Wide Boyz Blog

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Crucifix Project

“Holy mother smoking pancakes, that thing is freaking massive.”

Just pacing out the top of the crack made you shiver with the sheer size of what lay beneath. The roof was around 180 foot in length. This was the very last cave on The Rim that we were checking out and we’d hit the absolute jackpot. All the abseiling, jumaring and legging it round the desert in the blistering sun for the last two weeks was worth it for this one. Essentially we’d found a mother-ship of intertwining roof cracks running from left to right and 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, straight from the depths of the hollowed out cliffside piercing right through the centre of the cave and out to the lip. Strangely enough, it was also bisected by another crack which gave the appearance of a giant Crucifix in the ceiling and seemed to bring about a theological context to our subsequent days and thoughts on the line. The next question was, ‘is it climbable?’

Quite psyched! (c) Andrew Burr


With both of us pacing around underneath the crack, it was hard to contain the excitement but also the doubt as we’d already viewed so many potential projects that turned out to be “not quite right” in terms of difficulty, quality or style. The first thing we needed to do was get on the route and start aiding through the sections. Many parts of the route were immediately obvious as doable, but both the first half and the final 30ft section looked very thin. Maybe too thin?

The first section we committed to aiding (and possibly shutting out all doubt that this was yet another disappointing “could have been”) was 70ft of fingers, thin hands and a couple of wide pods. The first 30ft seemed ok - we guessed 5.13c/d, but the next 40ft looked totally next level. It was like London Wall or Cosmic Debris turned into a horizontal roof with not a single good foothold. Even thinking about doing a single move, might have been the hardest crack move we’d ever imagined. And there were at least 8 of them in a row! What had seemed like quite hard climbing on The Kraken, V13 in Devon, now seemed a bit of a joke compared to this. 

KEEPING FAITH

Neither of us are religious, but somehow this project took on some of the key elements of faith. It’s not because we find religion particularly helpful in climbing, but more that some of the mechanisms of faith and religion are incredibly useful - there’s a reason why some of them have been around for thousands of years. The critical moment came early on trying the moves, when we knew some of it was doable, but other parts seems laughable in their plausibility. Seriously, is it really realistic to campus multiple mono-locks in the roof? Cobra Crack was hard enough doing a single one on a 45 degree bulge! How is it then realistic to do all these and finally enter a crux that’s harder than anything either of us have done on a boulder problem on the ground? Ever? Suddenly “possible” very quickly became “impossible.”


Pete working this last quarter of the roof


Needless to say this heavy hitting realisation was like a punch in the face of motivation. What the hell were we doing? No one is ever going to do these moves, and even less us. We’re just too specialised in doing long endurance things… even pulling on is at 100%… and that’s when the idea struck. The hangs! The Holy Hangs! Then and there, we decided that “moves” were a million miles off, so we’d motivate ourselves with trying to complete the 5 Holy Hangs. It seems silly, but it was something achievable. It was progress tied in with motivational force. We hung on to it with every ounce of commitment. 

Within a few moments of this concept being born, a project that basically seemed so hard we may as well write the whole thing off, became a route where we could actually try something. We were thinking too big before. Way too big. Doing a move was completely unrealistic. The concept of simply hanging the holds in the crux section was a saviour. We started to get giddy with excitement when one person would grab two of the holds and do a pull up, (not even place their feet in the crack), then let go. It would look so pathetic to an outside viewer on this process, but to us it was something to desperately grasp at. The belayer would get so excited they’d just start chanting, singing or pointing randomly in directions that had no relevance to anything! Whether you were on the rope trying the moves or on the belay, you had an equally important place in the team and the synergy was pretty cool. After a couple of sessions The 5 holy hangs had been completed. Minuscule progress, but progress none the less.


Motivational words in the warm up board. Breaking it down


The next goal beyond ‘the hangs’ were the ‘7 Sacred Shoe Shuffles’. This meant we would pull up on the holds (i.e. complete a Holy Hang), then do all the foot shuffles that revolved round these holds. The final goal was the ’13 Disciples’. These are the 13 moves which make up the crux section of the route. Slowly but surely, we were able to start to piece together, Hangs, Shuffles and Disciples.

