Things have been so busy since we got back to Indian Creek that I've only now begun to reflect on my experiences and think about all the things we learned.
Speaking of learning, here is the top 5 things I learned in IC:
(1) Thumbstacks and ringlocks (does this size not exist in granite cracks or something????)
(2) Cams can be really freaking hard to clip (the carabiner is facing a different direction than a quickdraw clipped into a bolt).
(3) Sandstone hurts. You think it'd feel nice and soft compared to granite, but in fact the consistent and sustained nature of the splitters means you wear the same place on your skin over and over and over again. Result? Lot's more oozing than I usually get from granite.
(4) Footwork. It really matters once the crack starts getting small (thin hands and smaller). Getting blood blisters under your toenails and trying to jam thin hands/thumbstacks is a bad idea.
(5) Endurance. I gained a new appreciation for the thank-god jugs and ledges that granite tends to form.
By far one of the coolest parts of my Indian Creek experience was getting to try my hand at so many hard routes that I would normally consider way above my ability. The splitter cracks are pretty safe to protect (not that hard - just put in the right size of cam) so I was really able to push my limits more than I ever have before. Over the week, I tried several 5.12 cracks, which all offered a completely different experience:
Digital Readout (5.12) - This was the one that really killed my fingers because, even though the top and bottom of the crack were perfect fingers for me, it went to off-fingers in the middle (which is perfect fingers for Luke), which was really hard. I really learned how big a difference subtle variations in crack size could make, as well as how much harder it is to lead something than just TR it - placing the cams, clipping them, and then having to climb around them definitely adds another level of difficulty. This stuff ain't no sport climbing...
Swedin-Ringle (5.12-) - This route was really cool! The bottom section was challenging because the crack was the wrong size so I had to do a little sport climbing up the face holds to the side before getting down to business. My first try I fell trying to clip a cam off a thumbstack - it was only the 2nd day of the trip and I hadn't had much practice. The coolest thing about coming back and trying again on the end of the trip was how much better the stacks felt when I got to them - I think I clipped two cams off stacks. It was mostly my feet and the lack of skin on my fingers that were keeping me back. It was awesome to feel so close to sending something this hard.
Slice and Dice (5.12) - This line is gorgeous! It was pretty thin - definitely would involve some stacks mixed in with the thin hands. Unfortunately, I realized I had a blood blister under my toenail that was making it excruciatingly painful to put my left foot in those thin foot jams. Definitely want to try it again when my toes are functional.
Way Rambo (5.12-) - We all tried this on toprope. I was surprised at how hard and sporty it was at the top! Definitely a more challenging lead because after a certain point, you just have to gun it to the anchors because placing too much gear will just make you more likely to fall. A lot less sustained than the other hard cracks we tried because it's enjoyable straightforward hand jams up until the crux, which was not just jamming like most of the other routes were.
Coyne Crack (5.12-) - This is now 5.11+ in the guidebook, but I thought getting off the ground was harder than most of the moves on the other routes we did. Luke thinks I will need to layback the first few feet until I can get a handjam, but I'd hope to be good enough at thin hands/stacks and crappy thin footjams that I could jam it. It was definitely disappointing to be turned around so close to the ground (I think I got 2 cams in...), but I also didn't want to resort to cam jugging just to do the upper part. It's such a beautiful climb that I want to be ready for it.
The Inflictor (5.12-) - A lot of thin moves on to way more stacks than I ever thought I would have to do on a "thin finger crack". This one might be hard to lead because of fiddly gear placements down low, but it was fun to try on toprope.
The craziest thing about this experience was the fact that I was trying 5.12 crack climbs when I generally feel I'm not at all ready for that grade on sport climbs (or maybe I am, but I'm just holding myself back). It was crazy to be able to push my limits and learn new skills all on lead. It's something I hope to apply to sport climbing and trad climbing on more typical (a.k.a. granite) cracks. I know I can expect most "normal" 5.12 climbs I attempt to be a little harder - more varied skills, less straightforward gear (on trad climbs), pumpier (sport climbs), but at least I've made a step forward mentally - gaining the confidence to push myself on lead and try harder routes.
(Like equinox :-D )