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Welcome.. This is my story of exploring the philosophic link between self discovery, friendship and rock climbing.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Safe in these Surrey Hills

26th April, Idyllwild, California.

Diana is busy working at camp so without a partner i am therefore left to my own devices for the day. Without a doubt it begins with a bucket of hot coffee. Next, i walk a few minutes out of town, to a cluster of trees for some private council on the days potential. The pines groan as their stiff and parched trunks sway softly in the cool morning breeze, their needles floating at will into the perfect blue yonder above.

Looking up to the east, the splendid pinnacle of Tahquitz rock sits silently in its dominion over the valley, it's golden white granite glowing fierce in the bright morning sun. It's less than a week before i return to UK soil so i guess there isn't really any question.  I'm going climbing. 

An hour later, i top out on 'The Trough' a 4 pitch 5.4, a historic route (1936) that requires some scrambling with a few hand jams but one of the first ascents which turned out to be a pleasant warm up. Returning to the base of the west face once more my thoughts turn to the main objective. White Maidens Buttress. The routes on this feature are full of variations but still stay sub 5.6, all 800 ft of it.

Sitting at the base and looking at the route, there's no babble that invades my thoughts, only calm, as if my spirit already knows that i'm going to need a tranquil mind for the ascent. When enough time has passed, the usual check list is sorted. Strap up the rock boots, chalk bag on. Mow down a Mars bar and chug some aqua. Good to go.

Tahquitz Rock, from the trail head. The buttress is the middle feature. (Leaning left)
The initial flakes and cracks are surprisingly vertical but perfect jam after jam keeps the flow strong. After two hundred feet i pass a large pedestal with a couple of guys chilling. Excuse me, mind if i pass? Cheers.
The angle then eases and the cracks still juicy for the next few hundred. Never before had i felt so empowered to be alone and capable in that moment 500 feet up. Then came a moment i hoped would come since August 2011;

At this point in time, i had been trad climbing for 2 months. Feeling good about progress, i felt like a low commitment day and decided to go to the Smoke Bluffs, a crag in Squamish (Canada) with an abundance of single pitch routes. By 4pm i had soloed some very easy '5 star' 5.7's and decided to finish with 'Burger & Fries'. All i can say is a series of very bad decisions shortly ensued.  Firstly, the route is about 80 feet and gets baked by pounding sunlight and at that time of the day sweaty and slimy. Secondly, a lot of easy 'classics' have a tendency to be polished, and oh how it was. I start up anyhow in some kind of arrogant defiance and reach the top of the flake. From here you palm your way up the polished, bulging slab to the top but instead of down climbing like any sensible human being i reach my third and last crescendo.  

Groping a protruding dime with two fingers and stepping off the flake,  my feet are now pasted on squeaky pebbles. The dime is as smooth as marble and i freeze up quick.
Oh No. Saying this out loud only exacerbated the rising tide of terror beginning to consume me to the core. Legs shaking and palms damp and slimy i fear the friction will not last and contemplate my absolute failure. "I'll only break my legs" comes to mind and rouses a last ounce of what felt like survival climbing. I refuse to accept this. With all my might i reach up and slam my palms as hard as possible onto the slab, my feet desperately running in order to create some kind of momentum. In a few frantic moves i am at the top gasping for breath and feeling like an utter fool. My motives that almost led to my potential oblivion was the result of my ego assuming a 5.7 without a rope was a sure thing. I had to be more in touch with me, my essence. I never forgot that, but hoped that some day i would be able to solo again without that crippling image choking me with fear. 

That same day, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish
Back on Tahquitz, two years on,  i reach the end of a friendly crack. At first i halt as the way directly up is out of the question but it seems i must traverse down to the left to reach the final corner cracks that wind their way up the ramp all the way to the summit. Not long now. The moves look OK but a flash of that day at the Smoke Bluffs makes me take a breath. Instantly it dissolves. I am still and clear. Stepping down onto the slab i chalk my fingers and crimp the holds perfectly. One move at a time i go, looking down to focus on my feet with 500ft of silent space below. Still i breathe, the sound of air inflating my lungs is the only thing i register. Nothing else exists in that moment, only nothingness. Three moves in, i am in between the two cracks, completely exposed. One more. I keep going slowly, mindful that i could reverse the moves if necessary. Finally, my fingers curled around the protruding flake and into the crack. Ahh. And then it clicked. At long last, i had found my centre and was free of the fear. The setting sun was beginning to stain the valley in orange and call it a day, as was I.