We have now ticked off over half of the Disciples and even linked a few together. The middle ones revolve around some hideous finger locks and atrocious foot jams have been ‘seen in concept’ but yet to be ticked.

From our first aiding session on the project, to now, we have come a reasonably way in a short space of time. To an onlooker it looks like we are hang dogging all over the thing (we are), but from our point of view, we are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The end goal seems so unachievable right now, there is no point in thinking about that. ‘All ya gotta do’ is break the sections down and piece them back together again. We like to think of the route as a jigsaw. Lots of little pieces you have to put together to complete the bigger picture. If the jigsaw was completed when you got it out the box, it would be a pretty pointless puzzle.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

This project is exactly what we were looking for, it fits the 5 characteristics perfectly. It is a whole new level of difficulty that we’ve never tried (around 9a+ route and V14 crux). Neither of us have even looked at a route this hard before never mind try and climb it. The training that we did before coming away looks pathetic to how good we need to be to be able to climb this monster. We were looking for next level, and we found it…just.


No more hunting for now. Project...project...project! (c) Andrew Burr

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Hunting for The Unknown - The Holy Grail of Crack Climbing



When we arrived in the US, we’d committed to one of the more idealistic plans of our climbing careers so far - go hunting for a first ascent project that might not exist. Strangely enough though, the more people we told about this mission, the less we thought it was naive and wildly optimistic. 

“Yeah that’s a great idea guys! You’re on the look out for another Century Crack, right?”

Well….. not exactly. Much that it’s been nice to have been pigeon-holed as the Wideboyz and it’s associated wide crack climbing, both of us have been aware that projects that make Century look like a warm-up are pretty unlikely to be in the form of a 5-8 inch splitter. This is V5-V8 territory and we needed V11+ for the crux and some kind of decent endurance element to it as well. Something to make us think that maybe it might not even be possible?!

“Oh, you want a crack project that has V11 or more climbing on it? Dude… I don’t think that exists. Good luck though, I’m sure you’ll find something!”

Wideboy, truck and a map. What can go wrong?


So, there we were after just 2 days in Utah, driving back onto the White Rim on a wild goose chase. A Chevy truck packed full of supplies, gear and psyche was in our favour, although we’d already lost our friend Mike Hutton who was a victim of harsh border control standards. We had google maps with potential projects ear-marked (you can see the big roof cracks on satellite image) and a plan to try and mix up map based guessing, with visual on-foot exploration of over 100 miles of White Rim. 

Pete pacing out The Rim underneath some cool clouds


TRIP 1 - Week 1 (East Side of White Rim)

I guess we were pretty nervous on our first trip down as we’d been training back in Sheffield for a project we hadn’t yet found. That said, we did feel confident of a good outcome because the area seemed to have so much geological potential. 

After passing the first few canyons, we’d seen roof cracks from 40 - 60 foot long, but this was not what we were after. Most of these cracks would blow even the top roof cracks of Europe today out the water, but that was not enough. We had high expectations. we didn’t want a ‘King Line’ nor a ‘Emperor Line’, what we were after was ‘The God Line’.

We came up with 5 characteristics that would be the make up of ‘The God Line’

  1. Big - this roof crack had to be big, much bigger than what is currently out there
  2. Architecture - it had to look the business. Grand, impressive and bold shapes. 
  3. Grade - really hard. Difficulties had to blow other cracks we’d done or tried out the water
  4. 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.
  5. Cool - this roof crack had to be cool. No dirty 40ft caves with low exposure…  
Checking out another "disappointing" 5.14, (c) Andrew Burr

We got deeper and deeper into Canyonlands and on The White Rim trail. Canyon after canyon passed and each time we abbed into another cave, something wasn’t quite right. ‘too small’, ‘not cool’, ‘full of massive hand jams, too easy’. It sounds like we were being picky….we were.

If something didn’t fit one of ‘the 5’ we had to walk away. We walked away from some of the best splitter 5.13s and 14s you’ve ever seen. Each time we would jumar back up to the rim and  walk away from yet another crack with “the greatest glory corner finish” or “100ft of perfect horizontal splitter hands”. We had to leave these because they didn’t fit ‘The God Line’ definition we’d set for ourselves. It was hard to do, but we’d set the standard ourselves and we had to live with that. 

