The historic first ascent of Indian Creek's Supercrack
Indian Creek Canyon, Utah. The second week of November 1976. Two years before the invention of the modern spring-loaded camming device. Earl Wiggins slung a rack of Hexentrics, nuts and tube chocks over his shoulder, nodded at his belayer Bryan Becker and launched up Supercrack.
We held our breath while Earl jammed that three-inch-wide splitter. The air was silent around us, with only the hissing of a cool breeze skirling along the cliff base. It seemed in that desert hush that only we, this small band of climbers (myself, Earl, Bryan, Ed Webster and Dennis Jackson), existed in this vast world of sand, stone and sky. Above I could hear the clanking of Hexes, tube chocks and nuts strung like giant beads from the gear sling looped around Earl’s shoulder as they gently swung with his fluid skyward movement.
As he jammed toward a shallow belay alcove 85 feet above us, Earl paused every now and then to place a token Hexentric, but all of us knew they were at best psychological protection. No one that we knew had actually tested Hexentrics’ holding strength in soft, parallel-sided sandstone cracks with a long fall. Could the Hexes actually wedge inside Supercrack and keep Earl from crashing?
We all watched in silence as Earl placed his third Hex 15 feet above a small roof, his right hand jammed deep in the crack. The climbing rope lay snugly against the crack edge, while the thin haul line, suspended from Earl’s swami belt, a piece of red two-inch webbing around his waist, hung out from the wall and cast a wavering shadow on the varnished rock.
From his last Hexentric, Earl jammed 25 feet to the belay niche with no protection and yelled, “Whew! Alright!” We sent up a chorus of shouts and cheers. Earl laughed deeply and began selecting nuts to fit into the crack above the alcove for his belay anchor. “Just straight hand jams,” I said to Ed. “It was beautiful.”
And it was a thing of beauty. I tape-recorded, photographed and filmed the first ascent that day, and when I review that grainy film now I see Earl the Crackmaster. Stylishly dressed in tan chino pants and a silk shirt, Earl climbed with utmost poise and precision that day, always secure with hands and feet crammed in the crack, ever moving with confidence. He wasn’t going to fall out of that crack. We all knew that. When you went climbing with Earl Wiggins you were going to get up the route.
On Supercrack night, as we stood around a blazing campfire, Earl, who had led the first and third pitches, announced that he wanted to rename the day’s creation Luxury Liner, the name of a hit song by Emmylou Harris. (Jimmy Dunn, Billy Westbay and myself, on our way to climb North Six Shooter five years prior, had discovered the splitter and dubbed it Supercrack.) Earl’s Luxury Liner name, though, just didn’t stick. Climbers instead continued to call it Supercrack, a word that grabs the imagination; that sounds different, unique… special. The word “super” hints at transcendence—the elevation of the normal and everyday to the spiritual and the supernal, to the celestial and the divine.
Now Supercrack is just another crack pitch on the endless walls at the Creek and most climbers don’t even consider it the area's best crack climb or even do the second and third pitches. Yes, it is a beautiful crack. Yes, it is the epitome of hand jamming—but it’s not Indian Creek’s best climb. On that crisp November afternoon in 1976, though, the alluring parallel perfection of this crack caught Earl, Ed and Bryan in its web and it continues to this day to capture the imagination and desire of everyone who visits Indian Creek Canyon.
Stewart M.Green, author and photographer of 18 books and a climber of 43 years, is currently writing a book of essays about climbers and climbing, including a chapter on the first ascent of Supercrack.
Watch the trailer for Luxury Liner, a film by Chris Alstrin of the first ascent of Supercrack here: