MONTICELLO, UTAH — The technology advances constantly, grades are pushed, records broken. But in the scheme of things, not much has changed.

Listen to the conversation between rock climbers Earl Wiggins, Ed Webster and Bryan Becker in the film "Luxury Liner" -- taken from footage of the 1976 first ascent of Supercrack, a splitter hand crack at Indian Creek in southeast Utah -- and it does not sound too different from a conversation that may be happening right now at the same spot.

Thad Ferrell has been climbing since the '80s and is a climbing guide and instructor for Kling Mountain Guides in Durango, Colo.

"Trad climbing in America is this big amalgam of ethics, the equipment you use, and the style you do a climb in," he said.

Roman McCabe crushes it on Optimator Wall at Indian Creek Saturday during San Juan College’s Technical Rock Climbing class as instructor Dave
Roman McCabe crushes it on Optimator Wall at Indian Creek Saturday during San Juan College's Technical Rock Climbing class as instructor Dave Childers and student Kayla Quintero look on. (Molly Maxwell /Special to The Daily Times)

The difference between trad, or traditional, climbing and other forms of climbing, is that with the trad style, the climber places his own protection as he climbs a route and then "cleans" it on the descent.

This difference means two important things for trad climbers, often called traditionalists: they have the ability to climb a route that has not been climbed before, and they are not limited to pre-protected routes.

They are also able to climb without leaving remnants, or leaving much less than a sport climber does, who clips into pre-placed bolts. Some trad climbs, however, do have permanent anchors, like those in Indian Creek, where the top of the route is far below the top of the rock.

Chris Strouthopulos has been climbing for 23 years and teaching climbing and mountaineering for 14 years. He now teaches climbing classes at San Juan College.

Multi-pitch refers to a route that requires more than one length of rope to ascend, for example El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. These were the kind of climbs Strouthopulos was drawn to when he began climbing.

"Ninety-nine percent of routes that allow that experience are trad routes," he said. "Multi-pitches bring you to beautiful places ... many diverse views."

Trad climbing is the most gear-intensive of the climbing disciplines, requiring the climber to both know the gear necessary for a climb and to have it.

"You've got all these cool little pieces of equipment. You feel like a mountaineer almost," said Rosa Post, repairs specialist at Backcountry Experience in Durango, Colo.

But trad climbing wasn't always like that.

"Trad climbing started out with ... hemp ropes and pins, hobnail boots, people going up and pounding things into the rock," Ferrell said.

Passive gear -- nuts that allow the climber to rely on counter-pressure in a crack or space in rock -- replaced this practice with the advent of clean climbing, a concept made popular by Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Soon after, active gear was developed, which is mostly spring-loaded to expand into a crack or space.

Today, typical trad climbers use friends and cams, the most common active pieces, and nuts of different varieties, the most common passive pieces.

Though this gear is made with advanced technology and is rated to withstand multiple kilonewtons of force, a basic rule of trad climbing is that "you're protection is only as good as the rock you place it in," Ferrell said.

Less than three hours outside Farmington is a place known as a "crack-climbing mecca."

Indian Creek, a vast canyon in southern Utah, is considered a must-visit for climbers from all over the world.

The canyon walls are Wingate sandstone, which is much harder than the sandstone found in Choke Cherry Canyon, for example. What makes Indian Creek rock unique is the cracks that run up the face of its walls. These cracks are often parallel-sided, but vary greatly in width and shape.

The climb Annunaki is a lightning-bolt zigzag tearing upwards through the rock, while Wavy Gravy has a climber going over rounded, over-hung waves.

"You see people in Indian Creek travel in big groups because not everyone has, like seven, of some particular-sized cam, so people pool their resources," Ferrell said.

Aside from the obvious safety requirements, Ferrell said he has only one rule for climbing.

"If you're not having fun, then you're probably doing it wrong."

Molly Maxwell covers the outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at