Sitting on the summit, all i could feel was immense gratitude to be alive. Existing. Every cell inside my body tingling with intense life. Although the climb is rated 5.6, which is not technically very hard, i had a revelation. You are not you from 2011, you are not what you would like to be, you are just you in this moment. It's all relative, that's the whole point. All you can do is be honest with yourself and make the right decision in that moment. This is most important.

Back in town, every sound is crystal clear, every spectrum of colour is visible and the smell of food utterly delectable! I meet up with Diana and listen to her talk about her day. She appears to be glowing. The sound of her voice is so soothing, her scent intoxicating. I recline in my chair and relax. Sublime, so sublime.

Climbing on Tahquitz the next day with Diana 
2 months later i'm sitting in mums garden in a little village called Wonersh. It's located in Surrey, southern England. Many delightful qualities exist here; Twisting country lanes that lead to old pubs that date back to the 15th Century, old friends who possess the bonds of friendship that surpass proximity and time and of course family. The local blackbirds and Robins sing their chorus of song as the bumblebees hunt for pollen across the flower beds of Honeysuckle, Lavender, Buddleia and Lilac. The wind chimes sing peacefully in the background. So much life here. So safe.

2 months. The longest i've gone without climbing for two years. On the contrary, i am the one who is wilting. I feel like i have been cryogenically frozen. It's a hard thing to describe to people that do not live with the mountains in their lives, but this was why i started the blog in the first place i suppose. It's funny how you think back to how amazing it all was or how awesome next month is going to be, but what about now?
As we create our own reality, it's definitely important to put things in perspective, like making enough money to fund that expedition you've always wanted to do or to reconnect with family after all those epic adventures you've had. The legendary British Philosopher Alan Watts once put forward a metaphor that the present is like a sailboat. The wake doesn't drive the boat but are memories and experiences that ripple and melt into the sea of time, just depends on where you want to go. I like that.

Mum (having a snooze) and her house.

My little Buddha in the garden
The flame will never go out, only smoulder from time to time but without passion we are a dead souls.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Power of Love

"Everyone? Let me ask you a question...What's your favourite thing about climbing?"

Several conversations ease to a halt as we all glance across the flickering fire at our newly arrived camp site guest. Only Groove Armada maintains the beat in the background. A few seconds tick by as we consider our answer to the question we've all been asked a million times before. Initially, i refrain from answering, noticing empty beer cans scattered around his swaying form. We were after all residing in 'The Pit', a camp site located near the bouldering hotspot known as the 'Happy's'  in Bishop, California. Would a gym climber come boulderer who's opening conversation was big moves and grades know what i'm talking about? Is there any point in going there? Well, it's different for everyone, that's the whole point. The brief flutter of prejudice is tossed aside. Sharing butt cheek space with Diana on our little blue cooler i stoke the fire, watch it pulsate and smoke. When it's time to indulge it goes like this;

For two years now, i've been on a somewhat cosmic drive down the road of self discovery and that passion is the vehicle. With loving care and attention it intensifies like a swirling vortex in the centre of your being, illuminating the need for more exploration into the deep unknown inside yourself.
What is most inspiring to me, is that we are all together in this search. Although every climber has a different motivation and various ways of expressing that, we are united through our Love for something and consciously create a space were we can air our thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or vindication.  Simply, it's the community. This is what we all had in common with our answers and was the same during the 2012 Indian Creek thanksgiving. Unification of this kind is always an encouraging thought.

So...The deep unknown. Picture your solitary self on a warm summers eve standing in front of a deep cave. Only the trees of the surrounding forest rustle in the gentle breeze. Curious as to what is inside, you take the first few tentative steps to it's mouth, crouching to avoid bumping your head and peer inside the darkness. Nothing. Hesitant, you creep forward until the rays of the setting sun gently recede behind you. Lantern in hand, the light slowly kindles the inner walls of the cave as you slowly advance one step at a time. Finally you are able to stand and discover you're in front of an immense catacomb, the feeble light is no longer able to show you the way ahead. Behind you, is the small white dot of where you came from but it's distance you cannot decipher. You feel brave to have made it this far but what now? Return to the safety of daylight while it lasts or continue into the yawning chasm ahead?

