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This article originally published in Spring 2011 issue of Adventure Insider Magazine. After my recent visit to The Bahamas, I realized that too many people may hear the name “The Bahamas” and automatically visualize the grandiose, Vegas-like Atlantis super-complex on Paradise Island or an easily forgettable stop in the port of Nassau during a Caribbean cruise. These people are greatly mistaken and (unfortunately) uninformed about overly-friendly residents and unique character of The Bahamas and its 700 islands and cays.  Once port visitors venture past the strip of duty-free shopping on Bay Street, they will find Nassau's true identity bursting at the seams with its rich history defined by its unique landscape, colonial architecture, evidence and stories of pirates and 18th century explorers and true Bahamian culture. For first-time visitors, Nassau is a great way to begin your exploration of the Bahamas.  With countless historical landmarks, beautiful colonial  buildings and pristine beaches, one could happily spend days sightseeing.  A great way to see Nassau’s true natural beauty is by chartering a boat to explore the coast and nearby islands.  Captain Ryan Russell at High Seas Excursions (http://highseasbahamas.com) can provide a personalized trip off the coast of Nassau, whether its fishing, snorkeling or discovering private beaches on remote islands.  His intimate knowledge of the surrounding islands and extremely kind, laid back crew will provide an adventure that guests will not forget.  Nassau also provides the perfect setting to begin the exploration of the maritime Bahamian cuisine, which is essential to the backbone of Bahamian culture.  Residents pride themselves on serving some of the freshest seafood in the world.  Here, conch reigns supreme with Caribbean lobster running a close second.  If you are in Nassau during the weekend, inquire about the Fish Fry, a notorious community gathering dedicated to eating local cuisine and meeting new people. Much of the essence of Nassau, past and present, is captured at the Graycliff Hotel (http://www.graycliff.com).  This exquisite colonial building turned perfect vacation getaway was originally built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a pirate of the Caribbean.  The establishment’s extremely gregarious, hospitable proprietor and welcoming staff will show you 5 star living within its nearly 300 year old property.  Relax with a bottle (or two) of wine and a cigar in the lobby (which could pass as a James Bond movie set) and spark conversation with first jolly Italian gentleman with a necklace made of gold shipwreck treasure.  There is only one, and his name is Enrico.  If you get him on the right day, be prepared to stay up until early hours of the morning listening to stories of his former life as a Ferrari race car driver and international bachelor.  Guests who are lucky enough to experience Enrico’s overly animated storytelling can be guaranteed a sore stomach the next morning from the hours of convulsive laughter through the night. The Greycliff now boasts the third largest privately owned wine cellar in the world, a cigar factory and one of the county's only 5 star restaurants.  The wine cellar, a former prison, holds some of the rarest wines in the world including Bordeaux wines predating World War II, as well as the oldest registered bottle of wine, a 1727 German Riesling.  The Greycliff Cigar Company has become one of the most recognized name in fine cigars.  Guests at the Greycliff are able to tour the cigar factory, witness the magical process of cigar rolling and even try to roll their own.  At the Greycliff Restaurant the chefs expertly and harmoniously blend Bahamian, French and Italian cuisines to create one of the most exquisite fine-dining experiences in the Bahamas.  There are few places in the world where one can learn to roll a cigar, tour one of the rarest collections of wines in the world and enjoy a lobster cappuccino.  The Greycliff Hotel is a historical landmark and a must-see destination for anyone who sets foot in Nassau.

Now for adventure!

