Wide Boyz Blog

Monday, 31 October 2011

Blocktop and Army

A few days ago me and Tom had our first tower experience with desert tower expert Crusher. The route on the agenda was ‘Blocktop’. It was a tower that Crusher had never done before so I think he was psyched to get another summit and the only (sensible) way up there was via some offwidth and squeeze chimney, so he was happy to send us up first. The route turned out to be about 5.11a, (or two pitches of E3) with some classic Llyn Peninsula choss at the top! I apologise for knocking some loose rocks down on Crusher as he then dropped his climbing shoe 300ft down the offwidth. Anyway I was pretty pleased to be able to get to do a tower and the whole experience was really enjoyable - apart from maybe the 350ft jug back out from the tower.

"Don't fall off" Checking out Blocktop
The White Rim view from Blocktop

After some tower climbing with Crusher we were ready to head back down to the White Rim, with Peewee, to battle against some more roof cracks. However that wasn’t possible until we’d retrieved our lost tent, which had blown away half a mile down the road from our campsite. With a little gaffer tape, it was as good as new.

Brit/Canadian (French?) team

The main objective for me and Tom down on The Rim was to make the 2nd ascent of ‘Army of Darkness’ 5.13d. The last time we went down to the White Rim we spent half a day just working out all the moves, but this time we were ready for some linkage.

Because ‘Army’ required some thin tape jobs, Peewee sat us down for a lesson in his extraordinary Canadian tape technique. The resulting thin hands masterpiece, with super glue and finger straps, would be enough for people to pay good money to see. The precision and technique used just to tape up was quite something - but don’t worry Peewee, the secret’s safe with me. After the schooling we gave it ago, but Tom’s started peeling round the edges before he even made it to the first jam and my wrist loop went baggy and ripped on the first sinker hand jam. After some readjustments they stayed on a little better. Ahhhh...nothing better than a Brit tape job.

Tom repairing his dodgy tape job

Tom was first up on ‘Army’ and cruised in fine style to top out on his first redpoint attempt of the route, for the second ascent. He said he forgot a load of the sequences and “fudged it,” which in retrospect I would agree with on the start section which he absolutely puntered his foot sequence. Overall though, it looked smooth as a criminal from the belay pit. I was up next and made it on my first redpoint aswell for the 3rd ascent.

Pete resting in the double kneebar on 'Army of Darkness'
(c) Alex Ekins 

I reckon ‘Army of Darkness’ was one of the best repeats we have done this trip. The quality of the moves were excellent and required a good variety of crack skills from fingers, hands, wide pony and smoke in the eyes. Despite the success in ticking, the route wasn’t without a few minor mishaps, (I blame Peewee there, because nothing ever goes wrong when me and Tom climb together...) with Tom decking out whilst working the route and both Tom and Peewee each got on Angry Pirate in the eye - classic!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Project Time In The Desert

Things have really slowed down in the last week – the frantic pace of trying to tick off all the hard routes has abated to a somewhat normal speed of living. We can actually enjoy a breakfast without the thought of throwing it up 3 hours later in the midst of some kind of “Pirate Topedo” move. As nearly all of the main objectives of the trip have been achieved, we’ve been able to spend a little more time searching for first ascent projects and trying a few things that aren’t necessarily what we came here for (read “pleasant/enjoyable climbing”).

Pete doing some enjoyable climbing on 'Army of Darkness' 5.13d

Indian Creek Projects...
Pete had been told of a couple of offwidth projects near to Price of Evil and so straight after ticking PoE we had a look around. Unfortunately, one was not quite a hard as we were expecting (too much bridging possible) and the other the kind of offwidth you’d find at Nesscliffe – a sandy nightmare?! This isn’t to say Pete and I aren’t into sub-standard lines (you only have to look at our Curbar new routes... urgh) it’s more that if you come to the paradise of Indian Creek then it’s only proper to put up something worthy I think.