High on Ancient Art, a classic route in Utah

What's it going to be like on the summit?

AWESOME
Of course this metaphor isn't solely bound to being on the sharp end of a rope but to life in general. It extends to getting on that plane and checking out that place you really want to explore, sticking your thumb out on the highway, going to a social gathering or discovering a new relationship. Something different is something new but we won't know what it holds in stall for us until we step into that void willingly. In our  own way we can be bold every day of our lives if you make that choice to open your mind. For me climbing has provided that ability and has permeated every aspect of my life so far.

Riding the motorbikes with my dear friend Will in Laos, 2010
That time i made a cave my home for a few days in La Pedriza, Spain, 2011
A typically awesome gathering in Potrero Chico, Mexico, 2012
Peace & Love


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Spectrum

'A condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary infinitely within a continuum.' - Wikipedia

Sunrise from Canmore. Photo: Patrick Hogan

The bicycle feels heavy and cantankerous as it labours up the final switchbacks. The front wheel thrashes left and right in a feeble attempt to ease the angle of the incline ahead. It's occupant gasps for oxygen to help feed the fatigued pistons that drive the vessel ever onward. The gradient eventually recedes as i reach the impressive pass to Spray Lakes, it's threshold crowned with the East End of Mt Rundle on the right hand side and the magnificent north face of Ha Ling Peak on the left. The thumping inside my chest ebbs away slowly as the bicycle rolls to a tired stop. The top of the Grassi Lakes crag is conveniently situated directly under this pass so the funnelled winds blasting through the gap at 50kph shouldn't have been surprising, but it was, swiftly making me feel cold again.

Dipping down a few feet into the canyon of Grassi, the wind abates and i stuff the bike into the snow slope. Using it's frame as a seat, i sip some tea from my thermos and look down into the Bow Valley to the east. As usual, it doesn't take long for my gaze to turn again to the soaring wall of Ha Lings north face.

The strong winds heaved clouds of spindrift from their snowy ledges sending them swirling across the dark broken face. It seems to me that this smouldering titan of the ancient world was waking from the long, deep slumber of winter and is calling those that are willing, to enter it's vertical domain. The hypnotic stare lingers, nothing else exists. It only takes a brief moment for your imagination to manifest itself but sometimes that's all you need to be inspired. In this case, to simply wonder what it would feel like to be up on those heights was enough to plant the seed of curiosity. The more you meditate on the arduous task, the further the roots of that seed slide down along your veins and spiral around your bones until it consumes you completely in the depths of your heart and your soul.

The North Face of Ha Ling from the Pass

To those that know the routes up this face, i am aware that the most popular and direct route to the summit is in fact an alpine 'sport route' with 20 or so pitches, all bolts. Does this take away from the grandiose i feel for the mountain? Not at all, it is and will always be about the aesthetic line. For Ha Ling, the best looking line takes the direct route up the steepest part of the face and therefore the most exposed. Two factors alone that result in an exciting day out.I will climb it with a good friend this summer. It was then, pretending no routes existed that i began to understand the allure of climbing first ascents.

Later that day, the sun lit up the canyon and felt warm for March in the Rockies (Only 0C). After hours of bouldering on the steep, dry overhangs i was finally knackered and psyched to have had a first legit day of 2013 on the rock! I thought about the legendary crack climber Steve Hong's quote from some article in Rock & Ice about how important it is to be self motivated. Oh the joy of riding a rusty bicycle from the trailer park for 90 minutes up a savage hill to go bouldering in a snow filled canyon with numb hands! Seriously...  





 

Packing away my things, i stood in front of the prominent arĂȘte of 'A Bold New Plan', a route that juts out into the skyline. Two years ago i climbed that route for the first time. My first 5.11a on bolts. A cause for celebration at the time but it's funny how you evolve. Since that time, i discovered epic traditional routes, big boulders and now waterfall ice, all of which terrified me upon initiation but are now spectrums of climbing within my comfort zone. (In a general sense of course, it always depends). In the coming days, when i am ready, big wall aid and mixed climbs will be part of it too.

For me, the road to enlightenment lies in the surrender to the timeless wisdom out there in the hills. My personal hero, Walter Bonatti wrote about the mountain being a perfect reflection of your spirit. It's was true then and it always will be. Perhaps the most important thing since that day however, lies in people. Chris McCandless quote "Happiness, only real when shared" rings eternally true when i think of all the genuine beings i have shared exceptional moments with. To the special people within our community, i thank you for all your positive influences, hilarious antics and openness to embrace people for who they are. To me, ones opinion of a place or a journey is purely subjective and based on their experience of that place. Due to this, western Canada is my spiritual home.




