Will I be able to even get off the ground?
That’s what I started to worry about as the Indian Creek Chicks Rock! clinic drew closer. Although my introduction to the world of climbing was through rock, ice is definitely where my heart is – and has been – for the past several years. However, last year I had my first taste of crack climbing and kind of really dug it. It just seemed like my kind of climbing. Repetitive (like ice), formulaic (my brain likes this), and dirty (in chimneys at least) where grunting is fully acceptable. So, when I heard about Dawn spearheading a Chicks Rock! clinic in Indian Creek, I knew I’d be a fool to not go. I mean what better place to learn how to climb cracks? Even though I do work for Chicks Climbing I’d only ever gone out to Chicks with Picks ice climbing clinics because I just didn’t ever feel the same passion or drive for rock climbing, so I really felt like I was stepping out of my comfort zone signing up to climb in the Creek.
The day we arrived was a windy one. Dawn, Kitty, Kim & base camp manager awesome-sauce Julie were ready and waiting for us, helping tie tents down with rocks and guide lines. (Note: if you camp in the desert bring lots of guide lines!). At our initial meeting we learned Julie would be providing dinners all week (which were not only delicious, but VERY healthy!) and got totally unexpected prizes from our sponsors and supporters at Marmot, JetBoil, Osprey, Pistil, Omega Pacific, Sterling Rope, Isis, Luna Bars, Fox River Socks, Katy’s Handjam, CHUMS and Beyond Coastal.
However, the most important part of the initial meeting was the talk Kitty gave us about climbing in the Creek. While I can’t begin to do it justice, in short she said we should not measure our ability to climb in the Creek on previous climbing experiences. Success would not come by measuring up to previous face climbing grades or having expectations of what you “should” be able to do, or feeling entitled to climbing at a certain grade or ability. As I looked around I could tell that I wasn’t alone in my concern of getting off the ground. I was actually relieved that NONE of us had ever climbed in the Creek, and we had no idea what to expect from the absolutely beautiful perfect splitters we’d be climbing.
And really, what made me feel better was just knowing I was here with Chicks. Based on my previous experiences at Chicks clinics I knew wouldn’t feel pressured to do anything I didn’t want to do, or be made to feel poorly if (and when) I struggled. So, my sole focus was to learn how to climb cracks right – what techniques should I use, how can I stay in balance, where to find good rests, how to control my breathing (and heart rate) – and that was exactly what I did. Topping out was simply an added bonus!
I had the pleasure of being in Dawn’s group for the clinic, which I was really excited about since I’ve never gotten a chance be in her group during the ice clinics, and I always hear from her girls about just how much fun they have (and how much they learned!) afterwards. An added bonus was that my hands are very close to the size of Dawn’s, so if she described a climb as having perfect hand jams, I knew I’d have them too.
Day one we headed to “Way Rambo,” where we made our tape gloves and started to jam. I found Dawn’s method of instruction to be very helpful. She would demo the climb talking about how she was jamming – big hands, fingers, fists, etc. so that when we got on we’d have an idea of what to expect. Even though our group had two ropes set up at almost all times, we generally opted to all climb on one before moving to another. It was different from how I approach climbing in Ouray where I’m all for laps, laps, laps! But the focus on technique, plus the added bonus of having Dawn watch every one of us climb, and my concern for burning out (and losing massive skin) by the final multi-pitch day helped keep my excitement tamed. Not to mention that learning to climb crack is really hard! It was funny how different sized cracks could feel so different. Instead of getting “pumped” while climbing, I got exhausted cardiovascularly. It was a feeling as if I had just sprinted a 100m dash at world-record pace – I was often just gasping for air!
