Siebe Vanhee | Belly full of ‘Desert Cracks’!
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Belly full of ‘Desert Cracks’!

Belly full of ‘Desert Cracks’!

April, the perfect month for some desert climbing on the sandstone in Utah. Three years ago I learned how to jam fingers, hands and other body parts in those amazing pure splitters of all sizes. I like sportclimbing, bouldering and multi-pitch climbing but the pure crack climbing and the technique that it requires is the style that gets me the most psyched. On my 7 month trip around the US in 2011, one of my favourite places was Indian Creek. This time I went back with some more crack climbing experience, still the goal was to climb a lot of classic lines and get some crack mileage done.

This time I wasn’t travelling alone. I went out to climb together with crackclimbing master Mason Kinloch Earl, the skinny American who was also on the Venezuela expedition 2012. As a true desert master he showed me the best cracks and classics around Moab and in Indian Creek. Climbing with Mason I soon realised that one month wasn’t enough for all the hard crackclimbs around there. Still, I made a big effort to do as much as I could do. Also I joined Laurence Yernaux aka ‘Lolo’ for the start of her 6 month during trip through the US this year! It is nice to see someone developing her climbing like that every day. Learning how to crack climb is new process of learning how to climb again!
The States are great, I have to admit I love the freedom and the wide nature and open spaces. Like Earle would say; ‘This is the fucking desert man, you can do whatever you want!’ So after only a week we went out on a rest day to shoot some guns. After destroying some empty cheap beer cans from the night before, we drove away past some cops. Close to where we had our little shooting fun. ‘No worries’ Mason said. ‘As long as you shoot about 30 feet from the road it’s fine.’ So yes, I guess desert has its rules but as long as you don’t bother anybody, you can do whatever you want!

Besides shooting guns, eating muffins and drinking Mokka in the coffee shops we got some sick climbs done. The first few days I slowly got back into the jamming business. No footholds at the sides or little crimps in the cracks to make it easier, just jamming. I kind of forgot how painful it was. The feet, the fingertips, the hands and every joint in your body gets twisted and worked. But once you got the technique, the climbing gets less painful and more fun. Climb after climb the feeling came back and soon I was ready for some harder stuff, either thin or wide! 
Hidden Gem

I started off with the classic 35 meter size .75 splitter ‘The Optimator’. The start was thin and hard with my fat fingers, which are bigger then the average finger size amongst the climbers. That’s a special thing about crack climbing, the size of your fingers or hands can make a route easier or harder compared to one other. Only two tries and The Optimator went down, that was quick. I could remember that route which I tried once three years ago quite a bit harder. Soon other hard routes like Pink Flamingo, Death of a Cowboy and Hidden Gem followed. All of them I could do second go. On that last one I came really close to onsight, a little mistake in combination with a brain fart made me fall off at the very end.

Then one day Mason and I did the second and third ascent of ‘Generics’ an amazing technical face climbing route on small but bomber gear at the Pregnant Woman Wall. Thin face crimps on the sandstone rock with some far moves and high feet make this climb unique for the Creek. Also on this one I got close to a flash ascent! Thanks Patrick for putting up this route! 
In between the Indian Creek days we climbed around Moab for a couple of days. One rainy day we went to the Crackhouse, a perfect 25 meter hand crack, both wide and tight, in a cave with a crux at the lip. Also this one I could climb quickly. Great roof crack training place for when it rains!

Top out on The Crackhouse, out of the dark cave!

One day we went out towards the biggest roof crack I’ve ever seen, called ‘Necronomicon’ and is located in the white rim in Canyonlands. To get there we needed a 4×4 and even with this kind of rig it took us one and a half hours from Moab. Not the most accessible project for when you do not have a 4×4. The route was opened and only once climbed by Jean-Pierre Ouelette aka Peewee and is probably graded 8b+. Mason and I tried this route two times, but also Canyon, the young strong Moab kid who drove us out there, and LoLo gave it a try. The roof is 30 meters and the crux is close to the end. Tight hands and size .75 in a pure horizontal roof are not common and make it a very hard roof crack. The two tries that day I gave everything to work the moves, despite a lot of groaning I felt good about it. It’s physical but still technical so I think this route would have been a nice project but because of the hard access we never got to return to Necronomicon again. This one I’ll remember for a next trip out in the dessert. 

The last few days of my trip I wanted to find a harder route which would take me more then two tries to send. Talking to Mason about this he just said: ‘Man, let’s try Belly full of bad berries. That will take you more than two tries to send!’ Only with three days left I thought this would be a little to hard for me because of my lack of offwidth experience. Which I thought would be crucial to have for climbing one of the harder offwidth climbs in the Creek, 15 to 20 meters of 45° steep offwidth nr. 5 camalot. Anyway, offwidth technique or not, three days before I left we went up there. Surprisingly on my first try the ‘moves’ went great and I made quick progress in an upwards direction! This climb is amazingly steep but short, still it feels long. Like every offwidth, progress you make slowly with a lot of effort, groaning, blood, tears, sweat and tape. In this climb the technique is to invert and climb with your feet first, slowly you shuffle your feet up and jam them in the crack. Next, you place a butterfly double hand jam and shuffle your feet further out. Repeat until death… or the anchor. To place a number 5 you just bad hang on both feet and place the cam. Crazy route! Unique!

My second try things went great and I fell off only two meters before the anchor. I definitely drove myself into the red. I placed the number five cam and before I could even clip it the fat crack had already spit me out of there, up side down! Enough for that day. The next day I climbed some finger cracks and gave my feet and body core some rest. On my last day I went back together with Mason, after some offwidth boulder warm-ups I went straight on Belly Full. Taping my hands, ankles and even the velcro of my Anasazi I was ready for the endurance fight. Quickly and percise I got up to the inverted part, threw my feet up and was on the offwidth road towards the anchor! Third go I did Belly full of bad Berries! I was as surprised as my belayer how quick it went! Thanks Mason for your encouragement, sometimes we need someone to push us to try harder routes!

Again I had an amazing time in the US, climbing cracks. Now I’m back in Belgium. Ready for some schoolwork and the exams, which are rolling up. Switching to work mode again, back to reality! Aauw! But also I’m ready for the new climbing projects that are coming up this summer. 

Thanks Mason, Ally, LoLo, Brent, Dr. Pang, Hayden and everybody else for the amazing trip! 
Here you can find a short list of some of the routes I’ve done this trip! All of them classics and superb:
– The Optimator 5.13- Long splitter .4 to .75 with changing corners.
– Pink Flamingo 5.13- Pure .5 to .75 splitter with some roofs
– Death of a Cowboy 5.13- Technical boulder
– Hidden Gem 5.13- Pure .4 to .75 splitter, slightly overhanging
– Generics 5.13- Technical faceclimbing
– Belly full of bad berries 5.13- Steep Offwidth

A great fire at the Creek!
Isn’t Mr. Newman our King of Belgium?
The Crackhouse!
Team Chocolate-Burger on top of Devils Golfball!
Myself on Moab’s Biggest Tricycle!
Full of tricks that guy: Backflip on an Arch… El Mashon…
Necronomicon!
The Book off the death again! 
Taping up the ankles for that ‘Big Guy’ behind me! 
Hidden Gem

Mason jamming on his banjo!
Canyon’s Rig with some random gay…
Where’s the old Navajo’s ‘Pink Flamingo’?
On a restday, Brent taught me how to get a chicken lay on its back in trance!!!!

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