Jen Vennon: A Crack Addiction In The Making
A Climbing Crack Addiction in the Making
This road trip started as all road trips should. We loaded the car with all of our camping gear and the dog, and headed west in search of sun. It’d been a long cold winter and I had begun to associate sunshine and warmth with happiness. These were simple equations. Cold = sadness. Warmth = happiness.
After a few days of bouldering in Joe’s Valley, a humbling experience that reminded both Andrew and I of how little climbing we’d done over the last four months, we headed to Moab with the vague idea of climbing a desert tower. I was very excited about this idea, having never done anything like that before, but when we arrived in Moab we faced a few hurdles. First, the puppy was exhausted and proving to be a bit intolerant to dry heat. Hiking her up to a tower and tying her up all day wasn’t going to be an option.
Second, it was Jeep Safari Week in Moab. The hotels and campsites were crawling with “Jeepers.” Now, I’m not one to judge, but it was safe to say we were a bit out of our element with this crowd and quickly realized that we need to move on.
Andrew had the great idea of going to Indian Creek. He claimed that it was a beautiful place and would be a great way to stay warm and happy. Being unable to argue with those points I agreed.
At this point in the story I must confess to the following: Despite having climbed for nearly 13 years, I have never climbed a hand crack. I cannot hand jam. And I do not know how to place gear. This has never really been a problem though, because I mostly sport climb and occasionally boulder. For 13 years I’ve been able to completely avoid cracks and most people are none the wiser to my shortcomings.
Indian Creek is a crack-climber’s paradise. Small cracks, wide cracks, finger cracks, off-width crack . . . you name, it has it. Cracks galore!
What Indian Creek does not appear to have are hand holds—at least as I know them. This was sure to be a problem, but I was optimistic. After thirteen years of climbing I’ve come to believe that I can pretty much get up any climb 5.11 or easier. I actually can’t remember the last time I fell on a 5.11. So even though I knew I was in for an eye-opening experience, I really had no idea how ill equipped I was for Indian Creek.
After a lovely night in the campground and several cups of morning coffee Andrew and I headed for the 4 x 4 wall on the recommendation of the guy camping next to us. The rock looked amazing. Deep red with perfect vertical lines every 20 feet.
Our first climb was 5.10 finger crack in a dihedral. I tied into the toprope Andrew put up for me and headed up. I quickly realized that I could easily lieback the entire thing and had little trouble getting to the anchors. “See, you don’t have to know how to hand jam to do this,” I thought to myself.
Knowing that I would avoid hand jamming at all costs and never learn a thing if he let me, Andrew moved us onto a hand crack with no option to lieback. He helped me make some tape gloves and then smirked as I tied into the toprope left for us by two nice fellas. I was super excited and feeling confident. I told Andrew that there was no way I’d get off the ground, but secretly I was hoping I’d just zoom up this thing.
Over the next 30 minutes I was nothing short of a complete mess. At first I tried to find little crimpers hidden in the crack. Then I tried to stem my feet out on microscopic pieces of lichen. Once that failed I resigned to sticking my hands and feet into the crack and putting most of my body weight on the rope. I looked like the little kids in my climbing classes who thrust their hips up and wait for the belayer to take the slack only to sit on the rope and move their hands.
I felt like I’d never climbed before. All of the time I’d spent developing technique and strength was completely worthless. I might as well have been attempting to surf for the first time; it was that unfamiliar and removed from everything I knew about climbing.
After 30 minutes I’d managed to move myself about 30 feet up the wall. I’m pretty sure I did a few hand jams and maybe even one fist jam. But all and all it was a complete failure.
As I returned to the ground, Andrew laughed and remarked about how we’d finally found a 5.11 I couldn’t climb.
At the time I claimed to hate crack climbing and vowed to never attempt it again. I was a sport climber and that was fine by me.
But now that we are home I can already feel the familiar urge to get back out there and try it again. While part of me wants so badly to write off crack climbing and go back to familiar successes, the other part simply cannot accept defeat. I have to figure this puzzle out.
So the next time you’re in Indian Creek and see some poor girl getting her butt completely handed to her. That’ll be me. Learning to climb all over again.
~ Jen Vennon, prAna Ambassador
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