Sunday, December 27, 2015

The US trad climbing trip

I am back home after my 4 months trip through Quebec and the US. I feel it's time to sit down and reflect on what I've learned.
After years of sport climbing all over Europe, I somehow found myself getting into trad climbing this year. I am generally quite driven with performance and thus focused on what I think I do best, but it seemed I would never feel an accomplished climber if I didn't try trad. Who cares, I might or might not like it, I thought. Might as well give it a try...

the indispensable trad gear. My rack of old Aliens I was so lucky to have come across, they just fit everywhere.
and La Sportiva TC Pro's - I am sure this has to be the best shoe ever for everything except steep limestone. It's like 80% of Yosemite people wear them. I wouldn't go for anything else!
After a great month in Yosemite with David where we did the El Cap and a bunch of other cool things, I continued my trip through the US west. I wanted to climb trad in different places and real cracks. Indian Creek was high on my list.

 (I think this needs a bit of a disclaimer to start with. This is a post purely about climbing, with what may seem a ridiculous amount of fascination over rock split with cracks.)

But those cracks... are more perfect than any other I've climbed. They're splitter, parallel, going the same size for metres. It's unique, special. This is Indian Creek. But my words will not do it justice. My friend Craig has written a beautiful Ode to the Creek. I am a believer!
a desert sunset. pic by Kathy
a solitary splitter at Supercrack buttress. Believe it or not, I bet most IC climbers will recognize it, even though they all look pretty much the same :)

I was lucky to run into my friend Enzo Oddo at the Superbowl camping. Him and his french crew were on a trip to the Moab area doing climbing, highlining and base-jumping, basically getting high in the desert with adrenaline.
Climbing with him was great fun and good learning opportunity. His crack climbing is amazing. He flows up cracks elegantly, running it out a good few metres above every piece and boldly going for it. All that from a person who, pretty much like me, comes from a sport climbing background, and hasn't climbed cracks all his life at all - he's simply talented.
Watching him crush Indian creek testpieces like The Optimator, Pat's Blue Ribbon, Pink Flamingo, Six Star crack (all 5.13 or 5.13-) has pushed me to try harder and go for it more. It was great, I got on routes I would otherwise never dared of. Merci mon amis francais!
One day we were on Six Star crack, a perfect 30 metre splitter high up a headwall, a .75 and #1 size crack. I managed to get tight hands where he had to do painful ring-locks. For 30 metres! I felt like cheating, but still struggled to send, while he onsighted quite casually!
Enzo shooting up his onsight of The Optimator (5.13-). I managed that second go!
with the french 'Nograd' team after sending Six Star crack!
Etienne was taking a lot of footage for a movie with their sponsor Nograd. This is going to be an insane adrenaline-filled clip!

Sometime through my trip, I realized how much fun trad climbing really is, and how psyched I was to finally get into it. The climbing culture I grew up in has a skewed perspective on trad climbing. It's not all heady, leg breaking with scary falls and popping gear like hardcore British gritstone. It takes some time adjusting to it if you're a sport climber, but ultimately it is fun because it adds a puzzle game of how and where to place gear, and doing stuff clean without unneccessary bolts is just way more cool anyway.
offwidth+overhang=going inverted
The route that epitomized it was Belly Full of Bad Berries. I have a Simon Carter coffee table book with the above picture in it. I remember looking at it years ago thinking this was insane, gnarly painful, and simply crazy. It didn't seem to me I would ever get around doing stuff like that. Yet there I was, now, about to get stuck feet first in this brutal 45-degree overhung offwidth. It was still painful, felt slightly crazy, but also a lot of fun, and an incredible feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction getting the send on my second attempt, after a 20 minute struggle. My calves burned, my whole body hurt, but it was an eye opener for sure!
the BELLY! Will I send... or throw up maybe?

in the fists section of the Belly, approaching the fearful invert! after that, it keeps going for about 10 metres!
I really liked the sport climbing-style routes, too - ones where the crux was less about enduring through the endless jamming of same size and more about figuring out the moves. I felt less awkward than on most crack climbs, while still getting the kick from having to place cams. The best ones I did have to be Burl Dog (5.12+) and The International affar (5.12)
mid-crux on The International affair (5.12). Face holds yes yes! pic by Etienne Tafary

tiny cams protect the funky finish to the route. Sport climbing with cams is awesome! It took me a few tries to get this fun liebacking/bouldery crack pieced together and send.
learning how to finger-jam on this textbook fingercrack "Cat burglar" 5.12, pic by Kathy
an IC mega-classic "King Cat" 5.11+
a wide handcrack into a strenous lieback flake to a short roof and a heinous mantel to the chains!
 After nearly two weeks spent living in the desert, the Creek was beginning to bear down on us. Nights were getting real cold, muscles were sore from non-stop physical climbing. When I first arrived, I went for five days without a break. Now, I was doing a couple of pitches per day, only when the sun was out. It snowed a couple of times.
Indian Creek, Superbowl camping. The desert is a harsh place!
I felt it was time to leave and go do other things. By turn of events, I hit the road with Stacy and Kotaro. We drove 10 hours west to the coast of the Pacific. I have always wanted to try surfing on waves, and they were psyched to take me out!
waking up to this...
van life!
 I changed the big plain desert for the sandy beaches of San Diego, climbing for surfing, sleeping in my tent for being a beach bum sneaking around residential areas in Stacy's Sprinter van, a dirtbag climber's pasta diet for mexican food and milkshakes.
'Dawn patrol' in Del Mar, northern San Diego with Stacy and Kotaro.
Mornings provide a calm ocean, no wind and great, consistent waves.

It was a total hit. I obviously sucked but still had fun. Catching an odd wave here and there after countless tries has kept it exciting and I surfed until my belly button developed a nasty rash. Then we ate burritos, hung out, watched movies and slept a lot - easy California life. Thanks friends!

After San Diego, I went to Joshua Tree. This vast, out-of-this-world desert is a true climber's playground and surely one of the most beautiful places of the Earth I've been to. I hope to get a 'part 2' of this blog about my time in Joshua Tree... thanks for reading! I hope this inspires some of my fellow climbers to go out there and place some cams!

a "wide day" with Stacy, doing the classic Indian Creek offwidth climb The Big Baby. I like this picture - candies, a #6 cam, and an odd spot of blood...