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The Femur is the Strongest Bone


by Kelly Bates

February 08, 2002

Indian Creek RoadTrip TR, Nov 2001

This will be short and sweet, like our climbing trip.

And so it continues? After my past two shorter, less-committing expeditions for climbing in UT, I finally talked my girlfriend into some time off (in the busy season, no less) for a long weekend roadtrip to the crack mecca. We'd been once before, but only for a morning, and unable to find anything that I thought I could safely lead and with a relatively sparse rack of active pro, we vowed that we'd return. It took us until Thanksgiving to find a weekend free enough.

Traditionally, it's still nice in the desert around this time of year, when it's turned too nasty to climb alpine rock without it becoming an affair of snow and early-season ice. This year we've had a mild fall, and things have been climbable, if cold, even on north-facing routes in the Front Range. Nature had its way with us this weekend.

We had six days off (Thurs-Tues) and my first concern was cooking an awe-inspiring Turkey Day meal for Jules' extended family; I think I did well, and was told such, but who really knows. Perhaps they were just being nice. Cooked my butt off with the full bird/stuffing/taters and 2 gravies course, and on a nice day to be outside to boot. After meeting and socializing for a while (hanging xmas lights from ladders, that sort of thing) we packed up the honda battlewagon with camping gear and headed west. I was hoping to link up with Frank from r.c for some climbing time in IC, but as we drove over LaSal Pass from Paradox there was snow. More of it, even, than in the bigger mountains we'd come through. Ridiculous amounts of snow. Yeah, it was cold around the Continental Divide, with maybe 3-4 inches of dry stuff, but it was just as cold, and wetter, and at least as much heading into the desert from 8000'. And it was still raining/sleeting/snowing. I'm not really sure which. ('Maybe it'll be better in the lowlands.' Right.)

At 7K' in IC, we were just lucky they'd plowed the access road to IC. To make it shorter still, it got to 20degF one day. For the high. Okay, I'm exaggerating. It got to 40 on Saturday when we actually got to climb, and some of the snow melted and the south-facing routes were dry. But ask anyone who was there (the ones who didn't bail even earlier than we did), and it didn't break freezing most of the long weekend and it was only really climbable that day for about 5 hours. I understand Frank's climbers' party was a hit in Bridger Jack; probably the only release from not being able to get on the rock. I'm happy to say it was Julie's first time winter/snow camping and she was happy and stayed warm and all those good things, and she might even keep climbing with me in the cold!

Saturday morning started off well. We met another pair of climbers in the hidden spot that TradGirl turned us on to (Thank you, it was pretty nice!) - Al, a patent attorney just there for a couple of days, and Mark, a kind-of-cocky but nice climber well above our abilities from Aspen. Mark we'd seen at Supercrack before, in September, hopping from route to route looking for harder and harder things. He's a carpenter with a business in Aspen doing somesuch, and seems to like befriending other climbers with racks that he can borrow to put up routes - he does, however, climb with you, hang out, is friendly, and offers good advice. And he leaves the routes up for TRing if you don't want to lead them. On the other hand, he climbs something like (his description) 11+/12 trad and 14a sport, and a 10 is an 'easy climb' that he recommends to even gumbies like me. I'm not sure where Mark is from, but his accent reminds me of my Polish SF buddy Mick - perhaps somewhere in the Baltics.

We all went to Supercrack Buttress together to climb around and share some gear (I was plenty happy to lend out gear to climb some of the classics on TR first, not really looking for any super-onsights). First thing, Mark points to Keyhole Flake and tells me to put it up. A solid 10, lieback and #3 crack for 70'. Hmm, that's harder than my hardest onsight yet, and it's early still. Okay, what the hell. In 70' I put up 16 pieces and hyperventilated a bit. But it's a fantastic climb. All sorts of interesting tricky things about it. And I led it clean, so I've officially pushed my lead, onsight, and overall climbing level up a bit. My best previous was a 10a at Parachute, and that's one of only 2 I've ever climbed at the grade. I guess I was feeling ballsy.

