Wide Boyz Blog

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Big Cracks and Monster Storms

Heading back to the White Rim for the second trip this week we had two main objectives: make further progress on the crux section of The Crucifix and get what we called "The Rail Project" done. As we've explained before, it's really good to try two different things in the caves under the White Rim so that motivation stays high, skin keeps relatively fresh and the body doesn't get injured.

Tom on the first ascent of Bigger Than Your Boyfriend (c) Mary Eden

We arrived late on what was supposed to be Day 1 and got some Friends in the cracks and ropes and camping set up sorted (you have to camp and eat at least a mile away from any dirt tracks, so establishing a bit of a cooking/sleeping location in the area is very beneficial!). As Day 2 dawned, it became apparent that the weather was looking a bit risky, but rather than prepare we jumped on the smallest holds to take advantage of cooler conditions!

Some time into the afternoon, I was working a section of the route and a serious bit of weather rolled in - it's not exactly epic in British proportions, but the repercussions were a big learning point. As rain poured down outside, there appeared a few trickles of water from the crack above my head.

Pete: "Tom, I'd probably come down. It's not worth it and you'll get wet soon"

10 seconds pass and in this time the water turns from a trickle to the equivalent of someone pouring an entire hotel's worth of bathwater down the crack - it was a bloody waterfall!

Pete: "Holy crap! It's a river! You're coming down.

In just those few seconds, we were utterly drenched, the floor we were belaying from turned into a small river and every item in our possession (chalk, bags, passports, ropes) doubled it's weight in water. Although it was pretty annoying to loose the rest of the day to sitting in the cold and damp, staring out at the storm, it was fascinating to see the Canyonlands in the middle of a flash flood. Waterfalls appeared everywhere, dry gullies became ranging mud rivers and each crack showed us how water was the primary action in it's creation. An amazing day!

That is one moist crack...

As you might imagine, the next few days were spent trying to find dry sections of rock and avoid any possible risk of breaking holds on our project. Even the loss of a single crimp in the middle of The Crucifix crux would be game over, so we had to play the waiting game. Boring, but safe.

On one of the "waiting days" we were joined by some Moab friends (Sadie, Mary and Jesse) who came and tried some FAs with us on the wider stuff as it dries way more quickly. Going out and trying these 3-star roof cracks of 5.12-5.13, onsight, with no cleaning is ace. It's like a proper session in the cellar, but on real rock and you get to establish a quality new lines. "Raining Scorpions" 5.12+, "Bigger Than Your Boyfriend" 5.12+, "Suck it Up Buttercup" 5.7 and "Jessie's Big Guns" 5.11 were all established in good style and by a very psyched team.

Mary making the first ascent of Suck it up Buttercup.
Can anyone fit through here apart from Mary!? (c) Mary Eden


All in all, you might think that the last 5 days were a bit of a disaster, but we're taking some positives from it:
Piz the founder of roof crack climbing on The White Rim, beneath the Crucifix

1. The next 5 days have primo weather. Clear, low humidity and low temps!
2. We didn't break anything on The Crucifix
3. Pete's underwear is all dirty or damp now, so he's commando. Light is right.


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Cruising for a Fix - Journey to The Crucifix

Arriving back in the USA in 2017, it feels all very similar. We land in Utah in a state of jetlagged psyche, locate a 4x4 vehicle (thanks so much Danny!!) and then make the drive down to Moab to prepare for another season on desert roof cracks. So far, so good?

Well, this year needs to be a bit different as we’ve both put quite a bit of effort into our training around the mono strength needed on the Crucifix Project – the crux sequence of 10 moves or so requires multiple moves in the roof where you’re lucky to get second joint deep on a mono-jam. It’s painful, it’s powerful and it’s really isn’t very good for the joints!

One day. One it will happen... (c) Kyle Berkompas

We’re psyched though. Yes, we might moan a bit about the difficulty, but the chance to put together over 7 years worth of crack climbing obsession into one single route is unique. We’ve done quite a few of the classic test-pieces around the world and although it’s really tempting to continue repeating even more of them (they’re really freaking good!!) we’ve decided to make a real commitment to stick with what seems an unfathomably hard process.

Dogging around, trying spins, losing skin!

 So what’s the difference so far?

We’ve improved our mono strength this year, our upper body strength and conditioning has moved up a notch and things that felt hard a couple of years ago are finally starting to not be the living end.

Has that played out on the route?

