Wide Boyz Blog

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.