Nearly 23 out of 700 islands are inhabited, which leaves a lot of room to explore.  Most larger islands and even several cays have airports, and further exploration can be done via boat.  With vast areas of reef, James Bond-inspiring landscapes, unique geological structures and rich fisheries, The Bahamas provide any type of outdoor adventure that you can think of including, spear fishing for lobster and grouper, scuba diving on unexplored reefs or blue holes, trekking through uninhabited islands and even surfing on the outer islands. One of the best ways to begin a tour of the Bahamian Islands is by flying into Exuma, also called the Pearl of the Bahamas, via Sky Bahamas or any other Bahamian airline.  The Exumas are a tropical paradise made of a chain of 365 cays and islands stretching over 100 miles with two major islands, Great Exuma and Little Exuma.  The northern tip is located 35 miles southeast of Nassau.  The Exumas offer hundreds of miles of empty, pristine white-sand beaches, an over-abundance of marine activities and spectacular geological structures.  The bright aquamarine water is so intensely colorful that it turns the clouds blue.  The islands are dotted with towns of historical importance that were settled during England’s colonial rule as commerce hubs or plantation settlements.  The Exumas’ culture exemplifies Bahamian lifestyle on the outer islands.  The landscape dictates the way of life.  Residents are easy-going and say that they would not live anywhere else in the world.  Many catch their food from the sea daily and have a visceral connection to the delicate marine ecosystem. The best way to experience The Exumas’ adventures to the fullest potential is by chartering a boat to the northern islands and cays with Captain Pat Smith at Four C’s Adventures (http://www.exumawatertours.com/).  Capt. Pat will have his boat ready to launch when you reach Baraterre, located at the northern tip of Greater Exuma.  After you have made it this far, it's your marine playground.  Here, the true adventure begins. During the full day excursion, Capt. Pat navigates north through crystal clear waters passing untouched beaches and celebrity-owned islands.  Passengers can request to stop the boat to explore anything they desire including islands, reefs, sandbars or perhaps dock at locally owned bar along the way to chat with the locals about day-to-day life in the islands and cays.  As a member of a guided tour, visitors are able to participate in some of the most Bahamian of activities, diving for conch and spearfishing for lobster.  Guides have the local knowledge to ensure a successful hunt resulting in the most rewarding meals of a lifetime.  Conch is a staple in the Bahamian diet, and conch salad is the most celebrated dish.  Once lunch is caught, Capt. Pat will boat to a sandbar that rises from the middle of the sea.  Then, he expertly butchers the conch and dices onions, tomatoes, green bell peppers and chiles.  Add fresh lime juice, orange juice and sea salt and lunch is served. Staniel Cay provides a great base to explore the northern part of the Exumas.  In fact, it is so perfectly positioned that it provided the base for the filming of the 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball.  Accommodations, boat rentals and kayak rentals are available at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (www.stanielcay.com).  Only a two minute boat ride from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club is the infamous Thunderball Grotto, an underwater cave saturated with tropical marine life and breathtaking underwater geological features.  Be sure to bring a waterproof camera.  If you are thrill-seeking and the tide is high enough, climb to the top of the cave (bring booties) and take the 20 foot plummet through the narrow hole at its peak. Staniel Cay is a scuba diver’s paradise.  Located just a short boat ride north, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park offers 176 square miles of wildlife reserve and national park.  The PADI dive center on the island, Staniel Cay Divers (http://www.stanielcaydivers.com) can guide divers to a range of sights -- from a relaxing drift dive for those looking to become certified to a technical deep water dive for the highly experienced.  The adventurous owner/divemaster of Staniel Cay divers prides himself for quality over quantity, so crowds on the boar are never an issue.  With countless dive spots never visited, the possibilities for new exploration are nearly endless.   Danger Bay, located within the nature refuge proved to be a great dive.  The dive begins with a 40 foot descent with reef sharks circling.  After the descent, divers tour of the underwater coral maze teeming with eels, lion fish, lobsters, tropical fish and conch.   After about 30 minutes of swimming through small caves and under overhanging coral structures the dive path winds back around to the boat where the sharks surround one last time.  Divers of all levels are guaranteed to be pleased with the dive opportunities just a short boat ride from Staniel Cay, weather permitting.  The PADI dive center is extremely accommodating and will find the right dive for any level of experience. Although exploring the Thunderball Grotto and the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park provides the most the most adventurous experience around Staniel Cay, other locations can provide relaxing entertainment.  Boaters can dock at nearby Compass Cay to swim with the island’s friendly nurse shark population or just pet them from the dock.  Visitors can also find the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay.  The geographic misplacement and unorthodox activities of the pigs has captured the fascination of visitors.  Whether the pigs were brought intentionally as a food source or escaped a sinking vessel, the pigs have created a remote colony in the middle of the Exumas. After exploring the northern cays and islands, Greater Exuma and Little Exuma offer visitors plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation.  A day with OFF Island Adventures (www.offislandadventures.com) is the perfect way to finish an adventurous tour around the Exumas.  Captain Steve’s laid-back, educational tour around Elizabeth Harbour is breathtaking.  The 6th generation Bahamian will point out amazing rock structures, blue holes and world famous sandbars that attract top fashion icons for photo shoots, as well as the filming of the blockbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean II and III.  As lunch time approaches or thirst sets in, ask Capt. Steve to stop by Chat N Chill on Stocking Island (http://www.chatnchill.com).  The restaurant is off the beaten path and only accessible by boat.  Public transportation is available by water taxi from the Government Dock in Georgetown.  Chat N Chill epitomizes a tropical destination bar and grill.  It is a great place to mingle with locals, play volleyball with new friends or find a secluded spot on the restaurant’s expansive beachfront property.  If feeling particularly indigenous, order the famous Bahamian Goombay Smash and a conch burger.  Do not miss out on the island’s pig roast every Sunday at noon; however, great food, drinks and conversation are guaranteed on any given day.  For those feeling overly hedonistic, the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort and Spa (http://www.sandals.com/main/emerald/em-spa.cfm) offers a range of services designed to soothe mind and body.  The deep tissue sports massage can be quite useful after snorkeling for dinner, diving with sharks and day-long boat excursions. After touring Nassau and The Exumas by land and sea, it is clear to me why Bahamians love their way of life.  The country’s unique landscape and colonial history have shaped its people and culture.  Bahamians depend on the vulnerable marine ecosystem as a food source and as an attraction for their thriving tourism industry.  This respect for the sea and its gifts drives a nationwide respect for not only natural resources but for neighbors as well. The result is a nation with a low domestic crime rate and minimal environmental exploitation.  The Bahamian people and their land are welcoming and hospitable.  The love of their country is unwavering and infectious.

Must-Do List:

  • Dive in Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park in northern Exumas
  • Visit the Greycliff Hotel, Restaurant, Wine Cellar and Cigar Company in Nassau
  • Snorkel for conch and make your own conch salad
  • Visit Chat N Chill (best on Sundays) on Stocking Island
  • Explore the Thunderball Grotto just north of Staniel Cay
  • Order lobster at Santana’s Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Little Exuma

About Jonas Ahern

Jonas AhernJonas grew up in southern Delaware, coastal Maryland, and central Florida and attended the University of Florida.  While earning a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Zoology, he discovered his love of travel, wine, craft beer and home brewing.  During his study abroad in Sydney, Australia he became hooked on adventure travel.  He backpacked through the Tasmanian wilderness, studied reef ecology on a small island in the Great Barrier Reef and endlessly searched for new and remote surf spots up and down the east coast of Australia. After graduating from college, his obsession with adventure inspired him to pack up and drive cross country. He worked seasonally for two years between wineries in Northern California and a ski resort in Vail, Colorado.  He now lives in New York City and works as a craft beer and wine specialist.
This article originally published in Spring 2011 issue of Adventure Insider Magazine. Learning to fly
Devyani, the PR rep for The Four Seasons on Exuma, Bahamas, (now Sandals Emerald Bay) dodged the erratic trainer kite I was learning to fly on the white sand bordering the bay. I hadn’t yet learned to control the wind within its broad canvas, and she happened to be in my kite’s path of destruction. After feebly trying to steer the kite anywhere but at the hapless PR rep and screaming because it wasn’t working, the kite caught a huge gust and bore down, sending Devyani tumbling onto the sand. She escaped injury, but I realized then that I might not be the kiteboarding prodigy I’d expected to be. The sport initially appealed to me because as a publicist for The Bahamas, I was always on the lookout for new angles to pitch to writers. When I first heard about Exuma Kitesurfing (pronounced ex-zooma), I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to introduce some adventurous journalists to both the sport and the destination. I’d recently completed a similar trip with a group of novice scuba divers, so I was enjoying my status as the official adventure publicist back at the office. I’m the first to admit that I am more “up for anything” than “capable of anything,” so I was a little worried that despite my new reputation as the adventure guru, I might not be cut out for this new endeavor. Most of the kiteboarders I’d met had a background in a board sport – surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing or snowboarding. A year earlier, I’d surfed for the first time in Hawaii; however I was far from considering myself a “surfer.” Would the learning curve be too steep? Gary explaining the wind window
I brushed doubt aside and decided to go for it. From what I’d read, there’s no better place to learn than The Exuma Islands in The Bahamas, and I’m not saying that just because I used to represent them. Located in the southern Bahamas, Exuma’s water is shallow, warm and crystal clear, the wind and weather conditions are ideal and the instructors are IKO and PASA certified. Exuma is blissfully uncrowded, so jockeying for space and avoiding swimmers and other kiters is not an issue. Most of the time, you have entire bays to yourself to practice. Plus, there’s always a cold Kalik and a buttery Bahamian rock lobster to be consumed at the end of a day on the water. It’s kitesurfing nirvana! Exuma Kitesurfing caters to small groups like ours, so we each received plenty of attentive instruction from Gary Sweeting, who founded the school in 2007. During the off-season, Gary is a graphic designer but as you might expect, his passion is kiteboarding. When I called Gary to plan the trip, he said he could teach anyone with a desire to learn and a moderate level of physical fitness. After taking lessons from him for three days, I couldn’t agree more. All of the other participants, from a seasoned windsurfer to a first-timer just like me, progressed as expected. Luckily, I was the only one who crashed the trainer kite into a beachgoer. On our first day, we spent some quality time with Gary in the classroom, a patio right on the beach. We learned theory, how to determine wind direction and quality and the all-important release technique. At that point, everyone had seen the clip on YouTube where a kiteboarder was lifted by a gust out of the water and into a nearby parking lot. The simple way to avoid a similar fate? Just let go of the bar! The kite deflates the moment you do – a lesson worth committing to memory immediately, just in case. Angie Flying the Kite Simulator
As for wind conditions, cross-onshore winds are preferable for kiteboarding, especially for beginners in an ocean environment. With offshore winds, you might just be blown away from the shore which, if you’re in The Bahamas, could take you an awfully long time to find land going east. In a lake setting, offshore winds are a much safer bet. After the briefing, Gary set up a small, maneuverable trainer kite on the beach at Emerald Bay and we took turns flying it. Even though I nearly beheaded Devyani, I began to understand the fundamentals of steering, turning and harnessing the wind. The next day, we put our safety and preliminary flying lessons into practice, setting up the actual kite we would fly in the water the next day. I will confess I didn’t realize there was so much set-up involved in kiteboarding. In my imagination, I thought it was a grab-and-go sport - grab your gear, go get in the water and then, voila! You’re kiteboarding. On the contrary, Gary explained all the details including how to ensure all the lines are appropriately attached and untangled, how to attached your harness, how to inflate and deflate the kite, how to launch and re-launch it and how to tie the perfect knots to ensure not only your safety, but the safety of people on the beach. Perhaps for true athletes who are used to prepping gear for a day out, it isn’t much work, but as a novice, I was overwhelmed by details. We spent our final day of lessons with Gary in the water, and I was ready to master the kite flying skills and finally add the board to the equation. My classmate in the gorgeous Exuma water that day was a beautiful blonde writer from North Carolina who was at least 8 inches taller than me. It was high tide when we donned our harnesses and waded out to what amounted to waist deep water for her. At 5’3”, I had trouble keeping my feet planted on the sandy bottom while I was flying the kite, so when I attempted to scoop some wind into my sails, I was lifted up and dragged away. A few times, I scooped too hard and was yanked fully out of the water. If not for the release bar, I may have flown my kite straight to France. Kites on the beach
By the end of our course, I almost had kite flying figured out. With a bit more time, I could reasonably expect to add the board and maybe even putter around the scenic shoreline a bit. As it turns out, the students who had previous experience with board sports did catch on faster than I did. After only 3 days of lessons with Exuma Kitesurfing, several were able to stand on the board and cruise a short distance. Even though I didn’t manage to get as far in my lessons, the euphoria each successful kiteboarder felt was contagious. We toasted the group’s achievements with Kaliks and one last lobster dinner at Santana’s Bar & Grill in Williams Town, and the next day we all flew home. Much to Devyani’s relief, I never did return to Exuma Kitesurfing to finish what I’d started. I realized that while I had the desire to look sexy in my carefully selected kiteboarding vest, that wasn’t quite enough to make me into a kiting guru. Without the patience to focus on details, like checking my kite for rips and tears, I would only be a menace to beachgoers everywhere. Perhaps in the future, Gary will let me come back and try again. For now, I’m with Devyani – ducking for cover in the sand dunes. Getting to The Exuma Islands Fly direct from Toronto, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale or Miami into George Town (GGT) or head to Nassau and connect with an interisland carrier like BahamasAir or Sky Bahamas. Where to Stay Exuma Kitesurfing offers accommodations at its beach house as part of certain packages, but if you prefer to stay elsewhere, there are some great options. Club Peace & Plenty | 800.525.2210; peaceandplenty.com Sandals | 888.SANDALS; Sandals.com Grand Isle Villas | 888.472.6310; grandisleresort.com Augusta Bay | 242.336.2251; augustabaybahamas.com When to Go Exuma’s windy season is November through May. The weather ranges from a low of 62 degrees in January to a high of 89 in August. Water temperatures hover at a comfy 77 - 84 degrees.

Angie OrthAbout Angie Orth

Angie was born on a superstitious Friday, got her names from the Allman Brothers and Mick Jagger, grew up in the backyard of a Magic Kingdom, cart wheeled at Versailles, laid bricks in South America, interviewed with Trump, bleeds orange and blue, worships the Savior, sings enthusiastically, avoids public speaking and falls asleep when sitting still. As a publicist, she coordinated press trips, video shoots and events, wrote a press release or two, launched a magical theme park, pitched media until she was blue in the face and met amazing travelers from all over the world. In 2009 Angie became one of the top 50 out of 20,000 entrants for  Queensland’s Best Job in the World. This reminded her of all the places she hadn’t yet visited, reigniting her wanderlust. In 2010, after careful consideration, lots of prayers and years of saving for a rainy day, Angie decided to take her travel show on the road. Follow her adventures at www.angieaway.com or on Twitter at @bigappleangie.
This article originally published in Spring 2011 issue of Adventure Insider Magazine. The red rock of Tusher Canyon
“Get two good hand jams and just do a pull up.” Brian calmly informs me. “Oh, just a pull up with a hand jam? Is that all?” “Yep, there are no good feet, you just have to go for it.” Brian's instructions do not inspire much confidence, but I do as I’m told and put my flat hands into the crack as far as I can and retract my fingers into my palm to create counter-force between the heel of my palm and the top of my knuckles against the warm sandstone. It feels as if I am climbing on 100 grit sandpaper as I apply enough force to effectively hold my body weight, if just barely. I can feel the skin being grated off my hands. This sacrifice, to be repeated time and again the next few days, it's a rite of passage into the world of crack climbing. No tape on this trip, it is a sacrifice after all. To those that are strictly face climbers, cracks are something of a mystery. I have always been intrigued by cracks and those that venture to some of the most remote corners of the world to climb them. As the owner of Front Range Climbing Company, Brian is a climber with an ability far beyond what I can even comprehend. Luckily, he is a good enough friend to tolerate my weak climbing abilities and complete lack of crack experience and invite me along with a few other guides, Mark, CJ, and Josh from Front Range Climbing Company to a desert climb outside Moab, Utah. Although the area surrounding Moab lays claim to some of the most visited desert climbing meccas in the world (including Indian Creek) there still are some areas that are relatively unexplored. Tusher Canyon is a favorite spot of Brian’s. Located about 30 minutes northwest of Moab, Tusher could almost be considered deserted wilderness. In the three days I spent climbing in Tusher Canyon I saw only one other vehicle, the driver of which was apparently too preoccupied with air conditioning to exit. Thankfully, this lack of spectators allows me to retain some of my dignity as I begin my pull-up and flail with my feet for anything they may help in my desperate bid for ‘up.’ The author tries his hand at 'Piece of Shit, Pile of Monkey Nuts' (5.11+)
I finally manage to complete the opening move and begin to link hand jams with wedging my foot into the crack and twisting it to create something to stand on, a process known as ‘jamming,’ progressing about two body lengths much to the surprise of myself and all parties concerned. A rest is in order and I take the time to examine my hands which roughly resemble hamburger meat and leave small blood stains on the already red sandstone. I smile. The joy of being here overcomes the pain from my hands. Onward and upward! After a few more moves the crack begins to open until it’s large enough for me to arm-bar for my life. I rest. I can hear my belayer, Mark above me feeding me some much needed beta and I contemplate the next move. I Rest. Using what can only be described as an awkward shimmy I mange to move up higher into the expanding crack and make use of a chest jam. I rest. After what seems like an eternity I work my way high enough to make use of the coveted, but rarely used, ass jam. It becomes a shimmy up the crack using any means available. Chimney, counter-force, jams, it’s all fair game at this point. I rest. I feel slightly trapped as I struggle (in what can only be described as flailing) and finally see Mark, a welcome sight. I was exhausted and at the time was thinking maybe the desert was just too much for me. Maybe I had bitten of more than I could chew. Maybe these guys are just too far out of my league. But as the exhaustion was overcome by a feeling of euphoria I realized the two days I had left wouldn’t cure my new-found lust for crack climbing. Who knows, it may even become love. That night we sat around the campfire. Mark played the guitar and sang. We all drank and joked. We laughed and told stories and made fun of one another. We slept in the sand and in the back of trucks. Out here the wind blows the fine sand into every nook and cranny and my sleeping bag was no exception. The next morning broke cool and bright. Brian and Mark were already up making breakfast. I would need as much bacon as I could consume if I were to make it through the day’s activities. I eat. I silently question what I am doing out here with these guys. Then I hear Brian ask “ready?”, and I do what I always do, get up and grab some gear. The names escape me. Rubber Duck, Merge, Pile of Shit - Monkey Nuts, and a host of other oddly named routes chew at my hands and build my fondness for cracks, fueling my desire to return. There were triumphs and heartache and pain. Lots of pain. But mostly there was love. Love for the rock, the climbing, the people. But mostly there was love for the place. Looking out the window on Echo Pinnacle
Seeing the rock in Tusher Canyon is nothing short of inspirational. Some blood red, some gray, some black. Multi-colored layers on all. Cracks can extend 300 feet into the sky on what may be some of the straightest, sharpest lines rivaling those made by man. A religious experience to be sure. On the last day we climbed the Echo Pinnacle. The Pinnacle climbs 270 straight out of the desert and at the top of the first pitch there is a large protected ledge and window that looks out to the East and West. Here we eat, talk, joke and laugh. We drive out of the canyon on that third day with the intense desert sun setting behind us as I reflect on the past couple of days. Cracks, it turns out, are all that I had expected and more. I expected the climbing to be hard. I underestimated them. The skin will regrow, but what will forever remain is my desire for more cracks.

Logistics:

Tusher Canyon lies about 30 minutes north of Moab, UT on US 191 and is easily accessed from I-70. Outside Moab, UT. What passes for roads in the canyon are more like trails -- rough and possibly impassable during some parts of the year. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Many areas of the canyon are rather developed whereas others have just a handful of routes with plenty of lines to be explored. Although you may run across a few climbers on Echo Pinnacle, if you continue deeper into the canyon to a dead end you can access the areas of Putterman, Neighbor of Putterman, and Convoy walls where chances are good you will be alone, even on the busiest of weekends. Not many people have attempted climbs back here and the potential for new routes is still high. Tusher Canyon is owned by the BLM and as such primitive camping is allowed around Tusher Canyon (although not in the dead-end canyon). Other facilities are not available without making the trip back to Moab. Obviously, water can be very scarce in the canyon so make sure you have sufficient quantity (more than you think you'll need) before setting out. Back in Moab you'll have all the facilities you could ask for. Pagan Mountaineering (59 South Main St. #2 Moab UT 84532 Phone: 435-259-1117) is the source for gear, and restaurants and hotels are plentiful. Weather can be a major consideration as the heat can be unbearable in the dead of summer. Early spring and late fall are perfect candidates for an epic desert trip.

Alternate Climbs:

If you're looking for just a quick climb in the area, Wall Street (located on Route 279) is a good place for a quick send, although solitude is not something you will find here, especially on weekends. And, of course, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are both great places for some climbing in their own right.

This article originally published in Spring 2011 issue of Adventure Insider Magazine. Crack climbing is a necessary skill to climb many classic American routes. From desert towers like Castleton Tower in Castle Valley, UT to big walls like Yosemite's El Capitan and Half Dome -- if you want to climb it, you must be able to use crack techniques. Learning the basics of crack climbing will also make other climbing disciplines easier. For example, you can utilize crack techniques on a face climb to rest or stick a move. Jamming in cracks is not intuitive like face climbing. It must be learned and practiced. As you practice these techniques you will not only gain experience but open up a world of new routes. Let's begin with a bit of terminology. Climbers usually describe cracks by the appendage used to climb them, such as a hand, fist, or finger crack. Wider cracks are referred to as off-width crack and chimneys. Climbers refer to the width of a crack as it’s “size.”

How you climb or jam a crack depends on its size relative to your body. Hand Jam When climbing a finger crack, climbers apply a technique called a finger lock. This is done by stacking your fingers tightly into the crack and turning your wrist to pull down. This cams your fingers and locks them into the crack. This can be done in either the pinky up or pinky down position. Most climbers get a more secure lock with their pinky up, however it is dependent on the rock. Experiment with both and find out what you prefer. There is a good chance it will be some combination of both as the situation dictates. I feel the most secure way to attach yourself to the rock is with a hand jam. In a perfect world the hand jam is done by placing your hand inside a crack with your thumb tucked into your palm. While cupping your palm try to close your hand so that opposing pressure is placed on one side of the crack while the back of your hand and knuckles are pressing on the opposite side. As the crack gets wider you will need to cup your hand more to maintain pressure. Ideally a thumb-up hand jam is going to allow you to have a greater range of motion off of the hand jam than a thumb-down jam can allow. However there are many times you will need use both to successfully reach to top of your climb. Fist jam

As the crack continues to get wider you will need to start jamming your fists. This is simply a matter of putting your hand in the crack and making a fist. You may find the need to adjust your hand’s orientation horizontally or vertically depending on the width of the crack or size of your hand. If you find yourself in the gray area between a hand jam and a fist jam there is a trick you can employ. Make a hand jam with your top hand and rotate your hands so the palm of your hand is facing down the crack. For your bottom hand do the opposite. It will essentially be an undercling hand jam. Once a hand jam is no longer wide enough to keep you progressing up a crack you are going to have to start getting a little more creative. And, as your creativity increases, so does your energy output.