In the meantime Mark put up Supercrack (10c) to the south with some of our cams and Julie followed up Keyhole; both Mark and Al finished before Julie and I, so they left a rope up for us. They came through as Julie was on looking for gear for Incredible Hand Crack, with another loner they'd picked up (wandering girl named Bree). I lent them all the #2 sizes I had (oh, 'bout 8) and they went off, as Julie started up Supercrack's crux start lieback. She'd had more than enough after she got to the meat of the route (the 80'+ of #2.5-3 jamming) and I let her down. My turn. Learning from some of her searching for holds on the hard part, I cleanly climbed the crux with a mediocre kneebar and stretch, and started into the sustained stuff. My hardest part was figuring out how to get over the small jam overhang 1/3 of the way up, and I hung 2 times figuring things out and another 2 times just resting, but I made it to the anchors. Maybe I don't know all I need to about cracks, after all. I tried too much lieback and not enough straight-on, although my feet were good the whole way. Perhaps I'll feel good about the lead next time.

When we got down, we headed over where the other three had finished with Incredible (10c also) and were moving to 3am and wanting #3s. I belayed Julie up 40' of Incredible before she couldn't go any further (those darn broken ankles suck on sustained cracks, or so I understand), and then was talked into pulling the rope for an onsight attempt. Sure, it's only 10c. Easy hands. You'll only need 5 #2s.

I got onto the first pillar section and tried jamming it. I tried liebacking it to 8', and put in a green metolius. Not good. Too tired. I downclimbed. Dammit, this is mine. I got back on, and Bree came over to help spot me. I climbed again up the pillar crack, liebacking, realizing it was a jam at the top, #2 size. Couldn't get in a piece. Pumping out. One good dynamic move from my lieback to a jam at the top of the 15-20' pillar, I lose it. My feet go. Somehow I catch 6" down on a lieback with my fingers, but it's not going to work. Julie's belaying my piece that will keep me (just) off the ground. And I fall. And the piece blows. I knew it wasn't good enough. Bree just slows my fall enough, as I'm horizontal and leaning right. I hit the ground, thigh first, onto a promontory on the only big rock on the landing pad. Oh god, that hurts. Julie stands stunned for a minute, and then she and Bree race over to help me up or out or something. I can't breathe. 'Get away from me,' I yell. 'I can't breathe. Give me a minute.' God I hate falling. This is my worst yet. I hit the ground, hard, and in a bad position. In a few seconds I regain some of my composure and untie, knowing that my leg isn't broken. 'I'm an EMT,' Bree says. I smile and her and respond, 'So am I. No worries.' I'm done for the day. I stand up, hobble a bit. Bree has just kept me from a major breakage incident. My piece blew. I knew it would. Poor placement, entirely my fault. Too cocky, wanting to lead this so late in the day and pumped. But I'm not broken, only battered. The femur is the strongest bone in the body, and I'm thankful.

The rest of the day was Vitamin M and beer for me. We even skipped the party (which we hear was just a bunch of drunken and stoned climbers), and I try to get a good night's sleep on my left side. It blows and snows all night, and keeps on going into the next morning. So much for Six Shooters or any other more moderate leads. We spend the day in Monticello, then Moab, then packing up and blowing out 'cause it's obvious by that point that the climbing's over for everyone in IC for a few days.

We'll be back. I've pushed my lead and onsight grades. Heck, I've pushed my overall climbing grade (see previous discussions of such on r.c). I've taken a nice lead fall, and I've pulled gear. Many firsts. I don't think I want to repeat some of them. But god it's such a cool place to climb.

It's black now, turning slowly purple, and the size of a beer can. Bruised all the way to the bone. Never had one quite this big or painful before. [:)] Ya'll be safe out there, ya hear?

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