Red Desert, Part 3

Red Desert, Part 3

Read Part 1 or Part 2

Wednesday Morning Frost

It was another cold morning our second day in the creek, and another brilliant sunrise under the Bridger Jacks.

I took lots of pictures of frozen plants.


[gallery type="rectangular" ids="2129,2118,2117"] (These photos are lost on my old wordpress blog for now; may bring them back at some point)

This was our last morning in the Creek. Thanksgiving was approaching, and so that night we were meeting Luke, Laurel, Mo, Jake, Cat, Mike, and so many other people up near Moab.

Alyssa packing up

Still, Alyssa and I didn't have anywhere to be for the morning, so we leisurely packed up camp and went off to find those classic splitter cracks that make Indian Creek into a world-famous climbing destination.

Indian Splitter Creek

Generic Crack (there's a climber at the top, if you look close enough)

After packing up, we drove towards the exit of the Creek back towards Moab, with a planned stop at Donnelly Canyon. Alyssa had picked out multiple routes for us to give a whirl, but the jam-packed parking lot and huge groups heading up the trail told us that we might not be able to do everything we wanted.

Or, more accurately, anything we wanted. Alyssa had picked out Binou's CrackChocolate Corner, and a few others, and each. and. every. single. one. was camped out. So! We managed to find a no-name big-hands crack that got wider on the way up with no one underneath. It went at 5.9 and was a nice struggle for me, with a big off-vertical runout at the end due to me thinking I'd dropped all my #4s already (still had one, as it turned out). Poor Alyssa really had to fight to get up it: what was fists for me was offwidth for her, the whole way. Ouch.

<A photo of the crack would go here, if only we had taken one>

After that, we walked around and debated, and debated and walked around, trying to figure out what we would do. We chatted with other climbers, watched people on cracks, and then, when I went to check out the most famous route on the wall, I found only one other group waiting to get on it.

Alyssa and I got in line.

Generic Crack

Generic Crack is a massive, long, long splitter hands crack. Or at least, it was once a splitter hands crack. The guide book suggested taking 10 #2's up with you for protection - Alyssa and I had 3 and a few off-2 friends. Were we really going to be able to get up this 120ft climb with just those?

Chatting with the guys who were doing the route in front of us, we were informed that fat pieces could be shoved into "pods" where the route opened up. So I threw some fours and even a 4.5 onto my rack, and when our turn came, got down to work.

Alyssa fitting perfectly into the first pod on Generic Crack

A PSA: Length Matters

Oh, quick aside here. I only got to work after watching the Boulderite lower his partner right off the end of the rope, taking a ten foot fall onto the ground and roll backwards down the slope for a bit. Scary. Always tie a knot kids!

Happily, Alyssa and I were rolling with a 70m rope, not a 60m.

Check out this rack, baby

Right then. Where were we?

Getting to work on Generic Crack

Alyssa and her butt at the top of Generic Crack

I put up the first twenty feet unprotected, until the crack had a pod close up to a 4.5 camalot, and so I ditched a lot of weight and felt much safer with a giant piece holding strong. From there, I climbed until my feet were on the piece I had placed, and threw in a #3 at the end of a second pod.  After perhaps one or two more #3 placements, I hit the sustained bomber hand crack.

Here, I thought I would place gear as sparingly as possible. It's pretty difficult to actually fall out of a perfect hands crack -- I'd previously experienced running out 40 or 50 feet on one piece of gear at one of the rare splitters in the 'Voo, and knew I could "bump" my protection with me as I climbed this section of Generic Crack. I ended up only using two (maybe three?) of the #2's I'd brought along with me. My anxiety that I wouldn't have enough made me be overly-stingy in their use, and I ended up carrying dead weight to the top. Silly me.

Grady guards the gear while we climb

The crack starts to widen in the last 30 feet, as the anchors start to loom into view, taunting you. By then my toes were crying in anguish after every new jam, shoving them into the crack vertically and twisting my foot until it was smashed between the opposing sides of the rock. My arms were burning, my shoulders , chest, and abs all sore, and I found myself placing gear every five feet, as opposed to the twenty foot gaps I'd left below. I was obviously running out of steam.

