Logan Barber is a 34 year old geologist from Perth, Australia. A well-travelled climber with an international ticklist, some Brits may have bumped into him in climbing hotspots around the world. He recently ticked a personal project that took him 3 years and 8 months to climb: the famous finger crack, Cobra Crack 5.14- (8b+) in Squamish, British Columbia.
The route was first climbed in 2006 by Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter, who was trying the line alongside Didier Berthod of Switzerland. Sonnie graded the line 5.14- (roughly 8b+), making it one of the hardest cracks in the world. Logan's story of perseverance and the sacrifices he made to finish the route off prove his dedication to the goal: swapping geology work for a job in a climbing wall, travelling to international crack climbing destinations to train specifically and making over 160 attempts at the line. We sent him some questions to find out what the project meant to him.
'For me it was about looking at the bigger picture and what's important to me. I identify myself as a climber and see myself climbing until I am old. I want to look back at my achievements and feel proud and happy.'
When did you first think of trying Cobra Crack, and what first inspired you to try it?
I was on a route development trip to Liming in China where I did some of the outstanding projects there, The Firewall being the hardest. I realised I didn't really have any idea about grading them or any hard cracks so I thought that Cobra was the place to start. Back in the day I was hanging out in Squamish when Didier and Sonny were projecting the Cobra so I always saw it as the ultimate crack. I actually never really thought I'd ever be capable of jumping on it. The fact I never thought I could do it was one of the reasons I wanted to try it.
When did you first get on it, and how did you feel about it? First impressions?
I was a bit disappointed when I first jumped on it in June 2015. I was so far from being able to climb it I thought I might have wasted the 3-month trip. If I'd have had other goals I may have just moved on, but I had done so many of the classics in the area and I couldn't get motivated for anything else. The classic status of the route and its high quality kept me going back and I was happy just trying to piece it together. At the end of the third month I got lucky and stuck the mono move from the ground. That's when I really knew the route would be possible for me.
What style did you choose to climb the route in?
When I first turned up to Squamish I would ride from the town to the Chief parking lot and then slowly walk uphill for an hour. I would fix my rope on the route and jump on a micro traxion. It took a long time just to figure out how to hold the painful jams. Eventually I started giving it some shots with some locals, although I was always nervous the first season placing the gear on lead.
You travelled extensively to try crack projects around the world and took up work at a climbing gym rather than returning to your geology field work. Tell us where you went and what you did. How specific was your training for the line - were you trying different types of crack, or mostly fingercracks?
After my first season I was really focused. I knew it was possible and would be a major achievement in my climbing career. I went back to Liming in China and did the Honeycomb Dome, which may be similar or a little harder than the Firewall. It's a roof crack that doesn't relate at all to the Cobra. I then did a bit of bolting and sport climbing in Yangshuo before returning to Perth. I did 6 months in a climbing gym bouldering and lead climbing. My form of training is just to go in and try really hard on problems or routes until I can't lift my arms and then go home. It's not really structured! Climbing like that with a good crew is a good way to stay motivated and I enjoyed helping out with some of the youth squad at the gym. I do occasionally hangboard and campus a bit but I can't get into it like some people do.
When did you first make significant progress on the line, and believe it possible? Or did it throw spanners in the works in multiple places?!
I would say after two months I was getting all the moves and sequences but didn't have a good link until the end of the season when I stuck the lip. I knew then it was possible although I definitely thought I was closer than I actually was. I had stuck the hardest move from the ground but the top out is definitely the redpoint crux and I hadn't even got into that.
Tell us about 'the move': the mono-ring-lock-undercut one...I suppose that took some careful preparation?
The mono undercling is a funny hold. It feels painful when you are fiddling with it trying to get your finger in and suss out the hold but on link you just shove it in there and pull hard and it doesn't hurt at all. It's a commitment hold. The more you commit the better it works. I'd say for me the hardest single move on the route was locking up on the left arm to get the mono with the right hand, not the actual pull off the mono.
What kept you going back for it? Did you ever feel like giving up?
On my second season I was strong and had a lot of drive. I went for two months and fell off the top-out a lot. I was really confident I was going to do it and was very disappointed when I didn't. On my final day of the season, before the rain started I did the mono move from the ground three times and fell reaching for the final crimp on the exit boulder. I left Squamish for a trip to the States not really knowing if I'd go back. It was a successful States trip for me though and I feel like my crack and granite technique improved a little bit. Six more months back in Australia working on a mine site and I scraped together enough motivation to return even though I hadn't been training very hard.
What went right on the day you did it? What made the difference?
Three more months on the route this year and I hadn't reached my high point from the season before. I was however smarter and had made minor changes to my beta so that I was doing most sections easier. I took some pressure off myself and did some sport climbing and bouldering. Upon return to the Cobra with an Australian friend who was psyched I felt a bit revived and managed to stick the move over the lip, which I hadn't during the previous season. I fell off the last possible move, so I changed beta to a sequence harder on my arms but easier on my core and did it the next day on.
How did it feel to finally top out? Was it overwhelming or underwhelming?
It felt unbelievable. It felt like my mind with all its doubts was just commentating and my body was separate just executing the sequence. I couldn't stop smiling at the anchor and for the next few hours.
Your name is now on the short list of climbers to have ticked the line. You initially said you didn't feel like you belonged on the list. Has it sunk in yet?!
It has sunk in but I still don't feel like I match the calibre of names on that list. So many of my climbing heroes are on there!
Has ticking this inspired you to do harder projects in different styles, or will you seek out more cracks?
I think I will do a lot more sport climbing and bouldering although I still have some crack projects I'd like to do.
What advice would you give to someone who has a long-term project and who struggles with motivation?
I think for me it was about looking at the bigger picture and what's important to me. I identify myself as a climber and see myself climbing until I am old. I want to look back at my achievements and feel proud and happy. Whenever I had low motivation and wanted to do something else like earn a few more dollars I just asked myself if I would be happy with that decision in the future. Success in climbing is more important to me, so I keep trying hard.
Watch a video of Mason Earle on the route below, who climbed it shortly before Logan.
Logan is sponsored by: Marmot, Scarpa and Osprey.
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