Maps, techno and shoes filled with sand. Life is fairly simple down there!


After completing The East side of the Rim we had yet to find what we were looking for. However we did now know where all the coolest roof cracks on the planet are in-between these standards…a list to keep any crack obsessive happy for a lifetime! 

TRIP 2 - Week 2 (West Side of White Rim)

After failing to find a mega project on the East Side of the White Rim, we pegged all our hopes on The West Side. Crusher Bartlett who’d joined us on our Century Crack visit had given us the tip off that this could be the motherlode. The Rim is much thicker here and thus the features that form are much bigger - maybe 100ft roof cracks would be 400ft roof cracks over there?! We certainly hoped so. 

Big features on the West Side = Bigger Cracks?!


We explored the West Side with photographer Andrew Burr, who’s ace to have along on these kind of adventures as he’s a proper desert rat. He loves everything about the landscape, the exploration and the vibe of the whole area. In addition, we knew he’d have some insight into some of the features and formations that we’d be exploring and also could dish out plenty of motivation for two Brits who were booming increasingly sunburnt, lost and worried that Century Crack was the only really hard thing in the area. 

Yes please... 1000ft split in The Rim. But nothing below...


To start with, we found absolutely nothing. The Rim was so thick that caves weren’t hollowing out underneath the harder geology of the rim and we passed miles and miles of cliff that on the google maps had looked good, but in fact were red herrings. Even the gigantic splits in the White Rim on satellite turned out to be either chimneys or nothing at all. Dejected, we paced out mile upon mile of the West Side on foot and by truck. It wasn’t until we started to get close to the mid point of the whole journey (where we’d actually meet up with our end point from trip 1) that we started to find some interesting features. Unfortunately, these turned out to be too big. Can you believe it?! A couple of caves we dropped into were much deeper than our 60m ab line and as a consequence had created 3 pitch epic roof cracks. Whilst this hit the “cool” part of the list, the macro-size of the features tended to mean they were wider and hence most stuff was still in the 5.13d to 5.14c territory. Yet again, we were close to finding something, but it wasn’t quite perfect. 

As we drove out continually eastward to meet the Shafer trail and having explored 100 miles of the Canyonlands cliffs, we were utterly depressed. We kept asking ourselves how this could have happened. The mecca for mega roof cracks, yet in days and days of exploring we’d not found a single project to match our expectations. We talked of visiting Indian Creek, of trying the crack we’d seen “with no holds” and of maybe just going climbing “for fun” to put up some easier first ascents. 

Another cool project, but... not quite cool enough! 



It wasn’t until we were halfway round our exit loop of the White Rim that one of us suggested that it might just be worth checking out a cave we’d previously seen the week before but ended up dropping a line 100m to one side and consequently missing it (standard Randall/Whittaker navigation). It almost didn’t seem worth it, as by our high standards, all the other caves had been disappointments. But as we always said… ‘its always worth checking round the next corner’. There really wasn’t much else to lose so we parked up the truck one last time…

Praying for salvation. He's beyond help. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Wide Boyz IIII The Quadrilogy

Wide Boyz blog is up and running again! This is mainly as we’ve both finally finished our respective solo missions for 2015. Tom has emerged from his dirty cave in Devon (standard behaviour) and Pete has completed his set of surprisingly easy moves in a bold position on El Capitan (standard behaviour)

Dark, dirty, Dank, Randall Emerges
(c) Chris Prescott adventure photography

Surprisingly easy, hideously bold


The reason why our blog is up and running is because we’ve found unfathomable amounts of motivation to start preparing for another big project together. Something more than we think we really can chew and definitely an adventure that’s going to cause some pain and suffering. Wide Boyz IIII “The quadrilogy” (is that even a word?? it is now!) might just be kicking off in a dingy cellar in Sheffield very soon…

First there was “Wide”, where we went for a mega first ascent on Century Crack, second and third we went for “Gruelling” with difficult repeats and endurance challenges. Now, we’ve gone full circle and are heading back to our roots and one of the reasons we started climbing together. First ascent projects! Places where no other climber has dared jam their fist before. Or something like that?

Wide Boyz I
Randall riding a wide pony (c) Crusher Bartlett
Wide Boyz II
Pete taming the Cobra (c) Hotaches
Wide Boyz III
Endurance based challenges in ridiculous outfits

First ascents are what inspire us both the most, as doing them at the cutting edge of any discipline makes the climbing all the more challenging, adventurous and difficult. Add into the equation trying to break levels of difficulty that we’re not sure are very doable and you get a whole new experience.


Stage one, the credit card has been out and the first USA trip is booked. Stage two, release the power tools in The Crack Cellar and garden. Stage three, don’t have a Randall/Whittaker navigational shambles. Stage four is unknown.

Randall with his tape job and building equipment

Sunday, 16 November 2014

El Capitan Free - Number Three

So after two months of sleeping in the dust in Camp 4, Tom and I have got back to normality. Work in the trees starts again on Monday and I know Tom has lots of jobs in the diary. It got hard towards the end of the trip, I guess when you’re on the wall (El Capitan) for 45% of two months it’s going to be. There is only so much Top Ramen and tinned Tuna you can consume.

Anyway, after some resting days midway through the trip (which in the end, turned out to be not resting at all, just effectively not climbing on El Cap), we decided it was time for one last push, one last free attempt on The Captain. We had gone to The Valley with a goal of wanting to free 3-4 big walls and attempt to flash one of them. I guess quite a big undertaking for someone who hadn’t climbed a Wall and someone who hadn’t freed a Wall, but Tom and I always come up with seemingly ridiculous goals and just throw ourselves at them with full force.

The route that was going to be most realistic this late on in the trip was Golden Gate. We’d climbed the bottom section before on Freerider, a few of the top pitches as well on Corazon, so it only left the middle half of the route unseen.
The Big Wall packing and preparation actually went pretty smoothly and we seemed to have learnt a lot throughout the trip about how we were going to approach different situations. The main thing that was going to be the biggest factor was fatigue. As soon as we started on the easy approach of Freeblast I could tell I was tired. We were both tired. It wasn’t ‘oh my forearms are achey’ or ‘my shoulders are tightening up’ or even a deep tired body ache. It was just general fatigue from an accumulation of climbing and living on the wall continuously for the last (nearly) two months. Just generally feeling slugglish. I knew from the beginning, (even though we’d covered a lot of the pitches before), it was going to be very challenging.

After Freeblast, Tom decided that he wasn’t going to try and free Golden Gate. I think the trip and exposure of being on the wall for so long had built up gradually and was starting to affect his climbing a little, and so he decided to pass the free climbing baton to me and do all he could to help me get up there. It was absolutely mega that he still wanted to come up the wall with me as we could have easily called it a day there and then.

After day one to El Cap Spire, I generally just felt exhausted. The climbing seemed to actually go better up to this point then it had on Freerider, but overall everything seemed like it was taking its toll. I had deep tired aches running through my legs and all I felt like doing was lying down and falling asleep, and it was only 5 o clock! It was a little worrying that I felt that wasted as day two was where the crux lay.

Dawning on day 2, I jugged to my highpoint above the Spire and set off on a notoriously tricky 5.12c downmantle pitch.

5.12c downmantle, not going well!!

Falling again, and again, and again I just couldn’t do the pitch. The sun had come round and spoilt the holds, yet I kept trying and not surprisingly, kept falling. Massive amounts of frustration kicked in as it had gone midday and I still had another 8 pitches after this (including the crux pitch) to get to our next bivvy (no portaledge). After ringing 2 Brits and texting 1 for beta, none of which were very useful on the beta front, but all very encouraging phone calls (thanks J ), I finally realised I was doing the sequence wrong, what a massive waste of time! Having very sore skin and tired legs from down pressing over 50 times previously, I somehow managed to fall my way down the two mantles and over onto the belay ledge below. I was very relieved  I didn’t have to resort to tactic two which would have been, just launch myself ‘Czech Tower Jumping’ style over onto the ledge below and right.

