'Holy mother smoking pancakes, that thing is freaking massive.' It all began in spring this year when Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker loaded a pick-up truck with lots of cams and 'not nearly enough food' - according to photographer Mike Hutton - and drove out to White Rim, Utah, USA. They were on the hunt for an overly idealistic project that might not even exist...
The 'Wide Boyz' climbing duo were searching for 'something that made Century Crack look like a warm-up.' (UKC News Report) Their expectations were not small: 'We didn’t want a ‘King Line’ nor a ‘Emperor Line.' What we were after was ‘The God Line.’'
Ever scientific in their methods, the pair had some criteria to ensure that their expectations were fully met:
- Big - this roof crack had to be big, much bigger than what is currently out there.
- Architecture - it had to look the business. Grand, impressive and bold shapes.
- Grade - really hard. Difficulties had to blow other cracks we’d done or tried out the water.
- Size - we were more flexible in this department with an allowance of a mixture of sizes. All crack techniques would be needed to get you up this thing, no one-trick-ponies.
- Cool - this roof crack had to be cool. No dirty 40ft caves with low exposure…
Finally, after weeks of traipsing around the desert and indulging in their favourite pastime of getting lost, in the very last cave that they explored, Tom and Pete stumbled upon gold:
'Just pacing out the top of the crack made you shiver with the sheer size of what lay beneath...we’d hit the absolute jackpot. Essentially we’d found a mother-ship of intertwining roof cracks running from left to right, weaving in and out of cave systems. Right in the centre was ‘The God Line’ that we’d been looking for. A full 180 foot crack rose straight from the depths of the hollowed-out cliff side, piercing through the centre of the cave and continuing out to the lip. Strangely enough, it was also bisected by another crack which created the appearance of a giant crucifix in the ceiling.'
The next question was, 'is it climbable?'
It wasn't, of course, but that was the point after all. It wouldn't have been 'The God Line' if it were. Tom explained that 'even doing a single move was completely impossible.' That's when the '5 holy hangs, the 7 sacred shoe shuffles and the 13 disciples' came about; an unconventional deployment of the mechanisms of faith in order to break down the impossibility of a climb.
In an attempt to answer the question 'Is it climbable'? rather than simply 'hang-able' and 'shuffle-able,' Tom and Pete are currently back in the Utah desert for a rematch. I caught up with them to find out how their trip is going.
What were your expectations for this trip?
Our expectations for the current trip were two-fold: to continue working on 'the Crucifix project' and to carry on developing the new routes down on the White Rim. We talked about this a lot back in the UK and it made sense to be able to have a constant source of on-going “reward” whilst “working” on the big goal. It’s so hard staying focussed on something that will take a very long time, so you need to add up all the little things that will keep you psyched and happy to put in the hard hours. Days of failing, weeks of not making big links and possibly years of not ticking. Someone said this was fun right?!
So how are you approaching the Crucifix Project?
After 3 months of training in the UK, when we walked back into the cave this autumn the project still looked huge and desperate. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by these things, but the best way to go about it is to break the project down. Most people will see breaking the project down as working sections, moves, hanging holds, etc. However, this thing blew our minds so much...for the second time(!) so we had to start processing it in a different way. We had to start by bringing our standard up to the Crucifix’s level. Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra didn’t put up La Dura Dura from just projecting the hell out of it. They projected the hell out of it and practised their craft on many many other routes. We’ve climbed a lot of crack routes now, but still we felt that getting a feel for the area was key to making progress on this monster project. This meant working through other first ascents in the area and routes linked into the Crucifix.
Which first ascents have you done in the area?
First we started on routes that were well within our ability. We ticked off five first ascents from 5.11d to 5.12d standard, slowly building on size and difficulty. The 5.11d was tiny and the 5.12d was a 35ft roof. Good start. Build those stepping blocks! Next were three more first ascents, again building on size and difficulty, these were 5.13a and 5.13b and up to 70ft of roof climbing.
Are they all in this unexplored cave where you found the Crucifix Project?
Yes, it's amazing, a completely unexplored cave; virgin territory! We’ve started to develop three sectors, all in close proximity to each other.
Tom has produced a special “Mini-Guide” to the area:
Sector 1 - The Meat Factory
The first area you approach holds a selection of the world’s biggest roof cracks. Bring your beef (and escape plan) or you will get blooded, beaten and canned.
- 8 Inch Stun Gun 5.13a - 8 inches, flared and upside down. Stack those fists and don’t fall off head first, as the ground is quite close.
- Silence Of The Lambs 5.13b - crunched fists, cupped hands, flared pods. Whether it’s a bone crunching fist jam or a knuckle-grinding nightmare, this roof will have you in pain.
- Lamb Of God - Project.
Sector 2 - The Holy Land
After walking through The Meat Factory and loosing skin and blood to the slaughterhouse, you enter the cave of The Crucifix project. You thought the roof cracks in The Meat Factory were big? Think again. The cracks in here will blow your mind. A mind-bending maze of thin to fat, up and down and in and back. The effort to succeed on any route in this cave might leave you seeing ‘the light’, and if you survive you might feel blessed by God.
- Calvary Hill 5.12d - one man’s fist jam is another man’s stack. Bring your boxing gloves - that’s all we have to say.
- Stigmata 5.13b - dreamy dreamy hand jams, surely you’re in heaven. Oh no you're doing battle with another monster roof crack. Pump pump pump it up, you're going to feel the burn in your thumbs.
- Crown Of Thorns 5.14a - The world's biggest roof crack. Total beast.
- Linkup - Project.
- Crucifix - Project. You’ve reached enlightenment.