So, at Way Rambo all of our fears of not being able to get off the ground were laid to rest as we climbed “Rochambeau” to start things off. Next up was “Fuzz” which had a burly little start that we all had quite a bit of fun with. The last climb of the day was “Blue Sun” which was absolutely my favorite of the day thanks to the PERFECT hands and aesthetic line. The scariest part of the day was cutting off the tape gloves. I felt like I was going to slice my wrist open so Kitty helped me out which was maybe scarier? Here she is sawing away with what felt like an exact-o blade over my wrist. Of course I came out unscathed and psyched for more climbing!
Day two we went to “The Fin” wall and started out on “No Beggin’” before chasing the shade over to “Walkin’ Talkin’ Bob” which had quite a bit of face moves actually (my nemesis!) but was a totally fun route. While we were climbing Julie showed up with a backpack full of cookies, gummy worms and COLD fizzy water which she had oh so casually hiked all the way up to us. That’s how she totally won MVP of the trip! Anyways, since we’d only really climbed hand cracks thus far, Dawn offered to put up another hand line, or to move up to a fingers route. We voted fingers and went off to climb “The Piano” which was just flat-out fun. In fact, I’m not sure if it was more fun to climb it, or to cheer on the other Chicks sending and coming down with smiles that could light a million bulbs.
On the third day we went to the Power Wall where we started out on an absolutely gorgeous unnamed splitter hand crack before moving on to “Batteries Not Included.” On this day we actually kind of got to see Kitty’s girls climbing, which was really fun as they tackled a line called “Flower Power” which included a very crux-y move from one crack to another using just your fingers! We finished the day on the finger crack “Power Play” which was again so much fun – I really think part of it is because it’s such a challenge and workout that the joy of sending overwhelms! However, for those with Kitty-sized hands (.75?) you could totally hand jam that line.
All the ladies in the clinic had opted for the multi-pitch day so Kitty took her ladies to Castleton Tower where I’m sure they had a blast, while Dawn & Danika Gilbert took the rest of us to the South Six Shooter. The approach was, well let’s just say we missed our path so we got the scenic (and previously untouched by man) route. We also got lessons in spotting pups climbing chimneys! The weather was actually looking a bit sketch during the approach but at the base was steadily improving. Climbing with Tori & Dawn we took a left-facing crack up the first pitch instead of the standard route, which we linked up with on pitches two and three. Topping out was just amazing – the view was absolutely incredible! There was quite a bit of wind which meant Dawn carefully held our line on rappel to make sure we didn’t end up blowing to the opposite face (which *felt* like it could happen it was blowing so hard!).
Although I have no idea what Kitty’s girls were climbing for most of the trip since they were always *just* around the corner from our group, they definitely sat around the campfire at night with perma-grins like the rest of us, dirty, happy and shredded after climbing, so I feel confident in saying they had a great time too.
I really find it hard to express just how much fun I had on this clinic – not only was the climbing just out of this world fun, but the ladies I had the pleasure of climbing with in Dawn’s group kept us bursting with laughter (Tobie & Tori!) for the whole trip. I also fell madly in love with the desert. Camping out was such a treat in the dead silent, crisp night. I could tell how late in the night it was based on the moon shadows in my tent and I love that. In fact, I’m already obsessively trying to figure out how to get back to the Creek this fall, with some fellow Chicks, of course! Next spring I will definitely be at Indian Creek again with Chicks, it was such a fun trip I can’t recommend it enough – from the bike to the bathroom to the ever-awesome Julie (who always has chocolate available) this was definitely a trip to remember!
P.S. I wish I had more pictures of the other girls but I don’t…yet! When we get them all together I will post an album on the Chicks Facebook page 🙂
P.P.S. The next Chicks Rock! event is at Devil’s Lake, Wisc. July 27-30. There are special discounts available for those who sign up by May 31 – details here! We also have a clinic scheduled for the New River Gorge Sept. 21-23 and one in the Adirondacks (Keene Valley) Oct. 5-8 and will be announcing our fall Red Rock clinic dates soon!
Maijaliisa Burkert is the Marketing & Social Media Chick for Chicks Climbing. Learn more about her work at High Altitude Media here.