Wideboyz USA: More Cracks and Century Crack Gradeby Alan James - UKC Oct/2011
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The Wideboyz - Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall - are currently taking the USA by storm climbing every crack and off-width they can get their arms and legs into and we are lucky enough to have Tom sending back reports for UKC. His first report covered their exploits at Little Cottonwood Canyon (UKC news report) and then Vedauwoo (UKC news report). The third report detailed their stunning ascent of Century Crack (UKC News Report) which was followed up buy a heated discussion thread on the UKC Forums.
In this fourth report, Tom tells us what they have been up to since their ascent of Century Crack, and also reflects a little on the debate that followed it.
After completing the big project of our trip - Century Crack - rather prematurely, we decided to have a quick reality check on the grading front by throwing ourselves at the hardest desert offwidths in the US in just a short space of a week or so. After all, how can you know if something really is quite hard, if you haven't totally destroyed yourself on back-to-back 5.13 offwidths?
Over a week we aimed for:
Gabriel, 5.13b (Zion)
Belly Full of Bad Berries, 5.13a (Indian Creek)
Price of Evil 5.13b (Indian Creek)
Each route was established by a different legend of American offwidth climbing; Pamela Pack, Brad Jackson and Mason Earle respectively. With this smorgasbord of wide delights on offer, we knew there could only be one outcome – a grade for Century Crack finally!
First off we made the long drive down to Zion where we both ticked off Gabriel in a fairly short time. Pete picked up the goodies on the first day and I huffed and puffed my way to the chains on the second day at lunchtime. This route, first freed by Pamela Pack, received the Golden Piton award for its qualities and has often been touted as the hardest offwidth in the US. Surely enough, the crux was pretty tough and both Pete and I employed the "Private Pirate" shuffle to the utmost and thrutched our way onwards. We thought overall, the route would rate at around soft 5.13c in comparison to other routes we have done. A great effort by Pamela to climbing this!
With this objective completed, we quickly set sail for the land of Indian Creek – home of 2 very big lines for us; the iconic Belly Full of Bad Berries, 5.13a and the Creek's hardest wide crack The Price of Evil, 5.13b.
It wouldn't surprise me if most people who come to Indian Creek for the first time eye up classics such as Super Crack or Generic Crack as their warm-ups. Sadly we were both lacking in any level of sanity, so we thought we'd have a bash at BFoBB for our first route.
After some interesting navigation in the rental car through seas of sand we arrived at the base of the route. Tossing a tape roll to see who went first, Pete was landed with the initial flash attempt. We'd both seen videos of this route – Honnold failing to flash in particular – so hopes were high, but so was the tension. After doing a couple of pull-ups and leg stretches Pete launched his way up the route .... crikey, I was nervous belaying!
At about the halfway point, he paused a little longer than normal to make the crux inversion into dodgy foot-locks, but with a couple of grunts he'd made another 6ft of progress. The grunts slowly got louder, but so did my shouts and he'd soon made it to within 4ft of the belay. Success was so close, but he'd sandbagged himself by only taking one Friend 5! In his usual youthful style he ignored the monster fall and after 16 minutes of effort he's made the first flash of the route. It was a real privilege to watch.
Having seen one of the most impressive bits of climbing of the trip, I collected together the rack (yup, I added an extra friend 5 or two!) and started up the initial hand and fist crack. At the point where Pete had flipped upside down I started to struggle .... I pushed my feet highe r.... hand-stack in pod .... push higher again .... teacup-fists .... start to slip a little ......... ah bollocks! I was off and out of there. With a bit of refined beta however, I topped out an hour later on my second go, with an extremely sore right ankle as my main reward.
The Price of Evil, 5.13b was done at the end of last year by desert local, Mason Earl. It had previously been a well known project between all offwidth aficionados and when it was finally done, it was reputed to being the hardest offwidth in the Creek. As we'd decided not to hang about in the Creek, we found ourselves up there as our second route for the area. We'd warmed up so thought we'd continue!!
The route is short but packs in a number of good (looking?) offwidth techniques. A good dose of 'Flying Pirate' was used on my behalf, whereas Tom opted for the controversial method of the semi invert torpedo into knee lock, to surmount the first lip. After the lip the crack kicks back to a flared 45 degree squeezy little number with stacks and fists deep at the back of the crack. Obviously Tom complained at me because apparently my fists are too big, so I could fist jam the whole of this section. Unfortunately, what he didn't see (which would have put things more into perspective) was me puntering around cutting loose on chicken wings right at the top as I rounded the final bulge. Note to self – don't cut loose on a chicken wing ever again.
Tom seemed to have the same experience as me on the final bulge section and I saw his feet cutting loose and his forearm bridged across the crack in the form of a chicken wing. Arhhh I was glad to see someone else having a classic offwidth top out - a sketchy grovel.
Anyway it ended up being a good second day out in The Creek. I thought it was the second hardest repeat of wideness that we've done out here and so it was cool that Mason Earl gave us another wide one to get stuck in to.
If you really want to get in depth with it all, we've had a bit of a rant on our blog in a pretty geeky way, but to cut to the point: 5.14b or 8c. It might be wrong, it might be right.... time will tell I guess!
Today we just met up with crack legend J.P.Ouelett (aka Peewee) who's crack tick list is probably longer than most on the planet. With him and local hardman Rob Pizem, we're heading down to the White Rim in search of projects.... big projects....
Travelling with the duo is photographer Alex Ekins. Thanks go to Alex for two of the above images. You can see loads more on his website: Alex Ekins. Alex is sponsored by Wild Country, Rab, Podsacs and Clif Bar,