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This blog is about two climbers who are searching out the widest, dirtiest and hardest offwidths that this planet has to offer. The journeys, the training, the routes and the failures - no holds barred. It's not about the grade, it's about the experience and when it comes to The Wide the experience is the same for everyone!

Wide Boyz Blog

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. 



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pre Muir-El Corazon: The Heart of El Capitan

When we first thought of coming out on a trip to Yosemite to climb big walls, it seemed pretty simple. You get good at climbing (well, we can do the crack parts quite well…), book some plane tickets, fill a haul bag with food and water and then plod your way to the top in style. That’s what we thought anyway…

By day 2, we realised that neither of us really knew what was going on. Our rope ascending system was stolen from indoor route setting (it didn’t work) our pendulums were cribbed from Hans Florine’s videos (we misunderstood the concept) and it’s a flaming nightmare to manage three ropes at a belay station. Despite these obvious issues we decided to pitch in with our first big wall free effort on not necessarily the easiest pathway - failure is a little more respected if you sucked at doing something hard right…??! 

Beards always make everything better. No gnomes were hurt in this process.

With some slightly flawed logic we decided in the first week of our trip to Yosemite to try a link up of Pre-Muir into El Corazon (mainly as we wanted Freerider to remain unclimbed by either of us). The two routes actually go quite well together as they follow a vertical line, the difficulty is sustained throughout (5.13 pitches starting at pitch 6 and the last 5.13 being at pitch 29) and both routes we had some beta for. After preparing parts of the route from the bottom and also from the top, we climbed Pre Muir in a oner and came down fixed ropes for a rest and more preparation. 

When we finally set off, we’d tried to give ourselves as much advantage as possible, with only the middle chunk of the route from pitch 18 to 27 unseen. We rationalised that these contained just 1 x 5.13 & 4 x 5.12. What could go wrong?!

DAY 1

Ok well day 1 wasn’t actually day one. We realised we’d left our lead rope, rack, hauling device and haul line at the top of our fixed ropes. Oh crap. What an idiotic start. How did we manage to do that? Pete had to jumar up and sort everything out. 

“Real Day 1”

Our first pitches of climbing after the fixed ropes to the top of Pre Muir went relatively well. Pete climbed his 5.10 with style, I fell off my 5.11 pitch and we then preceded to get the haul bags stuck on nearly every pitch. But…. we made upward progress….. Which dumped us finally at the last bit of climbing on day 1 - The Beak Flake 5.13b. In 30 deg C temps Pete somehow clawed his way up the thin flake and still didn’t fall off the redpoint crux when a hold started to break. I shouted encouragement in a hoarse voice flinching at the thought of now having to second. Unfortunately I seemed to suffer some high gravity effects in the following hour and resigned myself to try to follow the pitch the next morning when it didn’t feel like crimping the inside edges of a warm Sunday roast tray. 

Pete cruising the world's easiest 5.13a


DAY 2
The next morning when temperatures were slightly lower then the previous evening, Tom set off on his ascent of Beak Flake. He managed to overcome the powerful bouldery start and cruised through the mid crux which he’d previously slipped on the evening before, a great start to the day and we’d both managed to free the first crux of the route, we’d overcome the first hurdle (of what was to become many). After some steady lay backing the route turns into a three pitch traverse. I was confident with the climbing on these pitches as they seemed to be British sea cliff style, a bit bold, loose and scary. What I wasn’t so confident with was that fact we somehow had to get our haul bags horizontally three pitches to the left. A week previous  we’d read a chapter in a big walling book about lower outs and asked some crazy locals the best techniques to go about it…Two pitches later, it was dark.

Pete in trouble. Again.

DAY 3

This day started a little bit like it ended: with some struggling, sweating and a lot of jibbering. The first pitch of the morning was “Bobby’s Bunny Slope” and I was truly happy that Pete had taken the hit and said he’d lead the pitch (I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it) as it had the reputation of being hard and bold. Possibly a bit disappointingly for me, most of the action on this pitch came when Pete was round the corner out of sight and within a few moves of the belay: I knew he was on hard ground.