The long winters used to be something i somewhat dreaded due to the short hours of day light, cold temps and the beautiful yet deadly environment in the mountains. Yet, the few months of solitude during the winter just spent had me savour the few yet quality friendships encountered in the snowy ranges of the Rockies and appreciate the true rays of light in my life. The energy you create will gravitate those similar to you...an encouraging thought.



Coasting down the switch backs on my return to town, i think about Mark Twight (another legend) and his last chapter of 'Kiss or Kill'. He talks about his unique friendships and his declaration of utter love for those that he knows will walk willingly with him into the gauntlet of the unknown to create an undeniable bond. I am beginning to understand this.

To my true friends and the noble mountains, i love you...i really do.





     

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mixed Feelings


"Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge" - Eckhart Tolle

Silence. The kind you get when nobody's awake and the pale of dawn isn't ready to turn on the lights yet.

Two bodies lay side by side, cocooned by pudgy, soft down sleeping bags, like a pair of juicy grubs. One prone, the other in a fetal position. That's me. We are sleeping in the back of a Toyota 91' Previa with a back seat unscrewed and piled on the other to make space. Sitting up, i take in the surroundings. Forecast said it was -15 last night. A nice layer of frozen condensation encases all the windows inside the van we've dubbed the 'ice house'. I scrub a whole through the back window to my left. No cars have left the parking lot yet for work. David is still dead to the world. I lie back down again. Watching my steaming breath rise and spill over the roof, i can't help but think; "This time last month i was in Mexico clipping bolts in the sun"...Narf

Ice, Ice, Baby!
 The small car, filled with the three of us was bursting at the seams. Ropes, racks, clothes and food filled every remaining cubic inch. Slowly but surely the burdened vehicle makes it's way through the town of Hidalgo, lurching over yet another speed bump with a Clang!, briefly muting the thumping bass line that's been cranked up to maintain our psyche. After 5 months of traditional climbing we were actually quite excited by the thought of clipping some bolts for a few weeks! Rounding the corner of the main square, we start up the hill towards El Potrero Chico. Jib and Van let out a "Woo Hoo!". The cliffs of the canyon must be coming into view. I would be more psyched by the spectacle but at that moment all i could see was the back of Jibs head. When the tired motor finally comes to a halt, all three of us step out for a look. Wow!

The entrance to the canyon


The euphoric moment of  'finally getting here'
  The day before, we had been driving in a straight line across Texas. As night fell we stopped for a sleep in some field near the highway. We grab our sleeping pads and land in the soil like felled timber and into instant slumber. A few hours later we are woken by two massive pick up trucks both with their headlight beams aimed right at us. I rub the sleep from my eyes and put out an arm to shield my eyes from the blinding light to see three silhouetted men standing in front. All have their hands cocked near their holsters. I crane my head to look around the guy in the center. The side of the truck reads "US Boarder Patrol". Great.

With Vans disarming smile and explanation that "we actually want to leave the usa", i am allowed to totter out in my boxer shorts to the car to show them my visa. He smiles at the bumbling Englishman and tells us to move on at dawn.  An hour later it happens again and we explain again that we want to go to Mexico. "You guys are crazy" the officer retorts, in perfect southern drawl.

What's crazier, is the steepness of Outrage Wall!
Canmore, Alberta. Situated in the Canadian Rockies, this world class arena would be the perfect place to learn to climb vertical ice and to enter the new realm of mixed climbing. (Rock and ice in the same route). My new home. For the winter at least. Initial excitement fills us with the hilarity of 'winter dirt bagging'.  On our first day out we get suited and booted for winter climbing and go about sinking our tools into the soft blue ice at a practice area just outside of town known as the 'Junkyard'. After a few laps i stand on top of the small cascade and look down into the Bow Valley and study the summits and faces around us, plastered in snow and ice. Magical..beautiful...deadly. A wonderful winter playground but a place where you can't screw it up. Not for a second. I am nervous but excited to step out of my comfort zone and see where it takes me. Starting to get cold now. The water on the falls that had soaked my jacket was now turning crunchy. Better go down.

