Moab's Mythical Splitter
As far as cracklines in the US go, Concepcion in Moab’s Day Canyon may have more mythology built up around it than any. The 70m long tips-to-fist splitter is the only weakness up a panel of varnished wingate the size of a football field. Dean Potter freed the line in 2003 telling stories of a V9/10 intro boulder problem, harder off finger jamming than he had ever encountered, and a 100ft runout to avoid carrying large cams through the crux. Further legends built over the years with pro climbers battling the crack for many days, grades up to 5.13+ proposed, and an onsight from Adam Ondra.
With these stories in my mind I never fully added the route to my todo list, yet in March I found myself driving to Moab to give the line a try! I had just relocated from Salt Lake City to Flagstaff, Arizona. I moved with my partner Tahany, but we knew no one in our new town. One of the few leads I had for new climbing friends and partners was a past coworker’s friend named Lor (check out the film They/Them if you haven’t yet seen it!). Lor and I hit it off with some local cragging. I was soon invited by Lor to Moab for a three day weekend climbing on Concepcion. I was deep in a house remodel project, but I jumped at the chance to bond with a new friend, thinking less about what the route may entail.
Lor had spent a few days on the crack over a few years and knew the sequences well. I almost always give a wholehearted ground up attempt on any route that is safe. To me, onsighting and flashing are true tests of rock climbing mastery, much more so than redpointing. After watching Lor jam the line with just a few hangs and getting a detailed verbal rundown, I set off for a flash attempt. I moved effectively through the tips intro with the perfect sequence from Lor. Higher up though, I melted out of the crux baggie fingers.
Blake McCord Photo
Splitter crack climbing beta is usually not so much about which hand goes in which jam, but rather a general rhythm of which body motions to use for different sections and when to punch it. I took my second lap on the line that day on top rope to try to find this flow without worrying about gear. We also learned a logistical lesson that first day as the crack is in full sun by 11am, feeling like a frying pan with such dark rock!
For day two we skipped the roadside 5.11 warmup and opted for the extra shade time on Concepcion itself. With a rack including 3x #2s, 3x #3s, and a #4 cam, I blasted through the tips boulder and found my flow through the off finger jams. Soon I was into the hand jamming finale and sent the pitch as my warm up for the day, only my third go on the crack! Lor also sent the line just after me, a perfect team send of the mythical splitter.
I hate to degrade old climbing myths, but I am a pretty objective person.. Concepcion is a very difficult splitter, but only clocks in around mid 5.13. One can very reasonably carry enough cams to protect all sections. The tips boulder does involve a crank, but most people stand on a small stone to reach the first pin scar, bringing the tips section down to V5 or so. It seemed like taller climbers may be able to just reach the lock. Jumping to a one hand lock seemed absurd, and not especially pure considering the lock is manufactured in the first place! Concepcion taught me a lesson in always having a look for oneself, rather than writing off a lofty aspiration based solely on the stories surrounding it.
Blake McCord Photo
We had a day left for our three day weekend and decided to go aid and suss Mason Earle’s Bartlett Wash crack, a 5.14 finger splitter North of Moab. Now that is a king line, truly Stranger than Fiction! For 5.14 jamming, the route was not overly painful, just powerful and pumpy. It is on the life proj list for both Lor and I, more to come in the future..
Stranger than Fiction 5.14-