“Watch me Tom…. oh God. Watch me”

I braced both hands on the rope, with my armpits pouring sweat.

“Ok….. nearly off. It’s nearly over…. I’m not sure…..”

With plenty of stylish grunting and cut loose moves on the slab (how do you do that again, Pete??!) he kind of fell through the crux and put the biggest and hardest pitch of the day to bed. Thank goodness. And thank goodness that my seconding was afforded a nice side rope / top rope for most of the moves as I crept over the small smears and ripples. 

We had now landed at the base of a massive corner system that lead up to the big 5.13 roof pitch above. We felt so relaxed knowing it was just some 5.10-5.12 corner climbing to round off the day. Rather amusingly, the first pitch after the bold hard one was a 5.10 offwidth and one that I quickly realised we had no wide gear for (left in the tent) and was a pitch full of massive loose flakes. Fridge to car sized flakes. I huffed and puffed my way round the pitch moaning about everything under the sun until eventually I found one semi-solid piece of protection. As I moved away from it though, I nudged a huge flake with my knee and it started to peel away from the wall.

Noooooo…. not now….. It stopped. It paused for a second as smaller rocks tumbled into place behind it. I glanced down at the parties 1000ft below us on ledges unaware of the danger above and at Pete on the belay below. At this point I pretty much lost all my remaining cool and climbed back to the belay to dejectedly hand the end of the rope to Pete. I’d broken mentally and I knew it. All rested now on Pete’s shoulders. Over the next hour, that boy basically rescued our attempt on the route - it was possibly doomed at that point - and equalised dodgy gear, did super-bold moves and shook his head a lot in annoyance at having to risk so much for a stupid 5.10. What a day! And somewhat of a relief to be unhurt or to have not hurt anyone else.  

DAY 4
we’d reached the real crux of the route now. With sore skin, inefficient hauling and tired muscles we knew this was where the route was going to really kick in. 4 consecutive 5.13 pitches are what lay ahead, all with different styles and techniques. As we were behind schedule we woke up early, totted up the water and food situation and came to the conclusion two of the four 5.13s needed to be freed today. Coffee Corner is the first. Some flared jamming followed by some bridging weirdness  is what the pitch entails. Somehow I managed to squirm, bridge, jam and twist my way up the thing on my first go, making a great start to the day. an hour later Tom had followed and we were onto the crux pitch of the route…The Roof Traverse.
We had spent an hour each working this pitch a few days prior to our attempt on El Corazon, so we had a vague sequence and idea what it was all about. In reality I think it suits mine and Tom’s climbing style quite well in that you get to use a foot in the roof like a hand. Kind of in a similar way to offwidthing. However, instead of using bomber stacks or jams, you have some horrendous slopers to grapple with.

Tom’s ascent of this pitch was very inspiring, I could see how sore his skin was looking and he seemed to be looking quite tired and murmured a number of times how he thought he wouldn’t be able to do this pitch today. I had confidence in him and after the incidents we’d overcome lower on the route, told him it wasn’t an option to be climbing out empty handed.
After fighting through the crux you arrive at a resting point right at the end of the traverse. The next section is easier but also easy to mess up. It seemed like Tom had over gripped a little at the start of this section and when the foot holds got bad and the hand holds got sweaty (as he entered the 25 degree sun) I could see his body sagging backwards and his biceps uncurling. I really thought he might be off and if that was the case the next few days of supplies could have been interesting, it really seemed like this was his one chance. However with grit, determination (and power screaming) that I have seen so much of over the years from Tom, he sucked it back in and managed not to fall (from the massive juggy undercut he was holding… ;) ) I was so pleased we’d both managed it, it made a great end to a tiring day. Now, we knew the route must be on.

Comfy nights and warm snuggling. 69 of course. 


DAY 5

Last days on big walls I always think are the best. You know the vertical desert is reaching its borders, you only have a limited time left and you get some of the very best featured rock on El Capitan. 