Then it starts. Back at the 'Hostel of Doom' ( we paid $5 bucks to use the kitchen each day) i remember leaving my ice tools at the bottom of the ice crag. Damn. Driving back up i run over to the falls as it starts snowing. At the spot, i get on my knees and scrape frantically for the lost tools and start to get demented when at last they appear. The next day the van won't wake up. Battery dead? We hook up the cables to another car but sparks fly out. That can't be good. Now the lights on the dash won't come on. We search for a mobile mechanic but they don't exist so we dash across the road to vehicle repair shop but we have to bring the vehicle to them. Hmm. Pushing won't work so we eventually concede and call the tow truck. 2 minutes and $130 later its getting fixed (Blown fuses). A few days later the battery is dead again. Phew, it gets jumped without a hitch. We then go to the Alpine club hostel out of town as the HOD is too awful. A nice night there leaves us refreshed for the next day. The morning of, we set off down the hill to climb. Alas, on the tight bend we sail flawlessly over a sheet of ice into a ditch and nearly roll into a telegraph pole. Our little ship had been severely rocked that week and i was starting to doubt my place here. No job to cover costs and no place to live was starting to eat me from the inside. Jumping ship was turning into a good idea.

The site of our 'little mishap'
La Pasada. The new campsite for a fortnight. More like a resort, it sits at the mouth of the canyon and hosts a garden, swimming pool, kitchen and bar. Being the same price as sleeping in camp 4, it feels like luxury. Revelling in the warm breeze, i waft over to the pool to see my Czech friend Petr and his mate we met in Yosemite. Catching up and trading stories, a Mitsubishi van the size of a tin can pulls up. I know that van! Out gets Alex and Nick from BC. Haven't seen you guys since Squamish! Sharing a beer and lounging on the deck chairs, i enter catch up mode again. They drove from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and talk about their new friend they met there that should be arriving soon. My ears prick up and i know who it is already. I know that voice! The friend from the red is none other than our dear friend Ina from Squamish, how wonderful!
 
Hanging with Nick and Ina at La Pasada

Negro, the campground doggie
 After a night of celebration and a bottle of Tequila we swiftly head up into the canyon. Our first route is a really fun, athletic route of about 1000ft called 'Space Boyz' Mostly 5.10, the position is fantastic. With the lightest rack ever, consisting of 18 draws (ahh simple sport) we link pitches and go go go! Crimps, pockets, bolts. It would be this way pretty much everyday for 2 weeks. When Kyla catches up with us (from the creek) we had a tribe back together again. To say this was a good turn of events was an understatement. 


Looking up 'Space Boyz'
Intention. Positive intention. Your actions, your attitude, your resources. You can make it happen. Of course, i didn't really want to leave this place. You're right here. World class ice formations formed all over the Rockies and would be the perfect place to learn. Fortunately, we met some Danish climbers who were here on a mission and were able to tag along and hero the ice falls (on top rope...) One of them tells me that the living legend Will Gadd said "you should top rope 100 times before you lead". This makes me feel less pitiful and i go about making my way to 100 with a little more dignity.

That following week was a great breath of fresh air and the doubt was suppressed more and more but waking up in the van with my thoughts brings back this feeling anew. David leaves for Cuba. Climbing is the only stable thing in my life.

Damien Cote belaying Simon Jensen in Johnston Canyon

The world famous Stanley Headwall. Climbing this in inconceivable to me right now.
Looking up the start of Professor Falls. WI4 300m


Looking out to Cascade mountain from the top. Magic.
  Sport climbing is fun. With hardly any gear it means you can afford to pack some unnecessary gear that you would never be caught with in the alpine...like an i pod and speakers for example. On this day we want to climb lots of pitches in a day, apart from the next little bit which has a brief 5.11b sequence, the rest is low 5.10. Jib is making his way up to the belay pretty quick. I know this because I'm reeling in the rope and the faint boom boom boom of the bass line is getting closer until i hear 'can't get no sleep'. Classic, Faithless. I quickly grab some draws and start up the 'Pit Bull' variation on 'Estrellita'. Crimp, high step, rock over, mantle onto shelf, finger lock. A little rest allows room for a quick shake out and a look at the lip. Ooh getting a bit pumped already. A few more moves up a shallow corner and im just shy of reaching the lip. The music sounds like a whisper as its taken by the wind. Come on, get you feet up. Nope. Fingers begin uncurling. i make a cave man eske slap for the lip but it tickles my tips and i go limp as i peel off the wall into space. Back at the bolt i see the crucial foothold i failed to see in my lactic state. i try again and reach the lip. Jib soon follows and we're off again. After linking 20 pitches in 10 rope lengths (we also went up 'Super Nova') and 13 rappels we had had a good day out!


