Crack-meisters Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall are currently ripping through the hardest crack climbs in the USA. Last week we had our first report - Wideboys USA: Whittaker and Randall in Vedauwoo. Now we have a new report straight from the boyz themselves as they tackle another great testpiece namely Trench Warefare in Utah. Not content with flashing the thing, Pete extended the normal route and Tom then decided to solo it.
Tom and Pete take up the story....
Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City is home one of Johnny Woodward's classic offwidth masterpieces, Trench Warfare. This 50ft offwidth roof crack has featured on a number of magazine front covers over the years and is on many a wide crack aficionado's tick list. Woodward is reputed to have made the first ascent in a pair of welding gloves and also to have controversially stepped off the route at the lip, where further climbing lay beyond.
His original line was given a hefty 5.12d and in later years the US offwidth master Brad Jackson extended the route to continue beyond the lip giving Wench Warfare at 5.13a. I'm not sure who's route is the most valid, but what is without doubt is the quality. 20ft of perfect butterfly jams lead to a body-sized pod in the ceiling where some respite may be achieved. After spinning out of this head first you are treated to some horizontal double fist-stacking and finally a relatively straight forward wide lip turn.
Pete and I have just spent 2 weeks in Vedauwoo (report) pulling off days and days of hideous chicken wings and dodgy knee locks, so it was with some relief that we headed down to try this route. We're actually not that good at the climbing in Vedauwoo (as we've not spent hours and hours practising chicken wings!), but what we have trained for is a stack load of wide pony and horizontal roof cracks!! This was essentially to be the first route for us to try out our real training.
We both spend rather a lot of time holding each other's ropes so we've given our respective views on each others ascents so you get into the head of a Wide Fetishist.
About Pete's ascent...........About a week before going on Trench Warfare, Pete had been goaded into doing an extension to the original Woodward route. Justin Edl (Vedauwoo local and crack beast) had suggested that the whole route could be extended for another 20ft at the beginning to make a horizontal nightmare of leg-stacks and shuffles. Not surprisingly, Pete took up this mighty challenge and I watched on in wonder as he embarked on this extra bit of climbing, not even bothered that it might blow his flash attempt. That's a confident lad for you!
With some swift sideward shuffling Pete soon arrived at the halfway resting pod. The move to leave this position is one of the strangest I have ever done and Pete certainly demonstrated it very aptly. In essence, you are required to do a cartwheel inside of a bottomed-out chimney with 60cm of space at one end and 15cm space at the other – I can only liken this to some kind of gymnastic caving. Very weird!
In his usual relaxed (but sweaty) style Pete moved on an onto the final lip turn some 15ft later. In attempt to make him look a little less smooth I tried pulling on the rope to hold him back and shouted the wrong beta for the feet. Bollocks – he'd just made another flash ascent.
About Tom's ascent.........Even though the route had never been flashed before (as far as we know) Tom didn't look phased by the fact that this is more the style of route he had been training for and the first flash was still up for grabs. He got the initial cams placed and got a shuffle on. As soon as he pulled off the starting boulder I knew the Wide Pony Master was in his element. I could tell he felt right at home, stuck in a 5 inch crack with a hand stack between his legs, hanging upside down like a fruit bat...arhhhhh...I knew he felt like he was back, churning out some laps, between some kitchen worktops in his cellar in Sheffield.
The initial crack seats butterfly jams nicely but is quite narrow for foot locking. His feet got a little wedged in some places, but because hanging upside down now feels like sleeping for him he stayed chilled and casually made it to the entrance of the pod. Entering the pod he complained that the chicken wing was dodgy and wide, but from where I was stood, it looked like there was some kind of upward wind and lube in the crack that quickly gobbled him up and sucked him in there.
Exiting the pod looked a little tricky as there was half 'side winder' half reverse 'invert torpedo' going on in there. However with a bit 'Everyday I'm Shuffling' mantra the double fist was whipped out and he was gunning for the jug just before the lip turn.
I think in times of wide me and Tom have both forgotten what a jug is! So when he reached the jug at the end there seemed to be doubt into what it actually was and pushed into a much more restful position of handstack/knee lock combo. We have vowed to never fall out of a handstack/knee lock combo and have even debated belaying from them on multipitch routes. With this is mind I knew that turning the lip turn was arbitrary and the flash was in the bag. BOOM!
Some comments about the solo...............For at least a year or so I've idly considered the concept of soloing Trench Warfare. I suppose it was mostly borne out of wanting to remove the hassle of placing the gear on lead (which is quite fiddly) so that I could enjoy the movement of the climbing. I'd weighed up whether I really wanted to do it and made a mental note to see how much I was enjoying the climbing on the day and only to do it if I felt really chilled and relaxed. As it happened, we had a proper laugh up at the climb and nothing seemed simpler than jumping on it straight after, without a rope.
Is it a solo? Not really sure.... it's an absolutely terrible position to fall from if you cocked it up. You'd deck head first into boulders 20ft below. You could call it anything from solo to highball depending on your own personal risk parameters.
Did I use pads or spotters? No, just one 50m rope and a Podsacs rucksack.
Where is the crux? Entering and leaving the midway pod, which is probably one of the worst places to fall.
Am I a balls-out idiot? No, not at all. In fact I'm really pretty chicken when it comes to climbing (as many of my friends can testify) so really it was more of a party trick and not that significant – although I'm sure my Mum would be impressed... or not!
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,