One of these features has to be the Razorblade Flake. It’s a 250ft pancake thin flake that slices through the headwall above the heart. Every hold is a jug, but almost every foothold is a smear. You layback to glory for what seems like miles and miles on a really thin piece of rock, but the risk is put to the back of your mind as the climbing and the position are sensational. For once, even I forgot about the exposure and the heights, it was just so much fun. 

By 6pm, we’d both pulled over the lip of El Cap feeling like we’d been on the wall for 2 weeks. So much had happened and we had had a month’s worth of climbing experiences all shoved into 3000ft of rock. Best of all though, I’d got to climb the route with another person who’d never freed El Cap and we shared the joint satisfaction of having realised a long held dream. 

Big Wall Beards. McBlackeye on the left, Neptune's Tool on the right. 


Big Wall Disaster Merchants: Does it work?

That is the question… and in a word, Yes.

Both Tom and I went up having never done any big wall free climbing. Me never having done more then 10 or so pitches in a day and having hauled once for 20ft on a gritstone edge back in Sheffield.You have to start somewhere though. 
It seemed to be on this multiday big wall that it wasn’t necessarily the climbing that was the hardest part, it was a cumulation of everything stacked on top of one another that made it difficult. whether that be, hauling, sorting out rope tangles, setting up portaledges, climbing hard pitches, being run out and scared, freeing haul bags, jumaring, etc etc, it all adds up and that’s the hard part. Can anybody do it? of course they can! mine and Tom’s local crags aren’t even the size of pitch one, but with a bit of motivation, determination and the will not to give up, even us as single pitch punters can climb (free) to the top.

And never, never again will I feel disgusted when my bum touches the rim of grim public porcelain after having a hanging poo in a bag, next to Randall, and have to carry it around with my super noodles for the next few days.


I feel privileged to have my feet back on the ground :)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Wide Boyz 2 Film Download


Well, that was an exciting weekend! Just a few days ago was the premiere of Wideboyz II at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. Unlike the viewing of the first film of Century Crack, I got to have a sneak peak of the unfinished product and I have to say it made the night feel quite a bit calmer.



Cobra Crack (c) Paul Diffley, Hotaches

I remember sitting in a Kendal cinema 2 years ago for Wideboyz I and absolutely crapping my pants. I’d never been in a climbing film before, let alone one that had my face plastered all over it. This time, knowing that Chris Prescott and Paul Diffley from Hotaches had made an amazing job was reassuring to say the least. I know it seems a foregone conclusion, but when your year’s climbing efforts are in the spotlight it’s not quite so easy to be casual about. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, but then again, I’m only human!
So far the production has won Best Climbing Film already at ShAFF which is ace and John Coefield has written a very complimentary review on UKC here. As ever Pete and I will be doing a Europe-wide lecture tour to support the film, so please do give us a shout if you’re keen to see and hear about Pete’s sausage fingers, my nude top rope of Cobra or how you train for 8c on a 8ft wooden crack….

Much like Wideboyz I, the film is available to download directly here and all you need to do is click on this link. It’ll take you straight to the download page where you can access it direct to your computer. Simple eh?!



Finally……………….
As an extra something in case you’re not into all the crack climbing – I mean, who is…? – then here’s a short video made by Guy Van Greuning about the recent first ascent of Pure Now E9 6c. Hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Taming The Cobra

For the last 3 weeks, we have been out in Squamish trying to fulfill yet another madcap mission: to climb Cobra Crack. Why would two guys from a country that barely has a crack above the standard of 5.12 / 7a+ want to take on such a ridiculous goal? Surely, we would be best off sticking to what Brits do best? Vertical crimping filth, bouldering eliminates and drinking. Well, we both completely suck at all of those as well, so back to plan A!

There's a method behind the madness you see. Some of the best opportunities in life are taken when the crowd are looking the other way. When people think there's not room for movement - "crack climbing is dead, every hold is a rest" - then if you look a little deeper, you'll see there's a whole other world out there waiting to be explored. I suppose we did some of that with the offwidth climbing and now after a year of thin cracks we've seen the other end of the possibilities too.

So where does this leave us, three weeks into a three-and-half week long trip? Was our training any good? Did The Cobra live up to expectations and did the Squamish Weather Gods smile down on us?

1. I think so.
2. Oh yes.
3. We are forever in your debt.

The training

Pete and I were discussing this the other day. When we'd first arrived to try the route, we had some serious doubts about our methods from home as the climbing on the route is actually quite varied - no move is quite like the previous and so not quite as trainable. However, as we learnt the nuances of each lock then quickly the training effects came through. Underneath it all though, we knew we were nothing like as fit or prepared as we had been for Century Crack and I suppose we both had our doubts that we'd come ready. Even though our training link ups had been around 8c, it was hard believe this was enough when the reality of Cobra, the route itself, hit. That route is spicy!
The Crackar Ladder

The legend of The Cobra

As both our experiences of the route and final success on it was quite different, we'll both give you a flavour of what we felt. A personal perspective...

PETE: Before coming out to Squamish I had all the doubts of 'am I going to be good enough,' 'have I trained correctly' and 'am I climbing well enough'. Basically all those questions that an 8b+ sport climber would ask themselves when they go to try an 8c trad route half way round the world with a time limit of 3 weeks...hmmmm

The roll call of names topping out this route are pretty overwhelming. All names at the top of the sport climbing and trad climbing game; Trotter, Favresse, Pringle, Honnold, Yuji, to name a few. How could 'Whittaker' do this? Well, I'm not entirely sure, but somehow I did. Something must have been working in the biceps for once and it just goes to show a lot of effort can take you a little way.
(c) Tideline to Alpine Media

The route in the end didn't turn out to be as epic as I first thought. Through every session I was always learning the subtleties of the jams, the positions and movement between them and how to manage the skin to make sure the next session I was fresh. Every session you have, the route gets increasingly easier and really the secret is getting the time on it. Every redpoint I got higher, until I eventually eliminated all mistakes and the route felt easy to climb and felt great. It's strange seeing a high profile route in films, on the internet and in magazines and then eventually getting to climb on it and then actually managing the flipping thing. This is a route for Wads, however i'm not a Wad...weird feeling.

TOM: In contrast to Pete, I had very different feelings before I came out. Mine were more like I feel like a champ and how can training this hard be worthless and I feel the strongest I've ever felt in my life. At the time I had a niggling thought that kept reminding me that being too confident is almost the perfect recipe for falling flat on your face!

That is almost exactly what I started to do. After our initial week of working on the route and learning the moves I felt ok, but a little uncertain about the feeling of the redpoint burn - I'd just been putting together sequences of just 20ft at a time and not trying the route from bottom to top. My first few redpoints started to really highlight this. Time and time again, I would hit this one move just before setting up for the crux and wobble like the jellyman. My arms would melt away and I'd slump uselessly onto the rope. For quite a few days I repeated this process. Time passed, I got dejected, Pete ticked the route and the cameras around me waited expectantly. Each evening I found myself working up into an ever greater stew about the whole affair and frustrated that just one move could stop me doing this route. A move that I'd never even heard of anyone else finding difficult!

Working out the top crux early days

In the end, it was the combination of a few factors that lead to a breakthrough. I took the finger tape protecting my skin off of one finger, I listened to some sports hypnosis videos and I accepted that the route wasn't going to happen on this trip. Suddenly, on my last day I was feeling like I never imagined I would. Light, strong and well trained. In just a few magical moments, I was through the crucial move and into the crux which I completed in a bit of a daze. I'd ripped a massive hole in my finger and hopefully kept my belayer's faith that the "old man" has some life in him yet....

The mono undercut culprit
Thin vs Wide

One of the very popular topics of conversation that occurred between Pete and I in the year's build up to this trip was how Cobra would compare to Century. Would they match in difficulty? How would two fitness based offwidthers fare on the power hungry Cobra? Obviously, we put a lot of thought into our route into America, but it was always based on other offwidths as we had a limited pedigree of other hard crack sizes to compare to.

Walking away from Cobra after this trip, I think we've been left with the following (entirely subjective!) opinions:

1. Century Crack is certainly a step above Cobra in terms of difficulty.
2. You can be a good sport climber and could quickly transfer this to Cobra as it's a route that climbs very "sportily" but it would be very unlikely to do the same with Century. We think you'd probably have to dedicate set specific training time for this route.
3. There's a big margin for improvement of crack grades still - surely we are on the cusp of new levels over the coming years?

Forget the Beastmaker, get on the Earlmakers!


Thanks

We also wanted to say a massive thank you to all the people that have supported us on this trip and mission - Wild Country, Rab, Patagonia, Five Ten, Sterling Ropes, Climb On - you've been the business!

Also, whilst out here in Squamish the local climbing scene has been brilliant. Everyone has been so kind to us with lodging, beta, stories, people coming up to the Cobra to shout encouragement (you know who you are!), drinks out, parties in and lots of good vibes. Why does it have to be on the other side of the Atlantic?!

Finally, good effort to the Hotaches, Savage Films and RV Project crew for sitting in a tree for 3 weeks watching the childish antics of me and Pete. I know it can't have been easy listening to our terrible American accents and seeing Pete's lycra-clad legs and lunchbox.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Cobra Bites Back Today

week 2: The progress so far

After a a period of reflection brought on by excessive rainfall and British style weather, we've come to the conclusion that Cobra Crack is not a 'if' but 'when.' Unfortunately the 'when' part could be very interesting as we only have 9 days left and right now we're staring at weather reports that predict 5-7 days of rain. Is this the Curse of the Cobra striking into the heart of a European crack obsessive yet again?

Everyone seems to be leaving Squamish at the moment and offering us chances to climb in warmer and drier climates at incredible destinations. We have to sit it out though, denying ourselves any chance of enjoyment or satisfaction. Our monastic dedication is reflected in our waiting for that Brit style window of perfect conditions to capitalise on. It's all or nothing. Cobra or no bra.

Wide Boyz Slacking Off in Squamish from Hot Aches Productions on Vimeo.

In the UK we are used to our miserable conditions; dank dark winters and scoping out that couple of hours of prime friction when the temperatures drop and the wind comes in. Just before that next lethal downpour, everything is perfect and topping out just as the first few 'spit spots' hit the rock is paradise.
It all seems very optimistic to take this approach on the other side of the Atlantic, as we could easily go and tick some classics in another area. Instead, we keep our fingers crossed having both now come tantalisingly close to success.

So how is it leading the route?

It's probably easier then trying to top rope it and way more fun. The rope above you doesn't get in the way whilst trying to get your feet above your head, the gear is quick to place and you get to take big whippers!

Pete using the Faveresse Heal



Most of the gear is in comfortable positions to place, with just one piece placed on the headwall. Being British we ditched the usual tactic of placing friends on the headwall, got the wires out and have gone for one bomber nut, which takes about 5 seconds to place. This is useful, because we're weak and we can't be hanging around up there! We've gone 'fast and light' Ueli style (again) only using 3 pieces for the top 25m of climbing.

Tom placing the solitary nut on the headwall


Each are having there own dilemmas on the the lead. Tom has an issue with one move no one else has ever had an issue with, which is strange. In the last session though, it started to get better and he was able to start execute the move - once this is done, the route will surely be in the bag! Pete has been gradually getting higher higher on each redpoint with the last go getting right up there falling just past the famous Faveresse foot above the head beta. So things are getting very close, but currently 'no cigar'.

If you'd said two days ago that in the last 9 days we would get two days of good conditions, I think we would have both written the route off. Now with the rain set in, two days would be a luxury. Please bring us two good days of conditions Squamish Weather Gods, we are very close now.