Following on from their recent successes in Little Cottonwood Canyon (UKC news report) and Vedauwoo (UKC news report), Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall have now gone on to climb the BIG DADDY of them all. In this third report from the Wideboyz trip across the biggest, widest and nastiest cracks in America, Tom describes their first ascent of this amazing feature.
Yesterday, Pete and I completed a 2 year long journey – a mission to make the first ascent of Stevie Haston's infamous Century Crack project in the Utah Desert. This route has been touted over the years as the ultimate wide crack monster and the potential first free ascensionist would grasp a prize beyond their wildest dreams.
Century Crack was first located and climbed by 'Desert Rat' Crusher Bartlett in 2001 when on the way to climb a new desert tower. He aided across this monumental roof crack solo, employing a back rope only for the final barrel and lip turn. This in itself was a considerable achievement considering the committing nature of the area and the horrendous exposure on the final section. Crusher gave the aid line the name of Chocolate Starfish, A1.
Some years later, Stevie Haston (a climbing partner of Crusher's) started the odyssey that Pete and I hoped to complete. With his partner Laurence Gouault he started work on freeing the 120ft roof crack and at the same time coming up with the working project title of 'Century Crack.' After a number of days attempting this line over successive trips, he'd still not found success, but was kind enough to write about his endeavours in On The Edge Magazine. Stevie talked of abs of steel, dodgy cams in sandy rock and of course immense levels of difficulty. His estimation on grade at the time was 9a or harder...
As Stevie's focus shifted elsewhere over recent years it opened up a door for others to try this line. Whilst Pete and I were slowly shuffling our way through Europe's hardest offwidths, the well publicised Pamela Pack was ticking off and establishing many of the USA's hardest wide cracks (UKC News item). Only this year both US and UK teams started to really focus in on Century and for Pete and I stuck back in the UK doing endless laps in my cellar offwidth, the wait was unbearable.
This week however, Pete, myself, Crusher, Alex Ekins, and Chris Alstrin (film maker covering our trip in the US) headed down to the White Rim in the monument basin to start work on the project. We had just 2 days in the area, so we set to work immediately. After only the first day we had all the moves completed and some good sections climbed in one. What really stood out from that day was how this route was almost an exact copy of my cellar – we'd absolutely hit the jackpot and in fact it almost felt like we'd been working on the route for 2 years already!
On the second day with threatening clouds in the sky and with the clock ticking we both ticked the route on our first go – OH MY GOD!!! We honestly couldn't believe it. We just wondered about in a daze for ages afterwards just shaking our heads... how on earth had we managed that? How perfect could it be that we'd both climbed it within an hour of each other and both of us had pulled off the effort of our lives.
On the style
We both climbed the route on preplaced friend 5s and 6s we'd put in our working attempts. Whilst it would be ideal to have placed the gear on lead during each of our attempts, the practicalities of it made it almost impossible. The mere cleaning of the route would waste one person so much that they'd have to sacrifice a whole day's high level climbing, which wasn't possible as we were down there for only 2 days. If we had more than 2 days down there I'm 100% certain we'd do it in that style too.
In addition, we found the pre-placing of friends actually somewhat balanced out the difficulties of the climbing, as each one presented a new crux as climbing round the cam was so tricky. It's always difficult to say conclusively how different it all is, but I'm certain we've taken no short cut here!
So, the big question on many peoples' lips will be "how hard it is?" Stevie Haston, the legend that we all know and love made his guess at around 9a and thought that it might be the most attractive route in the world. We're not quite sure about the grade at the moment, so Pete and I have decided to spend a little more time climbing in the States and perhaps make a more informed opinion in a couple of weeks. What we do know is that it's massively harder and bigger than anything else we've ever done before and that Stevie was no punter...
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,