Climbing 'Sketch Pad' 5.11a/b, El Fin de Semana
Enoying one of many routes on Mota Wall

Chugging out tunes with Jib on 'Estrellita'
That's the great thing about rock climbing, especially on bolts. You can push it and take the whip. Taking it to the limit is fun. Most of the time. There are exceptions...

The opposite can be said for ice climbing. At least when you're learning. This is all im thinking about when its time to lead the first pitch of Weeping Wall, left hand (160m WI4). My friend Damien, a very experienced climber from Quebec who possesses great humility and unwavering optimism, has agreed to lead the harder pitches above. Got to contribute at least one lead. Setting off, the ice is nice and soft. Thrust the tool in and test it. With straight arms, bring your feet up into a squat like position and stand up, arching your back. Strike again. That's the basic sequence. 4 close screws later my calfs are burning but otherwise im alright, just need to stop stressing.

The massive Weeping Wall.
Our line went left of the exposed rock in the middle.
 A couple of weeks before, my first lead up a tiny steep pillar was a disaster that left me knackered, shaking and whimpering a fearful "watch me" only to finish crouched under a roof at the top with no fixed anchor. Just a set of bolts 2 meters to the left on another climb. The best idea i can think of is to drive a tool in with the hammer of the other as hard as possible, sink the other tool next to it and lower off them. Not the best ascent ever, that's for sure.
I hope this can be somewhat understandable though as the last WI4 i tried to lead last year, called 'Hers' in Grotto canyon (near Canmore) resulted in the most terrifying fall of my climbing life so far.
The ice had formed nicely and i started up the cone at the base. A few holes from previous ascents made 'hooking' my tools quite easy. At the top of the pillar i was nice and warm having placed the last ok screw now at my feet. The crux of this formation is that you need to traverse a couple of meters, under a roof and over an icy step in which the icicles underneath had sheared off. This made me fearful of the integrity of the step and as a result i was crunched up too far in the roof above. About halfway between moving away from the pillar and reaching the chains (it's for a direct mixed route as well) i hammer my tool into the highest piece of ice available that's far to brittle for decent purchase. I keep on hammering with my bent left arm in the cramped space as much as possible but am getting tired so quickly i can literally see seconds left in my minds eye. With a small hole now i figure it's got to hold something. i match my right hand on the tool as well. Upon stretching out for the chains with my left hand the tool explodes, sending shrapnel of ice into my face. The tool butts into my cheek and im off. Letting out a death scream, my tools clatter onto the frozen ground and i swing into the pillar. My right knee smashing into the ice and absorbs the force before i swing back left. My razor crampons sailing over my belayers head. I finally stop and sit up on the rope. The screw held. Woah. I look up and see it's come out halfway. I lower down and limp over into the snow. That was close.

Back down in the canyon, we all sit round the blazing fire, listening to music, chatting about the day, shooting the shit. For most of us, we will be parting ways again. A regular event with such a nomadic group of people. Some will continue south, some will stay, some like me go back north. What a season. Looking forward to seeing you all again someday. It was a pleasure. Let's have another drink! The next day i was to step out of the airport in -25.

Vans usual antics

Our last fire together
Back on Weeping Wall these memories flash by but i ignore it, breathe and finish the pitch. Damien flows up in two seconds and we continue up for the rest of the day. A couple hours later, we are halfway up this massive wall of ice. No matter how long you climb, when you look down on something like this..it's awesome. "Lets get out of here" he remarks as i reach the belay. He is right, its sunny and above zero. We put snow over the anchor to help the ice from melting. A couple hours later we are onto of the ledge and begin the rappels. That's only halfway, there's upper Weeping Wall too which looks wild!

Damien leading the second pitch



Arriving at the 3rd belay. Psyched.
Rapping back down


A long drive later im dropped off at my new home in the trailer park. Things are looking up, eh! Let's keep it coming. Maybe i can lead my first mixed route and make some more cash..... Positive Intention.




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.