Day 3 started 8 pitches behind schedule, but I seemed to wake a little fresher after having a half day rest the previous day. Pitches seemed to fall effortlessly today and I even managed ‘The Move’ pitch, the crux of the route, first redpoint.
I mantled out onto our bivvy ledge with 45minutes of light left and was depressingly disappointed at how it looked. Having walked across ‘Tower of the People’ on El Corazon I remembered it being a lot flatter then it currently looked.
After a lot of jigging around we finally got a system sorted that stopped us rolling off the edge of the ledge and helped us get 20 minute bursts of sleep without waking up.

Working 'The (big) Move' pitch.

Day 4, The last day, only 7 pitches to flat land, I knew I could do these pitches, it was just whether my body would let me. Only 2 13a’s were what stopped me. On Corazon these pitches had left me with no trouble whatsoever, however today was completely different. After falling off the ‘Golden Desert’ pitch I felt like a goner. Mustering up some energy for my second attempt, I scraped through the crux section by the skin of my teeth and completely boxed out my mind got every inch of rubber and skin in contact with the wall to get me to the belay. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it was from the first time. Almost a different pitch entirely. The A5 went without any problems and I proceeded to jibber my way to the top of El Cap getting very pumped on every remaining pitch.

I finally hauled my aching body over the top, and with great relief gave myself a little smile and told myself ‘I’ve got to be happy with that’.

All free routes were great and totally different experiences, The first being a technical learning curve, with big wall systems and logistics
The second being, self pressured at not wanted to fall on a pitch
And the third being massively hard work from doing the other two and having to grind it out and break it down.

East Ledge decent, gunning for the village store and an 'It's It'.


Tom was an absolute hero on Golden Gate, helping me get up it, bringing out the bad jokes and supplying great big wall fancy dress. No way could I have done this one without him, so thanks very much J

Big Wall Banana on Tower of the People



Also nice one, Dan, Reeve, Petter, Stefan, James, Caff, Calum and Hazel for knowledge on the routes, all a fantastic help, cheers J

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Beards, Bagels and Big Walls

One of the odd things about big wall climbing is that standards seem to lag behind other parts of climbing - whilst P Robz is out there cranking out V14s on the boulders and Ondra on the 9b’s, the big wall free climbers are still getting stuck into 8a - 8b at the cutting edge. Tommy Caldwell and K Jorg being the exception of course…. It would seem that standards should be broadly in line across all styles, but even in the access friendly mecca of Yosemite, this does’t seem to be the case.

Likewise the onsight / flash standards have lagged on the big walls. The biggest surprise to many might be that El Capitan has still never had a pure onsight of any of it’s free routes, despite the grades rarely going over 8b on the hardest pitches. So why is this? Is it the cumulative effect of tiredness? The diversity of climbing styles? The skin condition issues of 5 days of continuous climbing?

Well, this week Pete and I set off to find out the truth. Could it really be that hard to climb 32 pitches of granite first go, on the mega classic line of Freerider? 

The Route

Freerider was first established by the Huber brothers in 1998 and essentially forms an “easy version” of Salathe on the left side of El Capitan. It’s characterised by a lower slab half which follows blank sections that join up major crack systems that are often quite wide - including the infamous hollow flake. Nothing in the bottom half of the route goes beyond tricky E4, although it’s well know for being hard to onsight every single pitch even for the easy part. Above the midway point the wall steepens up and heads towards the overhanging Salathe headwall via offwidths, corners and more hard face climbing up to E6 (or 7c). Pete and I planned to attempt the route from the ground over 3 days, having saved every pitch as unseen, but we’d begged every friend we knew to give us good beta for the route! Despite our previous mistakes on El Corazon, we adopted many of the same tactics in the vain hope that somehow second time round we might not have as many hiccups! 

Better preparation = better climbing?
Day 1
At 4 in the morning we set up the first section of the route, a ten pitch climb known as Freeblast and popular just to do by itself.

The first hurdle of this section comes at around pitch 5 where the cracks thin out and you reach some delicate face climbing. I think we were both quite nervous not to blow the onsight attempt this early on, and we both hesitated a little at the crux until finally gibbering our way across the mini traverse and rocking out onto better holds.

The next crux came not from the climbing, but from a bowel problem from Randall. We decided to link some pitches up and go Irish mega pitch style, halfway through the 80m pitch Tom had serious issues trying to get into the half dollar corner whilst not pooping himself. After an emergency restroom stop things eased in the climbing (and down below) and we found ourselves having done the Freeblast, the long down climb and on heart ledges before lunch time. What a great start.

A couple of parties had snuck ahead of us up the fixed lines and it seemed one party was having trouble with the notorious hollow flake. Two hours later we still hadn’t moved from Heart Ledges and realised we weren’t going to make it to our bivvy spot in the Alcove before dark. If we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of on sighting the route, we rationalised that climbing in the dark wouldn’t be that good, because although Freerider follows big ledge systems, anyone who knows me and Tom will know we are notorious at getting lost. We decided to descend from Heart Ledges and come back extra early the following morning to get ahead of the crowds and stick to our schedule.

Day 1 Again

It seems to have become a habit not quite getting off on the right foot on these routes, but nevertheless we started “Day 1 Version 2” from where we left off at Heart Ledges. The first hurdle on this part of the route comes at the Hollow Flake where you always hear rumours of huge run outs, death potential and hideous offwidths. What they don’t tell you about though, is the horrendous 30m down climb of a 5.11d that you have to do….. down climbing….. we didn’t sign up for this! Both Pete and I suffered a bit on this pitch. We’re not the biggest fans of layback down climbing. 

A few pitches above I had to tackle what was to become one of the hardest pitches on the route. The 5.7 chimney. Yes 5.7 is the UK equivalent to VS. To cut a long and painful story short, I made a total hash of this pitch and ended up stuck in the back of a squeeze chimney swearing my head off and thrashing a good part of my knee skin off for 45mins, whilst everyone on the ledge below laughed at me! It was a really good grounding experience and reminded me that despite all the crack climbing that I’ve done, I can still be brought to my knees by an innocuous pitch. 

The last pitch of the day to land us at our night spot was in stark contrast to a 5.7 chimney: the Monster Offwidth! More body grinding, big cams and suffering. Fortunately, this huge wide crack has a big reputation which kind of prepares you for the misery above. It was actually very interesting for Pete and I to do this pitch as we’ve done a lot of offwidths over the years and we were keen to know how the apparent “5.11a grade” would fit in with the world offwidths. Suffice to say we topped out the pitch impressed with its difficulty and thought that compared to many others around the globe it was a good solid E6 pitch. A good friend of ours, Andy Reeve (see pic below) had wrestled the monster a week before and made a herculean effort to try and remove his own arm. Anyone who climbs this pitch without a long wide crack apprenticeship gets serious respect from me. It’s very beefy. 

Reeve still smiling despite having been through major surgery on The Monster. 

Day 2 
We had planned to only climb 6 pitches on this day as 4 pitches above us was where the crux of the route was.

At this point the route has two variations, which is either ‘The Teflon Corner’ at 7c, or ‘The Huber Variation’ at 7c+. As we’d been given beta for The Huber Variation we decided to go for this one. I narrowly missed flashing the problem falling from the last move after not spotting a crucial hold. I was really annoyed as I felt as though i could have done it. I made a quick redpoint to make sure I still had a ‘safe tick’ of the route on the cards. The holds are quite thin on this pitch and as it got warmer Tom couldn’t quite claw his way up in the increasing heat.

We decided to ab back down and have ago on the Teflon Corner. The corner is a much different proposition and instead of using finger tip skin it uses palm skin, instead of edges its smears. I really wanted to make up for my mistake on The Huber Variation and make sure I did this pitch first go. We didn’t have any beta for this pitch but I knew it was my style of climbing, so I just went for it with a really positive approach and before I knew it I’d smeared and palmed my way to the top of the pitch without falling! I couldn’t believe it, maybe a Flash ascent of El Capitan was still on! Tom put his best Flash effort, unfortunately narrowly missing out and slipping out the slippery bugger. it was starting to get late, so we decided to have a rest, bivvy it out and let Tom complete pitch early the next morning.

Day 3

Having fallen off the teflon corner more times that you’d think was feasibly possible, I went down the next morning with sore palms, but with a bit more confidence that the cooler morning temps would help on the insecure smearing. I think what marked this pitch out, wasn’t my multitude of falls, but the fact that Pete did this first go - I couldn’t believe his performance after I’d been on it for just 15 minutes. Such a good effort to not make a single mistake. Whilst the climbing isn’t strength dependent, the moves are so weird. It’s all body tension, insecurity and butt clenchingly desperate. Think The Quarryman groove, but shorter and made of granite! After an hour of effort that morning I somehow seemed to piece the climbing together and produced a couple of nice blisters on my palms.

