we were eager to follow. I was amazed that in a few short months she had risen from a novice to the strongest member of our party. While Renny belayed Jane up the climb, Catherine and I roamed around taking photos. Renny called up helpful advice on climbing technique and ways to protect the climb. It must be difficult watching a daughter engage in a dangerous sport. My ex-wife said that after a while she couldn't watch the kids climb with me. As I looked at Catherine and Renny I could understand that feeling.
Jane puts on her climbing shoes; Renny gets ready to belay her,
a typical father-daughter activity

Jane gears up for the climb

And checks the quick-draws: carabiners on nylon slings

Jane moved quickly up the crack system as though she had been climbing these walls for years. I was amazed at her fluid and confident motions. I'd been climbing for 54 years, yet she made it look so effortless.
Jane makes the first moves up the cliff

It wasn't easy, but she seemed to figure out every move, stemming on some of the fine holds to the left, climbing the crack directly when possible.
Moving up into the pure crack; a little overhanging in places, and very smooth

As she slipped the cams into the cracks, she seemed to have it all down: the crack climbing technique, the body position, the ease of placing protection. I marveled. Renny issued constructive advice.
As she neared the top of the hundred-plus-foot crack, it got harder; Renny and Catherine called up encouraging thoughts. The crack narrowed, and I remembered how difficult it seemed to me when I climbed it. She laid back against the wall, fitting her smaller fingers into the crack. That's a very Euro approach to the wall, but it worked. If I try it, I only get too tired and eventually flail.
Jane at the layback

As Jane called down a little desperate, I worried, then she figured it out, slid in a small cam, and moved up into the crack without using the layback technique. I was impressed. Maybe her fingers were smaller than mine, I rationalized.
Nearing the finish line

Then she was at the top. Renny lowered her, left the rope through the anchors, and gave everyone else a turn at the climb.
Renny getting a kinked neck from looking up at Jane

Mission accomplished!

Check out those legs

Catherine capturing it all on the camera

First, Catherine breezed up the climb. I watched her technique, always trying to learn something new, even at my advanced age. She made it look easy, but I knew it to be difficult. The breeze blew; Renny was still in a down jacket.
Catherine's turn

Cruising upward...

At the crux
Every once in a while I darted right around the corner to snag one of the other nearby climbs. Eventually one opened up and I got in a lead. It wasn't too hard, but it had a tricky section about two thirds of the way up. Next it was Chris's turn. She had come to Indian Creek with me a few years ago and unfortunately gotten a taste of the brutal crack climbing on the red Wingate sandstone. Somehow it gets in your system and you can't get it out. This year she had come with her friend Noel. It was his first experience on the splitter cracks, and he couldn't get enough of it. Today he followed some other friends while we climbed with the Jackson family.
Chris at rest

I was amazed at how well Chris was climbing, having not been her for quite a while. Lots of stamina, nice technique, and lots of perseverance pushed her ever higher on the climb. Over the next few days she continued to tick off climb after climb.
Chris at work

I couldn't help photographing all day. My favorites were of the knees, brutalized in the cracks after weeks of climbing, wedging, scraping, and grunting upwards. I joked that the women would never find a boyfriend with knees like that. Well, maybe they'd find just the right kind!
And check out those knees!

In the evening, we drove to Cottonwood Creek along the Beef Basin road where the Jacksons and their friends, Peter Popinchalk and other young folks were camping. What a crew!! Just as I had expected, I had been energized by their enthusiasm.
The team: L to R, Renny, Catherine, Chris, Jane's friend , Peter, Jane

No comments: