It was a typical fall day in Indian Creek Utah. Warm but not hot, slight breeze, and an endless supply of splitter Wingate cracks. The only deterrent was having to share with the crowds who flock there for their seasonal dirtbag migration.
It’s not that I hate people, a few of my best friends happen to be people. And, on the bright side, crowds allow you to make new friends and meet people from all over the world. A lot of visitors from Europe come to this must-see destination on their tour-de-the states. Europe has some of the world’s best sport climbing, but it’s not very well known for its crack climbing – especially the dead-vertical parallel-sided holdless splitters of Indian creek. This kind of crack climbing takes some getting used to because you have to develop a very specific set of skills to jam these cracks: ring locks, finger stacks and chicken wings aren’t something you can generally learn sport climbing.
The typical default for anyone who doesn’t retain this skill set is the layback. Laybacking is only applicable in corner or offset cracks. It is simply done by grabbing the outside edge of the crack and putting your feet on the wall in front of you. Using opposing pressure, you simply walk your feet up the wall and move your hands up the crack. It’s an easy technique and it allows the climber to move quite quickly. The downside is that it’s difficult to place gear while laybacking. You can’t see into the crack to check what size cam you need nor can you ensure that the cam you placed will hold. Laybacking is also quite strenuous; it’s dangerously easy to just layback high above your last piece of protection, only to find yourself super pumped and in a bad spot to place any more gear.
There are two types of laybacks. The “Euro-layback” and the “Amero-layback”. These aren’t “official” terms by any means, but regardless, the Euro-layback is pretty much what I described above. Hands simply gripping the outside edge of the crack, feet flat on the wall, level with or slightly lower than your hands, and keeping your butt low. Many crack climbing connoisseurs consider this bad style and try to avoid it at all costs.
The Amero-layback is similar, but instead you use your top hand and bottom foot to jam in the crack, keeping your body in a more vertical position. This conserves a lot of energy, as well as making it much easier to place gear. The only catch is that you need to know how to jam.
Now the term “Euro-layback” isn’t meant to be hurtful towards our European friends, it just got its name because many visiting Europeans, having never touched cracks like these, tend to revert to the Euro-layback. Many of these climbers are extremely strong sport climbers and have been crushing 8a in Catalonia all summer, so they actually have the strength and endurance to pull it off.
On this day in particular I was climbing at the “Battle of the Bulge” wall. I decided to attempt an onsight of the wall’s namesake, Battle of the Bulge, 5.11. Flowing up the thin hands and rings corner, I was feeling good. I jammed with both hands and feet all the way to the black Metolius-sized undercling of the namesake bulge I had to battle. As I was pulling through the bulge, my foot slipped and I fell. Hmm, probably should have warmed up first. Ah well; it’s hard to be mad in a place this beautiful.
My partner climbed next and cleaned the route. In the meantime, a group of Europeans had geared up at the base of the climb to give it a go once we were done. My partner rappelled down and we discussed the route; how jamming it straight in felt pretty good, and that he had generally laybacked it in the past- not the Euro-layback though, the Amero. This statement earned a curious look from the waiting Europeans. My partner then proceeded to awkwardly explain the difference between the two styles. His explanation was greeted with silence and it was all a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell if they just didn’t speak English or if they were insulted that we considered the so-labeled “Euro-layback” bad style. Without further ado, we grabbed our packs and moved on to the next climb.
The following day, we made our way to Broken Tooth, my personal favorite wall in the Creek. After a warm up on Rock Lobster, I once again headed over to the wall’s namesake. Broken Tooth, 5.12-. Despite the fact that I usually blow it 10 feet from the chains, this is still one of my favorite routes in the creek; I really like three-part climbs, and Broken Tooth is just that. It starts with a thin hands v-slot to a rest before wrestling with the broken tooth boulder problem; it then finishes with a long, sustained offset off-fingers crack.
As usual, I fell 10 feet from the chains. Slightly disappointed, but still smiling, I moved onto Unbelievable just around the corner. A short time later, I walked back past Broken Tooth to find the same group of Europeans from the previous day at the base of the route. One of them had wrestled through the boulder problem and proceeded to cruise up the offset splitter in full-on Euro-layback mode.
I watched in disbelief as he effortlessly flowed upwards. Placing gear occasionally at his feet, and eventually clipping the chains. I let out a celebratory whistle and clap of the hands. It was at that moment his belayer looked over to me with a smile and a nod, and said “Das Euro-layback!” I laughed and smiled, and thought to myself, “maybe I’ll try it that way next time.”