Knowing that we had the hardest pitch of climbing behind us, I think the tension eased off for me, but for Pete I’m pretty sure it ramped up. He still had “the flash” in hand, but now there was 10+ pitches of up to E6 above that no silly mistakes could be made on. As I sat on the belay some time that morning, I really pondered Pete’s dilemma… it’s not that hard on paper, but how do you keep it together over so many different climbing styles and on back to back climbing days? 

The question to that one, has to be answered in what was the highlight of the day for me - watching Pete lead the second “Enduro Corner”, a reasonably graded 5.12b. We’d heard rumours that it was a proper sandbag and looking up at the line you could see few big holds and even fewer footholds. Essentially, it was a 15m power layback on rounded holds…. did I mention that we both hate laybacks?!  As Pete steadily made progress upwards he reached a point where I could see he’d got pretty pumped and his feet kept twitching nervously on the holds. 

Fuck. This can’t be….. there’s no way he can mess this up after everything below. Come on…. just grin and bear it….

Almost as if Pete had heard my thoughts, he got “the face” out that I rarely see. It’s the one where he looks like he’s going to chew his own chin off and his face wrinkles up in shear determination. I always love this moment (I bet Pete doesn’t!) as I know some seriously grim effort is about to be shown. With everything he had, he crimped it up, got the beefcake out and gunned it to the top of the pitch looking at a huge fall if he fell before the belay. 

YESSSS!!! Thank God for that. I can relax for 10 minutes now. Until the next pitch…..

As I lead off on the 5.12 traverse afterwards I kind of knew that he had the route in the bag now as no one had said anything too worrying about the pitches above. I mostly started to look forward to a night spent on a 2ft wide ledge trying to work out how to cook, sleep and not touch Pete’s toxic feet. 

Ledge Life

Top Out Day

After the previous day all the 5.12 and 5.11 pitches were done, so I was able to relax a little. However after climbing in Yosemite for a month now I’ve come to realise not to take any grade that seriously. I seem to have done 5.8s which have been harder then some 5.11c’s. I knew just to be relaxed and that the last few 5.10 pitches would be in my capability.

A few hours later both Tom and i had topped out. Tom had managed to free his second big wall on El Cap and somehow I’d managed to climb the whole of Freerider without taking a fall. Firstly I actually couldn’t believe we’d both managed to free another wall in such a short period of time and secondly I couldn’t believe I’d got up this thing in a push first try.

We had had it as a goal to try and flash Freerider before coming out to the States as we knew it may not have been done before. We saved the whole route so we were able to do this, which is why we did the Pre Muir - Corazon link at the start of the trip. Another great big walling experience, maybe not quite so much a Randall/Whittker shambles this time…..hmmmmm i’m not so sure, there were definitely some moments. massive thanks to Randall for climbing it with me.

Big Wall Flasher!
Big Wall Flashing

Pete’s effort on Freerider has to be one of my favourite climbing experiences because I got to see the culmination of 15 yrs of effort in learning a craft come to fruition. Everything he’s learnt on the gritstone edges, slate slabs, on offwidths with me and in cracks all over the world came to together in one 3000ft face. It’s not often you get to be there in the action observing a little bit of history and also not that often that when you’ve done it, you bump into Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen at the top to talk to them about it! 

Kevin wearing the beard "California Style"

For me the best flash efforts on a number of different routes (as far as I know) have to be:

Cedric Lachat’s Freerider attempt (very similar style to Pete)
Ueli Steck on Golden Gate (1 fall)
Leo and Patch on El Nino (2 or 3 falls?)
Yuji on Salathe (4 falls)

For anyone who’s wondering if big wall free climbing is possible for them, then I encourage you to give it a little try - you might just surprise yourself. We now have a generation of Brits from short 20m crags who are making amazing efforts and people like Dan McManus, James McHaffie, Hazel Findlay, Calum Muskett and Andy Reeve are a constant inspiration in rewards of hard work and determination.