The next day we went over to Pamela Pack’s “Event Horizon” – I think it’s either 5.13a/b? The route is a really good looking splitter offwidth through a roof on pitch 3, which apparently has some kind of 3D funkiness to negotiate. The first pitch, hasn’t been climbed yet (finger crack) and the second pitch is 5.9/5.10ish by the looks of it. Not sure of how to approach the roof, we thought we’d have a go at freeing the first pitch. Patrick Kingsbury (a regular partner of Pamela and 5.13 offwidther himself) had previously had a go at freeing this pitch, so we knew it’d be no push over. After an hour or so of mashing my fingers in tiny, tiny tips finger locks I’d done all of the moves through to easier ground but knew to lead it properly it’d take further days of work. Feeling a bit de-psyched (and knackered) that we didn’t have the tools to free climb to the roof, we decided to call it a day. On the way back to the campsite we went and climbed a cool looking wide roof called Brother from Another Planet 5.12a/b. Unique invert torpedo!

Project Time with Teacher Pizem...
After Indian Creek we arranged to meet up with long time climber and desert new-router Rob Pizem. If anyone has met “Piz” they’ll know he’s pretty much a one-man dynamo who jumps around at such a frantic pace it’s hard not to get very tired! When we found out that he’s a school teacher, I think we knew we’d met the teacher we’d all wanted when we were younger.

Teacher Pizem teaching us the way of the desert
Pete getting the psyche? from Piz

Piz, myself, Pete, Peewee (French Canadian crack climbing beast), Alex, Jesse and Brian all headed off to the White Rim for 2 days of project hunting and delving. Peewee was down there to try Piz’s long term project “Necronomicon” (huge thin hands roof crack that features in the First Ascent films) and the rest of us hoped to either find something new or repeat one of Piz’s test pieces.

Peewee on a burn of the thin hands project, 'Necronomincon'

The first day (after receiving teacher’s orders....) me and Pete went to try an unclimbed line that Piz had shown us. Unfortunately, the line was a bit too long and too beta intensive for us to really get stuck into – more of a local’s line in reality, despite its obvious qualities. Instead we got stuck into some kind of squeeze chimney that Pete duly dispatched that afternoon. It wasn’t 100% clear if it had been done by Matt Lazenby before, but in any case it was probably around 5.13a – sort of a harder more sustained Lucille with serious deckout potential!

Pete finds a wide slot on the White Rim. A good dose of 'smoke in the eyes' is useful

Forget the Valley Giant, a tipped out #6 on .13a should do just fine 

The second day we spent some time on Piz’s classic roof crack down at the White Rim – Army of Darkness, 5.13d. Brian had already been projecting, so conveniently the gear and beta was well established for Pete and me. With a couple of goes each, we got some good links and hopefully that’ll be in the bag with another trip. What really stands out from that line though, is the quality of the climbing – absolutely brilliant gymnastic roof climbing on fingers, hands, pods, offwidth and a little bit of fists. Reminds me very much of Greenspit in difficulty and quality.

Finally, to finish the day we did a little filming for Wild Country’s “Crack School” and also for the “Wide Boyz” film. As usual, it all got a bit silly and Pete ended up on the floor between my legs..... I’ll let the photos explain all!

Filming the offwidth glossary

Peewee helping demonstrate the offwidth glossary
Chris using his resources

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Century Crack Grade

Ok, so I suppose it’s finally time to lay our nuts on the table and come up with a grade for Century Crack. There have been stories of superlative climbing events over the years that have been surrounded by grading controversies, climbing style arguments and conflicting personalities battling it out for the first ascent. I’m not sure that Century is any different from this; Stevie’s had his say, certain keyboard heroes have mass debated and the 9a grade has been thrown around.

Pete on the business end (c) Alex Ekins

All the while, Pete and I have generally been getting on with enjoying our climbing trip around the US. We’ve repeated 8 x 5.13a or harder offwidths (some flash/onsight) – including repeats of the hardest offwidths in Vedauwoo, Zion and Indian Creek. This has all been in with loads of other routes in the 5.12a-5.12d range and mostly on a 2:1 climbing to rest day ratio. Overall, we finally feel like we’re starting to know where everything lies relative to everything else and feel fairly confident that we are performing to our own expectations. It’s been knackering, but very much worth it!

Right.............. I’ll rant no more on that subject. Grades – let’s talk grades!

For Century Crack, we are proposing 5.14b or French grade 8c.