Good question! We’ve completed our first 4 day stint back in Canyonlands and split our time between the crux sequence and trying the key “training link” project on The Crucifix. The mono section has been a bit of a mixed bag – probably no surprise – as some moves are getting easier and others have annoying habit of ripping flappers quite quickly. We’ve now identified that “The Bolt Move” is the one we have to have dialed, as there’s two of them on the crux. It’s similar to a Rose Move, but you’re doing it on monos in a roof and you end up looking like Usain Bolt at the end of a 100m final! It’s a great move and it’s very trainable. In addition to that, we’ve refined the last couple of moves into a better method, which feels a grade easier than before…. Although….. we’re yet to do it. Yup, it’s really hard!

Pete working the original sequence at the end of the crux (c) Kyle Berkompas

 In between resting the skin and mono joints, we worked on what we called “The Cruzifix” which is an easier version of the real project. It’s a link of the first half of Crown of Thorns 5.14 into the end of The Crucifix. The difficulty isn’t mind blowing, but it does cover a huge amount of the ground we’ll do in the final redpoint and therefore it was a big confidence boost for us to link this together. It also, importantly, includes the final massive runout on The Crucifix which always plays on your mind as one of the key holds on it appears a bit fragile…. not the most ideal when you’re absolutely bricking it!

The route breaks down as:

Section 1: The Stigmata. A nice long and dismayingly pumpy hands and fists roof crack of around 70ft. The best and worst thing about the start being that the crack is offset so little that it offers very little for the feet but constantly scrapes down one side of your body - exfoliation treatment! It's hard to overestimate how good this section is as it'd be one of the best roof crack pitches in the world even on it's own. Mega, mega!

Gogarth E6. Sort of. 

Section 2: Gogarth E6. One person came up with the nickname and the other said "that's not bloody E6 in a million years!" The only excuse is that this 70ft section looks like a chossy N Wales pitch... but once on it, it has a few surprises in store. Pumpy, weird, loose, sandy and sequency is the name of the game. 

Section 3: Whipping of The Cross. Finally you get 40ft of fingers roof crack that cinches down to nothing but a perfect sandy pinch in the middle of the last section. There's a bit of small gear on this part, but a fall last year where the rope went to the sheath in about 1 second made us conclude it was better to run the entire thing out and think positive. Kind of fun, kind of alarming. 

Spot the climber?! Runout starts from the bisecting crack on the right. 

We're off for another 5 days now. More monos, more time "resting" on FA projects on the side and of course, a whole lot of being silly and not taking things too seriously!


Friday, 14 October 2016

How to “Climb Clean” in The Canyonlands National Park

Developing areas for climbing - new routes, repeating test-pieces and cleaning boulder problems obviously has its upsides, but there are also a few potential downsides that possibly could affect many of our climbing days out in the future. We’ve been visiting the White Rim in The Canyonlands National Park since 2011 and when you ask many people about our activities, they straight away think of Century Crack. This route however, is just one of a number of incredible lines in the area (unfortunately for most they’re all in the somewhat elite 5.13-14 grade range) and detracts from the amazing efforts that others like Rob Pizem, Peewee, Mason Earle and Matt Lazenby have put into creating a legacy of great routes for desert rats. The downside to this “positive” of amazing routes for crack addicts, is that more people will visit the area and the effect on the environment and park will become greater - especially if certain guidelines aren’t stuck to. 

Modern technology trying to fit into a fragile environment

It’s on these specific rules of park activity that we want to write an informative blog post - mainly because some of them we weren’t entirely sure of ourselves. Hopefully if we have them laid out here, we can all continue to use the White Rim in the best possible manner and ensure that the rock and earth stay in fine shape - I know it’s very hard to argue that climbing is of no effect whatsoever - it’s just about doing things in the right way!

Below are described some of the main areas of concern for us climbers - stuff that we need to be hyper-aware of and rules that cause some significant problems when they’re broken again and again. We’re certainly not paragons of “perfect behaviour” but we would like to help clear up the ambiguity that some of us all feel when it comes to how to operate in this zone. 

Bolting

In canyon lands national park, there is now a “no bolting” policy. Bolting has been allowed in the past, however there is now a ban. Bolting has been used in the past to, help protect a route, for rappels off the top of towers, or to help access to get to the base of a routes. 

Cams, wires and threads can be found all over the place on the White Rim as there are so many cracks (c) Andrew Burr


As this isn’t allowed, natural anchors should be used, so cams, wires, slings, etc. We've done a lot of exploring, rappelling and jumaring in Canyonlands now and have never felt the need for a bolt. Some times you just have to get a little creative and tie off multiple bushes, use smaller cracks and do duel rappels off the top of towers. We heard that local hero Crusher Barlett, rigged up some wooden lever system that could pulled down from the top of the tower when you were at the ground, preventing the need for a rappel bolt.

