Incredible Hand Crack

Photo by @dekarabaw, 2022

Patagonia Climb published the above photo to their Instagram, along with my caption:

The guidebook recommends only climbing Incredible Hand Crack once due to all the wear on the rock. The rounded edges of the crack and the pale swath of rock beside it attest to the route’s popularity.

It was my first day back at the Creek, and my perfect hand jam is #1 Camalots (Incredible Handcrack is #2s), but I figured if I were going to climb this route just once, I might as well give it a go on lead.

I fell as I worked to move through the overhang. With strenuous cupped hands and awkward fists, I eventually made it through in a style I can only describe as squirmthrashing.

It was still a good time. It’s exactly what I came here for. The Creek reminds us there’s no such thing as one size fits all.

The difference between the crack in 2022 and what it looked like in 1988 is stunning. The photo below came from the climb’s Mountain Project page:

1988 “Desert Rock” (Bjornstad)

Like many ardent crack climbers, I’ve resolved to sojourn to Indian Creek at least once a year, for as long as I can. I am a contributor to the changing character of the climbs– this is inevitable with the soft sandstone– but I can work to lessen my impact.

There are enough climbs at Indian Creek to go a lifetime without trying anything more than once. But so much of climbing for me (and for many) is seeing whether I can overcome past failure, if I can do better the next time. So, on the next trip, maybe I’ll try Incredible Hand Crack one more time. But only once. And definitely in the middle of the trip instead of at the beginning.

It’s laughable, a climber from California driving all the way to Utah in a gas-powered vehicle, eating food grown all over the world even with my best efforts, using gear made from various high-tech plastics (also made all over the world), trying to “lessen my impact” by resolving to climb a route a little less… and yet, it’s still something.

Small acts can be valuable practice. We can do a little less and a little less and a little less, and suddenly there is space for something perhaps bigger than we dreamed. In the world, or in ourselves.

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Indian Creek sits at the northern tip of Bears Ears National Monument, where a historic co-stewardship agreement has been established between Bureau of Land Management and five Tribal Nations.

If you also love climbing or recreating on these lands, please consider joining me in donating to The Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, led by Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes and supported by 25 other tribes. I am thankful for guidance from the Coalition around ways to visit with respect and for their continued advocacy to protect these lands from destructive resource extraction.