October 28, 2014–
This fall, a group of our favorite female COBS Instructors got together for the first (annual?) Women’s Rock Rendezvous. The destination: Indian Creek, Utah.
Indian Creek is well-known amongst climbers as a “mecca of splitter hand-cracks.” The Wingate sandstone in this area fractures into long, vertical cracks the width of a hand. The outer face of the rock is for the most part featureless, leaving few options to climbers other than placing a hand into the crack and torqueing on it, effectively jamming it in the crack so that one can gain purchase and inch up a little bit at a time. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Crack climbing is a unique style of rock climbing, requiring perseverance and determination as one’s knuckles and fingers get torn up by the rock. In general, climbing requires a significant amount of mental strength to overcome external challenges: to tune out distractions, to command one’s muscles to make coordinated and precise moves, to puzzle out a route up the rock. Crack climbing demands the mental and emotional toughness to overcome the internal: the pain, the voice that says to give up, the fatigue, and more pain.
After a busy season of delivering challenge and discovery to our students, these Instructors went out to the desert to practice what they preach, to remind themselves that there is always “more in you than you know.”
Read on to hear what crack climbing, women’s trips, and challenge mean to them.
Indian Creek. Suffering. Shedding tears. Sand crammed in your tent zipper. Sand in your food. Sand in your cams. It’s the place that makes you humble, not only because the surrounding views are so surreal, and the sunsets make you want to drop to your knees – but also because just when you think you’re getting okay at climbing, you realize how far you still have to go.
We spent our days climbing hard in the sun, and it was hot: in the 80s pushing 90 degrees. I’m from Alaska – I was literally melting. But I climbed, and I loved it. Some of those cracks made me cry. But the support I had from the crew of ladies made it not matter. The support we gave each other was endless. It made topping out and touching anchors heaven sent. The encouragement when things got hard made the suffering and the bloody knuckles worth the push. I was climbing things I didn’t think I could. And I can honestly say it was because of the passion all of the women out there were sharing with each other.
I had never really even been on a climbing trip. And here I was driving into a sea of the most difficult splitter cracks I had ever seen, getting ready for a trip with some of the most skilled climbers I had ever met. I guess I should have been more scared. But, I was only excited. My palms were sweaty beneath my tape gloves and I couldn’t decide whether it was from the heat of the sun or the nerves. And, then I started climbing.
There aren’t many choices when you’re climbing splitter cracks. You don’t have to think about which foot placement is best. You aren’t feeling around for a better hand that will make you feel more secure. There is a crack to place your feet and your hands. And there is a smooth sheet of rock on either side of it. The rock forces you to think less and move more. You dance up the rock rather than reason with it.
I am quite certain the first time I danced, I stumbled often. So, it only makes sense that I did the same as I attempted to ascend these giant cracks. The sandstone scraped my forearm as I pushed my hand as far back as possible. My ankle screamed out at me as I tried to twist it more in order to gain leverage for upward movement. Fingers singed in pain as I pushed the pads of my fingertips into the grains of sand peppering the rocks. I fell on the rope as my body told me it was exhausted and hot and in pain. But just as a child when I watched my older sister dance and yearned to move like her, I watched as fellow co-workers moved gracefully up the rock and wanted to move like them. So, I kept going.
And then I saw these women fail. I saw them scream out in pain. I saw tears stream down their cheeks as the rock forced humility upon them. And I gained the most in this moment, because I saw every one of these women get back up. As a new climber I learned less about technique and more about failure. I learned that none of us are perfect, but that we are all strong. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Aside from the climbing, the coolest thing about the trip for me was the group’s capacity to put all our guards down and just be ourselves. Throughout the six-day trip, we created an environment in which learning, challenge and camaraderie could happen organically.
The success of the trip can be attributed to the group of women as a whole. We all showed up, tried hard and had fun. Credit is also due to the leaders who hatched the idea and planned the whole thing. Thanks are in order to the folks higher up who allowed the trip to happen — even if perhaps they had to sit in an office while we were out climbing. And I would be remiss if I failed to thank all the gentlemen in the community who supported the trip.
The Women’s Rock Rendezvous was an embodiment of what makes the Outward Bound community so top-notch. There was adventure, learning, challenge and self-discovery in a beautiful setting. And there were dance parties. Lots of dance parties.