I am a woman who fakes it. And I’m willing to share my trade secrets with you. I’ve duped my clients, my employer, the American Mountain Guides Association and even my boyfriend into believing that I am a climber. Though truly, I just play one on TV.
Yes, I can wrangle ropes and place cams (the stoppers on my rack are pure costume). I can raise, lower, pass knots and escape belays. I can even gracefully put the rope up on the rare occasion when the "Sheldon" who fears no 5.8 checks in for the day. Though often, she is nowhere to be found. I allow the wind to hide my whimpers and pray the sun to dry my tears before my partner reaches me with a cry of “nice lead!” On the best of days I’ll cast up from a belay ledge, pull a tricky move or two and think to myself “wow, nobody here can tell I’m a skier.”
And that is why I love Indian Creek. Everyone, climbers or not, starts off faking it here. However delicate and purposeful your movements may be in Joshua Tree, you will start off as a hack at the Creek. So here are some tips to help you fake it at the Creek. These gems have accelerated my progress and kept me at the crag when pain or frustration might have sent me hobbling back to camp. And although my Feminist and Gender Studies classmates might rescind my BA for saying it, I think there is a place for faking it. I think faking it allows us to stay in the game long enough for the movement to start to feel right.
Slip into something a bit more comfortable. Nothing will kill your crack climbing prospects faster than an uncomfortably tight pair of shoes. Select a cheap pair that you can pull on with ease and you will be much more willing to stick your foot in that crack. If the sport suits you, you can graduate to a shoe that protects your ankle bones or a more expensive slipper.
Remember; size matters, grades don’t. A newcomer to any climbing arena might consider stepping down a grade or two to get a feel for the rock before taking on bigger challenges. Matching your climbing abilities to the guidebook ratings at Indian Creek is especially difficult. The long, physical nature of the cracks can spank climbers at numbers well below what they are used to putting up. On the other hand, many climbers’ appendages fit a certain size crack beautifully and they consequently climb grades higher than they do anywhere else. Be neither scared off by the grade or emboldened by it. Instead, begin to align the numbers with a cam size, that cam size with a hand size, and that hand size with a difficulty level for you alone.
Learn how to use those toys of yours. Auto-locking belay devices are the tool-of-choice for many gym climbers, sport climbers and crack climbers. I’ve got five cracked vertebrae which can testify to how important it is to use these devices correctly. It is important to remember that neither the Petzl GriGri or the Trango Cinch are hands-free devices. It takes a little instruction and practice to be able to lead-belay with these devices safely. Check out this videos from Petzl and to make sure that you have got it down and can help teach others at the crag.
Concentrate on that waistline. A splitter crack at the Creek can be thought of much like a custom-bolted sport climb. You can often place gear at perfect intervals for your own comfort level, plugging in as much protection as you are willing to haul up there. This also means that a climber can keep herself on top-rope for days on end if she so chooses. But recall, as with sport climbing, the safest and most efficient clip is at the waist. Clipping high introduces unnecessary slack into the system, compounding the length and consequences of a lead fall while clipping. If you find yourself reaching high to plug in those cams, and then reaching high again to clip that rope up there, you may feel that pump long before you reach the chains.
Bump with purpose. Bumping is a technique to which Creek regulars are dedicated. When a crack is a consistent size for a looong time, as they often are in the Creek, you may find yourself bringing your top-most cam along with you each and every move, as inseparable from it as Coloradans are of their dogs. But this technique should be used judiciously for a couple reasons. Much like the advice above indicates, it may be more efficient to place a piece of gear, move up the climb and then place another piece of gear rather than to bump a piece up every move and burn yourself out. Also, keep in mind that each time you remove or disengage a cam to move it upwards, your next lowest piece of protection becomes your top piece of protection; and it maybe getting pretty far away. When deciding to bump, analyze your gear needs on the climb, the likelihood of falling while your piece is disengaged, your movement efficiency and your distance from both your last piece and the ground.
Use extra protection with multiple partners. Indian Creek is mostly a bottom-up top rope venue. Routes may stay up for hours while multiple parties share ropes and work climbs. Consider beefing up your anchors for these extended top-roping sessions. Consider replacing one of your two anchor quickdraws with a locker-draw or building an anchor with a double-length sling and a two-carabiner masterpoint with a locker.
Sheldon is a ski and alpine guide based in Colorado, Alaska, or Washington, depending on the season. Though we've only climbed with her once, the Verticulture editor would like to reassure her - and let you all know- that she is, in fact, a rad, kickass climber despite the occasional tear. We'd tie in with her anytime.. All photos courtesy of Mark Allen.