We began our 3 month road trip through the states in Indian Creek, Utah.
Crack climbing is unlike other climbing. A sport redpoint done correctly is flowing and effortless, the main thing I learned from a month in Indian Creek is that even when you use correct technique, crack climbing feels intense, insecure and painful. When I'm sport climbing nowadays I find it hard to climb without expectations and an agenda, if I fail to onsight a certain grade I feel disappointed, I arrive at crags with specific routes to try and preconceived ideas of how I will perform on them. Climbing on Indian Creek desert splitters was blissfully free of these expectations, depending on crack size 5.10 could feel impossible and 5.12 straightforward. I was just heading out every day excited to climb on the cliffs and with curiosity about how the day would turn out. It was great to be camping with two Creek veterans Chris Bevins and Oli Lyon who taught us some of their hard earned skills.
By the time we relocated to Zion the learning curve was beginning to level out and I was keen to test myself on some longer routes. Moonlight Buttress is THE testpiece finger crack of the USA. 11 pitches, of which 6 are 5.12 finger cracks, the rack consists almost entirely of finger size grey and purple Camalots. We went up the first day intrigued to see how we would fare. The first tricky pitch has the hardest grade on the route, a 5.12d pumpy layback. I was pleasantly surprised to send the pitch with one fall. My sport climbing background meant the pumpy laybacking felt much more secure than straight in cracks, I was confident I could red-pint the pitch next try. Bron apparently doesn't get pumped and flashed the pitch on second. The next pitch get's 5.12a or 7a+ if you'd rather pay in euros, but it was a whole 'nother story! A back and foot chimney that slowly opened out to a corner with a baggy finger size crack in the back. My first go up, the pitch felt verging on impossible. I felt so insecure in the flare, I was ready to slip out at any second and several times I was proved right. After much whinging I figured out the correct way to climb the offending 15m of flare, with my right foot in the crack and my outside left knee desperately scumming to keep me in there.
Psyched for the challenge of freeing the whole route we realised it was a great opportunity to try out our recently acquired second-hand portaledge. Rather than miserably hauling the whole thing we decided to abseil in and stash the ledge and some food at the routes only spacious ledge, above pitch 7. This meant we could climb the route over two days with a luxurious bivy and only have to haul 4 pitches. The only down-side was the miserable hike to the top of the route with all the bivy gear, past all the tourists on the popular Angels Landing trail. I think they thought we were going on the most inefficient camping trip in history, I told them our haul bag was "full of marsh-mallows".
The route went smoothly and we freed the whole thing over two days! I actually didn't fall at all and Bron only slipped off a couple of times, going back to red-point each pitch. An amazing achievement for her after only two and a half years of climbing! She also lead two of the six 5.12 pitches.
Check out the video of our ascent!
Moonlight Buttress from Jacob Cook on Vimeo.
On to the next adventure!