A hundred feet above the ground, the rope running perfectly straight from Alyssa's hand to my harness, every attempt at clipping took some serious effort. With one hand flexed powerfully to stay smashed in the crack, the other has to reach around my harness, find the right cam to place in the crack, maneuver it in, ensure it's solidly placed and then, still held to the rock with one arm, I reach down for the rope tied to my harness and have to lift the 100 feet of it up three feet and fit it into the carabiner with my free hand. The hand that helped me climb 100 feet already. So exhausting!

The more tired I get, the more I shake, and the more nervous I become. The more nervous I am, the more frequently I want to place gear. The more frequently I place gear, the faster I become tired. See the vicious circle here?

But still, finally, I reached out, put a draw on the anchor, lifted the 120 feet of rope, and shoved it through the gate. Done!

At the anchor!

Tiny Hands Vs. Time

Next up: Alyssa Wechsler!

So, this route has been climbed by literally thousands of people over the years. Its soft sandstone foundation slowly wears away with every hand and foot that goes up it. While it may have been perfect hands years and years ago, it's been gradually widened over time. My big hands didn't mind, but Alyssa... oh, poor Alyssa. 120 feet of off-hands climbing, on a crack deeply embedded behind a wider opening. In other words, long legs and arms are a boon here too.

Alyssa on the way up

Still, after fighting through the wide start, Alyssa taught that crack who's boss.

Alyssa gets to the top of Generic Crack
Red Rock Celebrations

Goodbye Climbing

And that was our time in Indian Creek, and our time climbing for Thanksgiving. I came away from it feeling very confident in my trad skills, so woohoo! Alyssa got to face some multi-pitch fears (particularly the trad sort) and see some stunning landscape with me, so, if I may say so without putting words in her mouth, I think she's very happy to have done all that climbing too. Just look at that celebration face above!

Slick Rock Thanksgiving

From there, we cleaned up our rack, loaded up in the car, and met up with friends in Moab. The next day Alyssa and I got out and did the famous Slick Rock mountain biking trail, where she completely dominated me in the realm of two wheels. Serious.

At first, I could kind of keep up. By the end of the 15 mile trail, after I had literally peed myself about 10 miles in (it was an accident!) not only was I watching Alyssa tear up the trail, but so was everyone we ran into.

At one point, a group of three was taking turns doing a long upwards haul, breaking the whole trek into four parts.

Alyssa did it all in one go. What a show off.

I walked up it...

I still had a terrific time (wet shorts and exhausted quads aside), and it was a blast seeing Alyssa in her prime. There was nothing she couldn't bike up; I couldn't bike up just about anything.

After that, we biked back to camp, where we had a great big 30 person camp-out Thanksgiving Dinner, and where I proceeded to make myself very sick after eating four dinners.

My good friend Mike, whom I met in Japan and hadn't seen since (the Mike from this post), drove all the way from Mexico (well, pretty much) and we had a great reunion. We were hoping to have adventures climbing together after that, but from Thanksgiving on the Moab weather took a turn for the worst...

Bad weather sad times

We woke up Friday after Thanksgiving and debated for a long time what we'd do. Alyssa, Mike and I all went to Cat's mom's condo, where we enjoyed warm showers and over ate, having learned nothing the night before.

After taking hours to come to terms with the fact that our dreams of getting up Owl Rock that weekend wouldn't come to fruition (damn you weather!!) Alyssa and I decided to make the drive back to Laramie, abandoning Mike and all our other friends.

It turned out to be a good decision - as we drove over the pass in Summit County, Colorado on I-70, my ear began to hurt. The next day I woke up with my first ear infection, and it was naaaasty. I also had a bad stomach bug to go along with it, and so Alyssa ended up looking after an infidel invalid all weekend, after only ever getting to ride her bicycle once. Oh lyssy <3

The end

Sunday morning we drove to Cheyenne and had a fancy breakfast with my family. Our hands looked like this.


Matt Enlow

Matt has a camera, a home on wheels, and this website
Down by the river