In October last year, Danny Parker from Salt Lake County made the third ascent of the infamous 120ft roof offwidth Century Crack 5.14b, on the White Rim in Canyonlands, Utah, first freed by Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall in 2011. The line was first discovered and aided by Crusher Bartlett in 2001, who named the aid route Chocolate Starfish A1. Stevie Haston turned the aid line into a project to be freed, but as his attention moved elsewhere it was ultimately the Wideboyz who would claim the first free ascent after a two-year-long journey. It is 'widely' regarded as the world's hardest offwidth...
Having known Danny for some time now, I've come to realise that he's one of those people who's through and through an offwidther at heart. You can just see his eyes light up when you talk about wide stuff. This makes me realise that this route is half-passion and half-training dedication. You need both!
27-year-old Danny and his wife Ashley Cracroft are offwidth devotees and decided to project the line together. Danny has worked his way through some of the USA's hardest offwidths - Trench Warfare 5.12+ (Little Cottonwood Canyon), Gabriel 5.13c (Zion), The Forever War 5.13 (Vedauwoo) and has a few first ascents to his name. In October, after following the highly specific Century Crack training regime devised by Pete and Tom, Danny made the third ascent placing all gear on lead. Ashley may well make the first female ascent soon...watch this space.
Danny spent three years working toward the ascent, at one point writing it off as beyond his capabilities. However, when Pete and Tom caught wind of his efforts, they kindly shared their training programme. Mimicking the training dedication of the Wideboyz, Danny built a replica Century Crack in his garage and engaged in intense sit-up workouts to train for the bat hangs and inverted, feet-first movements. While climbing the simul-crack, he would attach sandbags to his waist to replicate climbing with the weighty rack required for the route (1 x No. 3 Camalot, 1 x No. 4, 9 x No. 5s, 2 x No. 6s, and 1 x Big Bro, weighing over 6kg in total). Following this training effort, Danny could complete the route in sections and returned a few weeks later to tick Century Crack on his first redpoint attempt of the year.
We sent Danny some questions about Century Crack, following the fist jams of the Wideboyz and his offwidth obsession...
My first offwidth experience happened simultaneously with the Wideboyz' free ascent of Century Crack. Their story spoke to me, and although I had just projected a 40' 5.9, the dream of climbing Century Crack was alive. Through these years I've been slowly chipping away at their tick list, making minuscule improvements, building a crack room in my garage, and maybe completing a zillion sit ups.
What drew you to attempt Century?
In autumn 2011 I had just recently stepped into trad climbing and was projecting my first ever offwidth crack, a low angle 5.9 crack called Firestarter. At that same time the Wideboyz had come through and not only crushed every decently difficult offwidth, but also established the world's hardest offwidth (Century Crack). I had enjoyed the struggle of my 5.9 project so much, that I of course started dreaming of someday climbing Century. As the years went on and I climbed further down the Wideboyz tick list, Century became more of a possible reality rather than some absurd dream.
You had ticked off a good number of Pete and Tom's offwidth lines before focusing on Century. Which lines stand out for you the most, aside from Century?
Climbing Gabriel (13C) meant a great deal to me, I was fortunate enough to round up five 9 inch Valley Giants and skip the bolts making the first all-gear ascent of the route.
Tom shared their training programme with you for the line. What did it involve (roughly!) and how did it help you?
The training plan was roughly 12 months of endurance and power training on a home made crack machine, as well as a few other creatively torturous workouts mixed in. Tom would check in constantly, so I really felt the pressure to keep on top of the training.
Sandbagging myself. This amount of shuffling wouldn't normally be too much of a problem, but add 12lbs and stay right foot leading, and suddenly your right leg starts to feel like an air mattress under a sleepy elephant. #strugglebarge #offwidtharmy #crackfortress #latticetraining #8bplus #butorausa #kailas
What's the hardest aspect of the climb?
There's a lot of various difficult aspects around Century, from the four hour off-road drive in to the prospect of aid cleaning the line between goes. As for the climb itself the final 15 feet of the roof of Century turns into a really flared 5 inch crack, rather than getting hand stacks at the lip of the crack like you do in the first 70 feet, you have to do an extra big sit up and stack deep in the crack parallel with where your feet are jammed.
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.
What do you enjoy about offwidth climbing?
I enjoy essentially everything about offwidth climbing, It's the most gymnastic, three dimensional, and rewarding style of climbing. I think many people avoid offwidths simply because they've heard it's a struggle and not very enjoyable, my wife and I take regular climbers out offwidth bouldering and have yet to have anyone say they didn't like it. Maybe they're just being polite and we're just crazy.
You've made some first ascents of your own. Tell us about those!
I've been establishing routes for a couple years now. I recently established an offwidth roof near Moab that I named Flavor Blasted, it's a 45' roof crack that requires 9 inch cams then grows into a squeeze chimney as it turns vertical. I'm also working a lot on the other side of the crack spectrum these days - I just finished up a fingercrack that I named Tiktaalik that has a section of climbing where I can only get my smallest pinky knuckle to fit in the crack. I built a wooden replica of it in my garage and spent a winter conditioning my pinkies to take that kind of load.
Your wife Ashley is trying Century. How is she getting on with it?
Ashley has been training for Century just as much as I have, and is easily in the same shape I am. That being said she's much smaller than I am making the climbing substantially different for her. Where I get locked in feet and comfortable hand-fist stacks she gets baggy strenuous foot jams and double fist stacks. She's climbed it in a few hangs so far and with a little bit of increased endurance I'm sure she'll get it.
What's next on your (or Pete and Tom's!) list?
I have a couple first ascent projects I am working on currently, and this spring when Ashley heads back to Century I'd like to go dabble on the routes that the WideBoyz put up in that same area.