Century Crack is possibly the world's hardest offwidth crack-climb, and was a well known project before Tom and Pete climbed it last month. The pair received some criticism for pre-placing the cams for their first ascent.
- Read the initial story here: UKC News
The 'Wideboyz' decided on a grade for the crack after their ascent, settling on 5.14b, which equates to French 8c, or in more understandable terms 'bloody desperate'.
- Read their thoughts on the grade here: UKC News
The duo, who have been on an extended offwidth trip to the USA, also recently repeated the Rob Pizem roof-crack route Army of Darkness (5.13d).
Below is Tom Randall's full report on their re-ascent of Century Crack:
White Rim Pizem Adventures
In the last few weeks we have been tinkering away down on the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park - the place is literally a horizontal roof crack heaven. There are hundreds and hundreds of unclimbed splitter roof cracks from 30ft to 100ft and you could spend almost an entire lifetime climbing the best lines.
Rob Pizem a local Utah climber has done a number of first ascents down on the White Rim and this week we were lucky enough to grab the 2nd and 3rd ascents of his 2008 route Army of Darkness, 5.13d.The route required a number of crack techniques ranging from fingers to full body inversion - all in a horizontal roof. Overall we thought it featured some of the most enjoyable crack climbing that either of us have done before and is very comparable to Greenspit (in its gymnastic style of climbing).
Returning to Century
After a quick little reminder of the desert rat style of living and climbing we realized we had more time left on the trip then initially expected. So, we went back down to Century Crack a few days ago and both did the whole route again each of us placing all gear on lead. We thought it would be useful and easier to strip the rack right back to seven or eight Friend 5s for the whole route, giving us an 'Ueli Steck alpine light speed rack,' but at the same time a Britishly bold experience.
By lessening the amount of gear we used for the route, the climbing in the intial roof section was much bolder – falls would result in decking out on your head - whereas on the top section some of the run outs feel mighty long but the climbing is much safer. Because the ground drops away nearer to the lip, huge falls could be calculated as safe, but it was somewhat dodgy relying on just one friend for the whole fall!
Chris Alstrin who is working on an offwidthing film project with Paul Diffley from Hot Aches was also there to capture the fun and shuffling.
The Gear Issues
As well as using seven or eight Friend 5s, we also placed on lead a duct taped Anasazi Blanco when we were turning the crux barrel at the end. This made sure our rope would run smoothly inside the crack and not get caught behind the lobe of our last friend.
Regarding carrying the gear – well we only carried 8 pieces, which we reckoned to be around 2kg in weight. The weight of this rack equaled out to the similar difficulties of when we first did it stepping round each cam. In conclusion, the climbing was exactly the same but the route overall was bolder - nothing a bit of standard Wide Pony action couldn't handle though!
Tom's thoughts from a Century revisit:
"Going back down to re-climb Century was a very strange experience for me. I couldn't decide whether I was psyched to do the route for myself or whether I was doing for others. Comments had been made about the pre-placed gear we used and this only seemed to add to my desire to return to the White Rim.
Pete was first up on "Century Round II" and as he set off along the 120ft section of roof with only 6 cams racked for this part, I did wonder if we'd bitten off more than we could chew. By halfway he'd spent most of the time in a deck-out situation and my heart was in my mouth – partly for his boldness, but also for the thought that I'd have to do the same next go.
As Pete rounded the final alcove section to reach the lip, he really started to grunt and shout – at the same time I belayed, totally gripped. Chris filmed from an ab rope at the lip and I shouted encouragement from below as Pete desperately fought his way up the final section with just one more Friend 5 for company. Just a few minutes later, he groveled his way through the final slot to glory and a well-stocked medical kit.
After watching Pete's insane efforts, I actually felt strangely calm about the whole affair. I'd already resigned myself to repeating the route and had also resolved the level of risk in my mind. I knew that if I focused solely on the climbing, then the run outs and the ground would soon fade into nothing and it would simply be a matter of pain tolerance and tactical breathing. In a haze of disassociation I followed in Pete's steps to make a cleaner ascent of Century Crack and also to clear in my mind the doubts I had about the route."
Pete's thoughts from a Century revisit:
"At first I wasn't too bothered about going back down to Century Crack to do it placing gear on lead, because I didn't think we would get time on our trip to go and do it. Also I had no idea of how we would get back down there without Crusher's trusty 4x4.
However after a few more weeks and finally completing the routes I really wanted to do whilst I was out here, I found that time wasn't an issue anymore and that Chris had fixed his truck and was psyched to give us a lift down there.
I was a little worried that the training that I had done for this route would have worn off or significantly dipped after two months of not doing any, because when I first visited this route I went right when my training had peaked.
This time I definitely felt like I had to fight on the route and certainly felt like my endurance on this particular style of climbing had dropped. However, I never felt like I was going to fall, I just know I had to try flipping hard this time. Although I was so happy to top out on the route placing gear on lead, the experience this time wasn't as satisfying for me as when I initially did it."
So who's got the hardest offwidths? USA or UK?
For those that are interested we've put together, a list of some of the offwidths and squeeze chimneys that we have done whilst we are out here mixed with some of the ones that we have done back in Europe and the UK. The list gives the climb name and the original grade that was given to the route (not the grade we think the route is).
We would like to point out that this is only our opinion on the routes and that it is probably all wrong anyway. They go in order of difficulty, with the hardest first.
- Century Crack 5.14b
- Gabriel 5.13b
- Army of Darkness 5.13d
- Quarryman (groove pitch) 8a (UK)
- Price of Evil 5.13b
- Thai Boxing 5.12b (France)
- Gobblers Roof E7 6c (UK)
- Angry Pirate Finish 5.13a
- Belly Full of Bad Berries 5.13a
- Spatial Relations 5.13a
- Trench Warfare Extension 5.12d
- Lucille 5.13a
- Trench Warfare 5.12d
- On a Wing and a Prayer 5.12c
- Gloves of War 5.12d (Italy)
- Trip Master Monkey 5.12b
- Super Jam E5 6b (UK)
- What the Big Boys Eat 5.12a/b
- Ray's Roof 5.11c (UK)
- Squat 5.12b
- Cobalt Dream E5 6b (UK)
- Big Pink 5.11d
- Giggling Crack E6 6c (UK)
- Brother From Another Planet 5.12a/b
- Worm Drive 5.11d
- Right Torpedo Tube 5.11a
- Goliath E5 6a (UK)
- Fear of Infection E4 6a (UK)
- Gin Palace E5 6b (UK)
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,