Climbing stories: Adventures in EKK and the lost art of Crabbing

Last summer, I was stoked and desperate to do some wide cracks after seeing literally every single video of Pamela Shanti Pack and the Wide Boyz, that is up on the internet. Luckily Pranav, my partner here in Chennai shared my love for the wide stuff.

I still remember the first time we tried crack climbing together. I had recently learnt the essential jamming skills from Gokul, a super modest, badass crack guru from the States. We were testing it out on a roof crack in our home crag, Mahabs and it was so damn painful and we had no tape. Pranav came up with the idea of covering our hands with the thickest towels that we could find and it actually worked. We managed to do two moves on the roof crack without any pain, before the towel came off. It was the first time we were able to take off on a roof and we were hooked instantly.

The next few months, we scoured Mahabs for crack lines and put up a bunch of crack and offwidth boulder problems. We got familiar with stacks and inversions seeing climbing videos and tried to master them on low crack boulder problems.

Both of us had zero experience in trad climbing but we were keen to do some hard offwidth trad. I came up with the idea of going to EKK and trying to top rope an offwidth and see how it feels. We saw an obvious offwidth, on the left side of an existing line, ‘Incomplete’, that we found in Jakobs and Paul’s topos of EKK. (EKK a.k.a Ekkambarakuppam is a crag with insane potential for trad, located in the Chennai/Andhra border)

Picture courtesy: Jakob Jo and Paul Zeltner.

The next weekend, we were lugging up two crashpads and backpacks, scrambling up a face in EKK, hoping to find the line. Both of us wore flip-flops which slipped even on the easiest of scrambles and so we had to climb up barefoot. Mid-way up the face, Pranav had cracked both his big toes and had to tape them up. We reached the top after 2 hours of easy scrambling, which felt super sketchy because of the crashpad and the heavy backpack that kept throwing us off balance.

The temperature was around 40°C and just humid. We ditched the crashpads on the top and began searching for the line. After 4 hours of taking dumbass falls, cursing the universe and being severely dehydrated we finally found a rock face that looked similar to the picture. We went close and found that the line was not an offwidth. It was almost 5 feet wide, much bigger than a normal chimney. We saw a bunch of crack boulder problems close by but we didn’t have crashpads. Bummed out, hungry and dehydrated, Pranav started rolling a cigarette hoping that would make things slightly better. And then out of nowhere came this huge gust of wind and blew all the tobacco away. We came to a conclusion that the universe was fucking with us and decided to just go back home.

It was late evening by the time we went back to the top of the face that we first scrambled up, we picked up the crashpads and started climbing down. Soon realised it was really hard down climbing with the crashpad and the backpacks. We agreed upon the stupid idea of stuffing the crashpad with the all the useless, heavy stuff that we had and rolling it down the 250 foot face! By the time the crashpad rolled halfway down the slab, it gained momentum and started bouncing wildly. We saw the helmet and my metal bottle fall out of the crashpad and heard it tumble down the face for about a whole minute.

Even after losing the crashpad it was still sketchy climbing down the face. Pranav turns to me and goes, “it looks pretty sketchy man, I think I’m just going to crab* it!”

Crab* (verb): a technique essential in climbing down rock faces that are too steep to just walk down. It involves moving like a crab, using all your limbs and also your butt at times, for friction. It is an indipensable skill, now slowly becoming extinct because of the advent of modern sticky approach shoes.

After a hour of crabbing down some pretty steep and sketchy stuff, we made it to the base, totally exhausted, with huge holes in our backpacks and pants. Found the crashpads and the helmets lying around but it took us a while to find my green bottle in the grass. (I’m glad that I took the effort to find the bottle that day, for it has now survived many other epic falls in so many beautiful crags and is of huge sentimental value to me)

By the time we came out and gulped a couple of local paneer sodas and some pakodas, we were already making jokes and laughing about how epic the day was and started making climbing plans for the next week.