Trees and bushes when used properly are much safer than they appear...

If you feel like a bolt would benefit everyone and not cause an impact, you can actually apply through the park service for a bolting permit, which they can then either accept or decline.

Camping and staying on the White Rim

For a good number of years now the few climbers that have visited Canyonlands (and have wanted to stay in the park for longer than a day) have used the backpacking permit system. Climbers have generally used this as the designated camping areas are often pre-booked a year in advance by biking tour companies. Therefore they’ve driven down in their 4x4, parked on the side of the trail then backpacked ‘into the wilderness’ to camp and climb.

Unbeknownst to most climbers (including us, until recently) in the park rules you aren’t actually allowed to have vehicles on The White Rim Road overnight and not in a designated camping areas. In the past this has been glossed over and even missed by the park service but from now the rule can’t slip and unless vehicles are parked on a campsite over night, they are not allowed on The White Rim Trail.

The options are; 

1 You can get day permits and go in and out of the park in 1 day

2 Do real backpacking and walk into Canyonlands, with your supplies from the tarmac roads above, and make sure you camp 1 mile from any dirt road and adhere to normal backpacking/wilderness rules about waste, campfires etc etc. 

Chalk - eco chalk / coloured chalk. 

When we climbed on the White Rim this year we were under the impression that stuff like the Metolius Eco-Chalk was an accepted medium for drying our hands whilst en-route. However, this isn’t quite correct as the chalk might be “eco” but it’s still quite a bright colour against the rock. This means that coloured chalk is necessary for climbing and fortunately is very easy to buy in local climbing shops in Moab like Gearheads and Pagan. 
Coloured chalk and natural protection

——————————————

So there you have it. A few simple guidelines for climbing clean in the White Rim. Yes, we can all spend hours and days arguing the merits of how these are implemented and decided upon, but for now, it’s good to get a starting place. 

If you’re planning a visit to the area to climb, then we recommend getting in touch with the park service - and in particular if there’s any concern then Jason Ramsdell is the ranger who’ll sort out most issues - he’s a climber and knows the deal. Likewise if you prefer to talk to us, then we’re always happy to answer blog post questions if that helps!

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Crucifix Project

“Holy mother smoking pancakes, that thing is freaking massive.”

Just pacing out the top of the crack made you shiver with the sheer size of what lay beneath. The roof was around 180 foot in length. This was the very last cave on The Rim that we were checking out and we’d hit the absolute jackpot. All the abseiling, jumaring and legging it round the desert in the blistering sun for the last two weeks was worth it for this one. Essentially we’d found a mother-ship of intertwining roof cracks running from left to right and weaving in and out of cave systems. Right in the centre was ‘The God Line’ that we’d been looking for. A full 180 foot, straight from the depths of the hollowed out cliffside piercing right through the centre of the cave and out to the lip. Strangely enough, it was also bisected by another crack which gave the appearance of a giant Crucifix in the ceiling and seemed to bring about a theological context to our subsequent days and thoughts on the line. The next question was, ‘is it climbable?’

Quite psyched! (c) Andrew Burr


With both of us pacing around underneath the crack, it was hard to contain the excitement but also the doubt as we’d already viewed so many potential projects that turned out to be “not quite right” in terms of difficulty, quality or style. The first thing we needed to do was get on the route and start aiding through the sections. Many parts of the route were immediately obvious as doable, but both the first half and the final 30ft section looked very thin. Maybe too thin?

The first section we committed to aiding (and possibly shutting out all doubt that this was yet another disappointing “could have been”) was 70ft of fingers, thin hands and a couple of wide pods. The first 30ft seemed ok - we guessed 5.13c/d, but the next 40ft looked totally next level. It was like London Wall or Cosmic Debris turned into a horizontal roof with not a single good foothold. Even thinking about doing a single move, might have been the hardest crack move we’d ever imagined. And there were at least 8 of them in a row! What had seemed like quite hard climbing on The Kraken, V13 in Devon, now seemed a bit of a joke compared to this. 

KEEPING FAITH

Neither of us are religious, but somehow this project took on some of the key elements of faith. It’s not because we find religion particularly helpful in climbing, but more that some of the mechanisms of faith and religion are incredibly useful - there’s a reason why some of them have been around for thousands of years. The critical moment came early on trying the moves, when we knew some of it was doable, but other parts seems laughable in their plausibility. Seriously, is it really realistic to campus multiple mono-locks in the roof? Cobra Crack was hard enough doing a single one on a 45 degree bulge! How is it then realistic to do all these and finally enter a crux that’s harder than anything either of us have done on a boulder problem on the ground? Ever? Suddenly “possible” very quickly became “impossible.”


