Ah spring, that magical time of year, when a climber’s fancy turns to splitter cracks. The running joke is that you can tell it’s spring in the desert because the license plates start turning green, which is truthfully about as good an indicator as any. For many people, however, the idea of heading to Indian Creek for the first time can be quite daunting, maybe because of inexperience on cracks, or maybe because they think they need a gargantuan rack. The truth, however, is that this magical world is attainable to just about anybody who’s willing to put the time in, and we’ve put together a handy guide to take you from desert gumbie to, well, whatever comes after being a gumbie.
A very friendly and non-intimidating place to start your desert adventures, the Ice Cream Parlor offers some great, slabby cracks to practice your jamming skills. The 5.6 corner is actually quite good and requires a variety of techniques, while Critical Mass (5.8) gives you some funkier sizes without being hard. Good Day to Die is a nice 5.9, and as a bonus from the anchor you can TR Ice Cream Parlor Crack (5.11-), which will give you a feel for some of the harder sizes.
Once you’ve got your legs under you, head on over to Wall Street to hit up some classic Navajo sandstone cracks. 30 Seconds Over Potash (5.8+) is a fun route, with a couple of cruxes and a nice stretch of big hands jamming. Flakes of Wrath (5.9+) offers excellent hand jams and sinker finger locks. The gear is a little funky through the flake section, but the climbing is solid. For an even better finish, instead of traversing left, head right up the East of Wrath variation, which some folks like better than the original. Another good splitter crack here is Potash Bong Hit (5.10-), though the gear on the upper half is questionable, so make sure you are solid at the grade, or bum a TR. And if you can snag a ride up Baby Blue (5.11-), you’ll be well on your way to crack mastery.
You made it through your first two days of crack climbing, congrats, you are now ready to head to Indian Creek. This place is a completely different animal then the other two areas you visited, so here’s a good way to ease into it.
Twin Cracks (5.9-), at Super Crack, is probably the easiest route in Indian Creek. It offers good pro, a variety of jams, and it’s not sustained. While in the neighborhood, you can also check out the first pitch of Wild Works of Fire (10b) which is mostly splitter hands, with a little bit of funk at the top. On the other side of the canyon is the Donnelly area, where you’ll find several easier routes, including Naked and the Dead (5.8), Binou’s Crack (5.9), and Chocolate Corner (5.9+). These are all on the shorter side and don’t require monster racks, while letting you work on a variety of techniques.
Though it’s slightly off the beaten path, probably the best beginner wall at Indian Creek is the Selfish Wall. It blows doors off Donnelly, and isn’t nearly as crowded. It’s a longer walk, but you end up in a beautiful canyon, with a plethora of good intro routes that you’ll probably have all to yourself (no pun intended). The climbing takes places on east, south and west faces, so you can easily chase sun or shade, depending on the season. With routes like Hand Solo (5.9), the Ooze (5.10-), and Solo West (5.11-), you’ll get a good feel for what Indian Creek has to offer. See the Mountain Project listing for full beta, as the guidebook info is a little sparse and not nearly complete.
The key to learning to crack climb is to go out and do it. A lot. And don’t underestimate the value of top roping, at least until you start to feel comfortable enough to push yourself on some easy leads. Also, don’t be stingy with the gear, this isn’t granite after all. Most folks place a peice about every body length, just to be on the safe side.
If you start small, you’ll soon find yourself looking up at the longer lines with sweaty palms, psyched to put your new skills to the test. Have fun!