We’ve spent hours and hours debating this number amongst ourselves and it’s sort of been a tough decision, but also an easy one. Our gut feeling as soon as we’d both topped out was 5.14b, but we thought we’d sleep on it, repeat some more routes and see how we got on. In the end, we’re going with that same grade. It’s not an astronomical grade like 9a/+ and neither is it a trade route 8b. I guess time will only tell...

Below, I’ve put together some of our main trains of thought/rants on the grade matter. Most of it will be pretty boring to people out there, but it’s certainly of interest to some.

The Cellar Effect

As many people know, Pete and I spent 2 years slogging our guts out in a crack cellar underneath my house.
We trained so specifically for Century Crack – we had an almost exact replica of the whole route and we trained....and trained.... and trained.... We did over 17,000ft of Century Crack climbing in 2 years, which equates to having already climbed it 42 times each! It’s this point I really want to hammer home – I know it sounds like a short time to do a major project in 2 days, but in effect, we’d already had countless sessions on it back at home. All of this training was carefully periodised to bring about peak performance for our American trip and to avoid chronic overuse injuries.

Climbing wooden offwidths til it felt like our eyes bled

In Comparison to other US hard offwidths

The two hardest offwidths that we’ve come across in the States so far have been “Gabriel” in Zion and “Price of Evil” in Indian Creek. Gabriel we found to be like a soft 5.13c and Price of Evil a hard 5.13b. Both of these routes were a country mile in difficulty away from Century and if we had these routes back in the UK, we’d happily run laps on them. This is not just to boast, but more to illustrate that once we knew the sequence for a 5.13, then we weren’t taxed to our limit by them. In contrast, Century totally wiped us out in just 1 go and we wouldn’t dream of attempting the route twice in a day.

Warming up and onsighting 5.12b/c

Comparing to another well known crack – Greenspit

Although it’s not really a fair comparison, I thought it was useful when debating the grade with Pete on this route to compare it to another hard crack, Greenspit (8b or 5.13d), that we’d done a couple of years back. If you take Century vs. Greenspit then the former completely trounces the latter. They’re miles apart in difficulty and as Pete pointed out to me this evening he climbed Greenspit with almost no specific training – just a few pull-ups and some core conditioning! Also Stevie Haston flashed Greenspit, yet after a number of sessions could only work Century with 3 hanging rests.

So................. apologies for the rant – I had to get it down on paper. I still don’t exactly know what I think, but above is detailed at least some of mine and Pete’s most common thoughts.

A final word from Pete....

I think any grade for the route, whether its 6c or 8c gives little sense into what it is like to climb the thing. To get a feel of what it’s really all about you need to go down there and actually stand under it and give it ago. This is the only way to feel the real monstrosity of the beast. So get down there, it would be good to get a concensus on this thing!!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A week of Wide Madness

Man, the last week has gone by so quickly – so much has happened in such a short space of time, that I hardly feel like I’ve had time to think. We’ve travelled down to Moab (ticking Trench Warfare on the way) to try Century Crack and then moved straight on to Zion to try and repeat the USA’s hardest offwidth, Gabriel.
It was all kind of going to plan originally and then things just got messy.....

I think it partially started with Trench Warfare, 5.12d. After us both flashing the route (this route couldn’t have suited us better) I decided to go for a tickle without a rope. Generally I’m a complete pansy about stuff like this, but I just felt so good on the day the option of decking out on my head from 20ft without spotters didn’t even cross my mind. After doing this I think Pete and I definitely hit a new level of confidence and we finally started to believe in ourselves a bit more.

Tom bouldering on Trench Warfare. 

Century Crack (by Pete)

Moving on from Trench Warfare we were now into double figures of the number of hours left before we were able to get onto Century. Two years ago when we started training for this route it seemed like a joke that we’d ever reach the base, but now we only had 48hours until we could actually get on the thing. The morning of the first day on the route I think we could both barely contain ourselves when looking up at the route. The roof is actually the biggest, baddest thing I’ve ever seen. In fact it’s so big it dwarfs its own proportions.
Pete feeling like he's back in my cellar

We didn’t mess around and tried not to get too psyched out. We did all of the roof section in 10-20ft sections (resting after each section) straight off, putting the cams in on lead as we went. I couldn’t believe that we’d both just rinsed across the roof so quickly on our first go. It felt like I was back down Tom’s cellar ticking sets of 100ft sections of Wide Pony again. I thought;

“Well this is a bonus. Tom’s built a cellar out of old kitchen worktops, which seems to have worked as it feels as if I’ve been working on Century back in Sheffield for two years. Niceeeeee!”