Pete working this last quarter of the roof


Needless to say this heavy hitting realisation was like a punch in the face of motivation. What the hell were we doing? No one is ever going to do these moves, and even less us. We’re just too specialised in doing long endurance things… even pulling on is at 100%… and that’s when the idea struck. The hangs! The Holy Hangs! Then and there, we decided that “moves” were a million miles off, so we’d motivate ourselves with trying to complete the 5 Holy Hangs. It seems silly, but it was something achievable. It was progress tied in with motivational force. We hung on to it with every ounce of commitment. 

Within a few moments of this concept being born, a project that basically seemed so hard we may as well write the whole thing off, became a route where we could actually try something. We were thinking too big before. Way too big. Doing a move was completely unrealistic. The concept of simply hanging the holds in the crux section was a saviour. We started to get giddy with excitement when one person would grab two of the holds and do a pull up, (not even place their feet in the crack), then let go. It would look so pathetic to an outside viewer on this process, but to us it was something to desperately grasp at. The belayer would get so excited they’d just start chanting, singing or pointing randomly in directions that had no relevance to anything! Whether you were on the rope trying the moves or on the belay, you had an equally important place in the team and the synergy was pretty cool. After a couple of sessions The 5 holy hangs had been completed. Minuscule progress, but progress none the less.


Motivational words in the warm up board. Breaking it down


The next goal beyond ‘the hangs’ were the ‘7 Sacred Shoe Shuffles’. This meant we would pull up on the holds (i.e. complete a Holy Hang), then do all the foot shuffles that revolved round these holds. The final goal was the ’13 Disciples’. These are the 13 moves which make up the crux section of the route. Slowly but surely, we were able to start to piece together, Hangs, Shuffles and Disciples.

We have now ticked off over half of the Disciples and even linked a few together. The middle ones revolve around some hideous finger locks and atrocious foot jams have been ‘seen in concept’ but yet to be ticked.

From our first aiding session on the project, to now, we have come a reasonably way in a short space of time. To an onlooker it looks like we are hang dogging all over the thing (we are), but from our point of view, we are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The end goal seems so unachievable right now, there is no point in thinking about that. ‘All ya gotta do’ is break the sections down and piece them back together again. We like to think of the route as a jigsaw. Lots of little pieces you have to put together to complete the bigger picture. If the jigsaw was completed when you got it out the box, it would be a pretty pointless puzzle.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

This project is exactly what we were looking for, it fits the 5 characteristics perfectly. It is a whole new level of difficulty that we’ve never tried (around 9a+ route and V14 crux). Neither of us have even looked at a route this hard before never mind try and climb it. The training that we did before coming away looks pathetic to how good we need to be to be able to climb this monster. We were looking for next level, and we found it…just.


No more hunting for now. Project...project...project! (c) Andrew Burr

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Hunting for The Unknown - The Holy Grail of Crack Climbing



When we arrived in the US, we’d committed to one of the more idealistic plans of our climbing careers so far - go hunting for a first ascent project that might not exist. Strangely enough though, the more people we told about this mission, the less we thought it was naive and wildly optimistic. 

“Yeah that’s a great idea guys! You’re on the look out for another Century Crack, right?”

Well….. not exactly. Much that it’s been nice to have been pigeon-holed as the Wideboyz and it’s associated wide crack climbing, both of us have been aware that projects that make Century look like a warm-up are pretty unlikely to be in the form of a 5-8 inch splitter. This is V5-V8 territory and we needed V11+ for the crux and some kind of decent endurance element to it as well. Something to make us think that maybe it might not even be possible?!

“Oh, you want a crack project that has V11 or more climbing on it? Dude… I don’t think that exists. Good luck though, I’m sure you’ll find something!”

Wideboy, truck and a map. What can go wrong?


So, there we were after just 2 days in Utah, driving back onto the White Rim on a wild goose chase. A Chevy truck packed full of supplies, gear and psyche was in our favour, although we’d already lost our friend Mike Hutton who was a victim of harsh border control standards. We had google maps with potential projects ear-marked (you can see the big roof cracks on satellite image) and a plan to try and mix up map based guessing, with visual on-foot exploration of over 100 miles of White Rim. 

Pete pacing out The Rim underneath some cool clouds


TRIP 1 - Week 1 (East Side of White Rim)

I guess we were pretty nervous on our first trip down as we’d been training back in Sheffield for a project we hadn’t yet found. That said, we did feel confident of a good outcome because the area seemed to have so much geological potential. 

After passing the first few canyons, we’d seen roof cracks from 40 - 60 foot long, but this was not what we were after. Most of these cracks would blow even the top roof cracks of Europe today out the water, but that was not enough. We had high expectations. we didn’t want a ‘King Line’ nor a ‘Emperor Line’, what we were after was ‘The God Line’.

We came up with 5 characteristics that would be the make up of ‘The God Line’

  1. Big - this roof crack had to be big, much bigger than what is currently out there
  2. Architecture - it had to look the business. Grand, impressive and bold shapes. 
  3. Grade - really hard. Difficulties had to blow other cracks we’d done or tried out the water
  4. Size - we were more flexible in this department with an allowance of a mixture of sizes. All crack techniques would be needed to get you up this thing, no one trick ponies.
  5. Cool - this roof crack had to be cool. No dirty 40ft caves with low exposure…  
Checking out another "disappointing" 5.14, (c) Andrew Burr

We got deeper and deeper into Canyonlands and on The White Rim trail. Canyon after canyon passed and each time we abbed into another cave, something wasn’t quite right. ‘too small’, ‘not cool’, ‘full of massive hand jams, too easy’. It sounds like we were being picky….we were.

If something didn’t fit one of ‘the 5’ we had to walk away. We walked away from some of the best splitter 5.13s and 14s you’ve ever seen. Each time we would jumar back up to the rim and  walk away from yet another crack with “the greatest glory corner finish” or “100ft of perfect horizontal splitter hands”. We had to leave these because they didn’t fit ‘The God Line’ definition we’d set for ourselves. It was hard to do, but we’d set the standard ourselves and we had to live with that. 

Maps, techno and shoes filled with sand. Life is fairly simple down there!


After completing The East side of the Rim we had yet to find what we were looking for. However we did now know where all the coolest roof cracks on the planet are in-between these standards…a list to keep any crack obsessive happy for a lifetime! 

TRIP 2 - Week 2 (West Side of White Rim)

After failing to find a mega project on the East Side of the White Rim, we pegged all our hopes on The West Side. Crusher Bartlett who’d joined us on our Century Crack visit had given us the tip off that this could be the motherlode. The Rim is much thicker here and thus the features that form are much bigger - maybe 100ft roof cracks would be 400ft roof cracks over there?! We certainly hoped so. 

Big features on the West Side = Bigger Cracks?!


We explored the West Side with photographer Andrew Burr, who’s ace to have along on these kind of adventures as he’s a proper desert rat. He loves everything about the landscape, the exploration and the vibe of the whole area. In addition, we knew he’d have some insight into some of the features and formations that we’d be exploring and also could dish out plenty of motivation for two Brits who were booming increasingly sunburnt, lost and worried that Century Crack was the only really hard thing in the area. 

Yes please... 1000ft split in The Rim. But nothing below...


To start with, we found absolutely nothing. The Rim was so thick that caves weren’t hollowing out underneath the harder geology of the rim and we passed miles and miles of cliff that on the google maps had looked good, but in fact were red herrings. Even the gigantic splits in the White Rim on satellite turned out to be either chimneys or nothing at all. Dejected, we paced out mile upon mile of the West Side on foot and by truck. It wasn’t until we started to get close to the mid point of the whole journey (where we’d actually meet up with our end point from trip 1) that we started to find some interesting features. Unfortunately, these turned out to be too big. Can you believe it?! A couple of caves we dropped into were much deeper than our 60m ab line and as a consequence had created 3 pitch epic roof cracks. Whilst this hit the “cool” part of the list, the macro-size of the features tended to mean they were wider and hence most stuff was still in the 5.13d to 5.14c territory. Yet again, we were close to finding something, but it wasn’t quite perfect. 

As we drove out continually eastward to meet the Shafer trail and having explored 100 miles of the Canyonlands cliffs, we were utterly depressed. We kept asking ourselves how this could have happened. The mecca for mega roof cracks, yet in days and days of exploring we’d not found a single project to match our expectations. We talked of visiting Indian Creek, of trying the crack we’d seen “with no holds” and of maybe just going climbing “for fun” to put up some easier first ascents. 

Another cool project, but... not quite cool enough! 



It wasn’t until we were halfway round our exit loop of the White Rim that one of us suggested that it might just be worth checking out a cave we’d previously seen the week before but ended up dropping a line 100m to one side and consequently missing it (standard Randall/Whittaker navigation). It almost didn’t seem worth it, as by our high standards, all the other caves had been disappointments. But as we always said… ‘its always worth checking round the next corner’. There really wasn’t much else to lose so we parked up the truck one last time…

Praying for salvation. He's beyond help.