Stacking is the most common way of working up wider cracks. Do this buy putting your hand over your fist (like paper covers rock in a game of rock-paper-scissors). This along with some chicken-winging, (putting your arm in the crack with your hand on one side and your elbow on the other side, or put your arm into the crack elbow first.) will help you make progress up the crack.Off-width trick Practice builds confidence... and technique. As you do more crack climbing you’ll develop a great feel as to when are where are the best times to walk your hands (hand-over-hand progression) and when it is best to shuffle them (hand-to-hand progression and keeping one hand in the top position). The same is true for your feet. For example, if the crack is completely vertical it will probably feel comfortable with walking your hands and feet; conversely, if the crack is leaning to one side it is likely you will need to keep your highest hand with a thumb-down jam and will need to shuffle your hands. Your feet will also be more comfortable being shuffled.

You’ll have the best body control if you keep the corresponding foot on top (i.e. right hand and right foot high) While hand jams may help you feel secure, foot jams will do just as much if not more for your confidence. However, the size of your feet and the size of the crack will do a lot to determine how easy or comfortable you will be. Also, consider your gear. I recommend getting a pair of climbing shoes that have a slightly roomier toe box and allow your toes to lay flat. (This is not the time to be cramming your feet into your 5.10 Anasasis.) Foot jam To do a foot jam you simply turn your foot so your arch is pointing up, slide your foot into the crack and straighten your foot, pushing your arch back down. As you do this it will cam your foot into the crack and you’ll be able to stand up.

The more weight you place on the foot the more secure your foot will be. The most important thing to remember is that when turning your foot for the jam, you need to use your knee to do the work turning your foot. It will allow for greater range as well as make your foot jam more secure. If you find your feet slipping or feel unsecured in the crack this is likely the fix. As the crack gets smaller you will be able to get less and less of your foot in the crack. When this happens you will need to take smaller steps and you may not feel quite as secure. In more extreme cases you will want to point your toes up the crack as you are turning turning your foot (from your knee) and place as many of your toes in the crack as you can starting with your pinky toe. Once you get a little experience under your belt you will naturally want to make the progression to leading. If you’ve had experience placing gear this will be easy to pick up. If you’re used to clipping bolts this too will be a learning experience. But here are a few tips to help you get going.

Try to get used to how the size of your gear relates to your hands. For example with my rack of Black Diamond Camelots I know that I am the happiest jamming my hands if I’m placing yellow number 2 cams. #.4 gray cams are fingertips, #.5 purples are good fingers, #.75 greens are loose fingers, #1 reds are small hands, #3 blues are fists. And, if I’m placing anything above a #3 I'm likely to be saying things that would make a sailor blush, because I’m stacking and chicken-winging in an off-width. It is also helpful under most circumstances to try not to place above your highest hand. (You will find that your gear will just be in the way.) Finally, like most any time you are on lead it is nice to have a belayer with experience. The rope has a natural tendency to want to snake into the crack and be right in the way of any gear or your hands. A couple of well timed flicks can keep the rope mostly out the way. It is likely if you have spend much time around trad climbers you have seen them with tape gloves on. While I have and will wear tape gloves I prefer to use them on the end of a trip when my hands have already given as much as they can. I personally like the feel of my hands in the crack. I find that it helps me get a better sense of how secure my jams are. If my hands are slipping I know I need to make an adjustment. While this will probably leave you with some battle scars to show off around the campfire it will also help you learn what works best for you. And, I’ve never seen a climber who had aspirations to be a hand model... There is no substitute for experience, and watching a seasoned crack climber float up super crack while you are still trying to get off the ground can be a humbling experience, but with a little patience and a lot of practice you too will be jamming your way to the top.

 'Crack/trad shoes' - Scarpa TechnoMaybe it's your first pair of rock shoes.  Maybe you are looking for a second pair of shoes to increase your performance.  Or maybe your current shoes kill your feet or you want some specialty shoes for a specific type of climbing.  There are many different reasons for purchasing a new pair of rock shoes but knowing what you need is the only sure way to get exactly what you want.

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