Sector 3 - Bulgaria
Tucked out of sight of The Holy Land is Bulgaria. A land of small and interesting features. A sector to practise techniques, stay out of sight and generally recuperate from the forces back round the corner. Imagine ‘The Shire’ from Lord of The Rings.
- Southern Slavic 5.11d - awkward hands, round a mini roof.
- Bulgarian Method 5.12a - bone locker hand jams with a tricky lip encounter.
- Ivolution 5.12c - get that shuffle on and don’t slip out when the crack starts to pinch your nipples or balls. Embrace the feeling or deny you were ever in the area.
- Raging Monkeys 5.13c - there is still skin left in there from the First Ascent. Wear a long sleeve shirt, or expect skin grafts and a girlfriend who’s checking you into an STD clinic.
- Many other projects at 5.12a - 5.13b.
Have you made any progress on the Crucifix Project yet?
So we're in the middle of the desert and it just keeps raining! The Crucifix Project gets damp from seepage, so when our visit in the second week of the trip was marred by regular rainstorms we sought solace in the remaining big route, which became Crown of Thorns. It is one of the wider cracks (offwidth and fist) that dry very quickly as the wind whistles through them, while the finger crack of Crucifix stays damp...
Can you say some more about Crown of Thorns, 'The World’s Biggest Roof Crack'?
In the Crucifix Cave there are two obvious lines. King lines that make your heart stop and your arms feel tired looking up and imagining climbing them. One is the finger crack line found on the last trip and the other is a monster feature that bisects the main Crucifix. By some magic of nature the "cross-bar" of the cross is made up of a 165ft mega-line. Half of it is hands and fists width and the other is an offwidth to rival Century Crack in technical difficulty, Crown of Thorns. It was the only one that felt like it gave adequate “fight” compared to going on the primary objective.
What was the process with Crown of Thorns?
To do the 'Cross Bar Project' we had to mentally break it into two halves…it always seems like this is the most effective for us. Chunk it down and take the big things on, in little bite-sized pieces. Working the line, we discovered that essentially it worked out as an 8a into an 8b, with each one having a different style. With that in mind, we tried each individually to prepare our minds as to what was in store a few days later.
In the end, Pete did it first redpoint and I did it 3rd redpoint. We both maxed out big time. Lost a lot of skin! Felt like I'd been in a bike crash the next day....
What is the route like?
We’ve done a lot of this style of routes now and I think people are fairly accustomed to us moaning about how they’re “gruelling” and “miserable” and “really gnarly.” So we’ll try and give an idea of how each part feels compared to other climbing and some of the unique things encountered en route:
Section 1: 5.13b hands or fists: This section is Desert Gold at Red Rocks, but 4 or 5 times the length. If you could think about the most pumpy, incredible, made-for-climbing roof crack splitter, then this is it. We thought it was just like climbing down the cellar, but you get a face full of sand.
Section 2a: Part 1 Offwidth invert: This is where it gets really interesting as it’s just like Century Crack (hands and feet up in the crack and head hanging low) but you have to complete two obligatory 180 degree spins. This all happens because the offset manner of the crack keeps changing side so you have to switch! Fortunately, we’d practised this bizarre 180 spin years ago in the cellar whilst training and finally after 5 years it came into use. We couldn’t believe it has taken so long for the scenario to happen…Overall, it felt like climbing on Century with the same difficulty of moves but with much more confusion and 3D awareness required. A proper section of specialist climbing!
Section 2b: Part 2 Offwidth grovel: The last third of the route comprises of standard horrible “just off-size” body thrashing. We ended up having to use different techniques as our leg size varies. One person had to do sit ups on hand-fist stacks whilst shoving their head into the back of the crack and the other had to do wide pony moves whilst shoving their head into the back of the crack. Both entirely fun and rewarding.
This last section resulted in both of us screaming a fair amount and if anyone had been listening, they’d have been fairly sure we were trying quite hard. Having done all the climbing to arrive at this spot, it was not a place either person wanted to fall off and Tom proved that failure was most definitely an option after 140ft of upside down sweating.
Any comments on the grade?
Crown of Thorns seems like a pretty good value roof crack at 5.14a. It’s always hard grading these kind of lines that are utterly exhausting and don’t contain V10 cruxes, but either way it’s probably the last 8b+ that any person on the planet will voluntarily go for.
Was it a smooth process then, with no set-backs or issues?
Tom: Well the first redpoint day I had two tooth abscesses and took way too many painkillers. I got pretty spaced out as didn't read how much codeine I'd taken. But Pete told me that getting on the route was the only way to distract myself from the pain! He was actually right...annoyingly.
Oh and Pete got totally wrapped up in rope on the 180 spins. He got confused which way round he was and looked like a right punter. Doing 180 spins sounds simple but it's really confusing when you're upside down! It's a bit like sitting in the front seat of your car driving and being asked to do a 180 spin whilst driving at 30mph and not lose control and not end up with a rope around your neck. In theory it's doable, but it's extremely easy to mess up!
Pete: And there was the fact that when Tom came off on his second redpoint right at the end (140ft in), I had to lower him to the ground rapidly before he threw up on Mike's head below...luckily I was quick enough. I think probably the harness crunching mixed with going max out wasn't a good combo...
What's next then?
We are heading back down to the White Rim to try the big project, looking forward to it now.
The Wide Boyz blog: Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker's Stories From The Wide Side.
Pete's webpage: Pete Whitttaker Climber.
Photos by Mike Hutton Photography.
Tom is also a part owner of ???, a Director of Sublime Brushes, and a Director of Lattice Training.