We worked the crux end barrel and the heart-breaker grovel top out which had a slightly different sequence of knee locks, leg hooks and dangling squeeze chimneys, then called it a day.
Pete nearing the lip on Century

The next day we wondered whether we were being to over optimistic and that actually linking the whole thing together would be monumental. Luckily, we’d spent too many hours hanging upside down like a fruit bat for that to be true. Hanging upside down with hand stacks on this thing felt like being asleep. Well, not quite true - it actually still felt like a ‘tricky little number’ especially with the rope drag at the end that nearly pulled me off.
Overall the massively specific (you could say lucky?!) training had paid off in huge bundles of Edale hay stacks.
Pete topping up on his training just before getting Century

So, that morning we both had a bit of Century Crack for breakfast, and that was a two year project done. BOOM!

It was also pretty cool that Crusher Bartlett (who solo aided the route back in 2001) was there with us to share the final chapter of our massive journey with us. He also conjured up some killer tortilla wraps as well!
Well what shall I do with my life now? Hmmmmm go and climb some more wide I think........

Gabriel (by Tom)

Fresh from our success on Century, we arrived in Zion a few days later nearly healed on the scab-front. Whilst I felt physically in the best shape of my life, my mental state was far from it. It was almost as if I’d achieved on Century too early – I’d built the route up to be bigger than it was and I just wasn’t ready to move on. I’d almost go as far as to say I felt deflated from getting Century so quickly and so when I arrived at Gabriel I just wasn’t as hungry as usual. Some of the fight and keenness had gone...

Gabriel vs a Valley Giant

Fortunately Pete, was being his usual silly self and soon cheered me up with some crag-antics. Big Bros were fondled with, the “Private Pirate” was simulated and gritstone thrutches remembered. Anyway, enough of my moaning..... the route, the route! The climb and first free ascentionist, Pamela Pack were the recipients of the Golden Piton award a couple of years back for trad climbing and in some ways I was a little confused when I found half the route’s gear to be bolts – perhaps it’s a sport/trad hybrid??!

Looking up at the roof crack of Gabriel

That aside, the climbing is absolutely fantastic. Invert squeeze with groundfall potential, into some hardcore “Private Pirate” into a final section of invert and blue collar grovelling. We did the route in the same style as the first ascentionist with the gear already in place from our working attempts. Overall, the climbing was harder than Gobbler’s Roof (5.13b) and very similar to Thai Boxing (5.13c in ours and Haston’s opinion) – so perhaps 5.13c? Compared to the Vedauwoo routes we’ve done earlier in the trip, it’s really quite a bit harder and all credit to the FA for getting this done.
Do we actually know what we're doing?!

After working on the route for only a couple of hours, Pete duly dispatched the route in front of Chris Alstrin’s rolling cameras and I had to come back the next day for the mop-up duties. What was interesting about this route for me, was that I couldn’t fudge the sequence at the crux, which indicated that it really was quite hard. I had to get it exactly right to pass the 2nd and 3rd quickdraw and no amount of burl could box me out of the situation. Many other routes on this trip, we’ve tended to tick with somewhat poor beta, but this route didn’t allow that.
Chris Alstrin filming some of the usual grunting
So how does it compare to Century I guess might be the question on some peoples’ lips? Well, for us it is significantly easier (although still very tough) and not a route that utterly destroys your body. 1 year ago I could have definitely done Gabriel (albeit in a longer time) but I’d say I would have completely failed on Century. We have one more route to do before making a decision on the Century grade and then I guess it’s up to the internet forum pundits to fight it out..... oh dear!

My daughter Hannah testing gear

I owe these 2 girls A LOT! My wife and daughter...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Trench, Century and Gabriel

Ok, so much has happened in the last week or so!!

Trench Warfare 5.12d (flash Tom)
Trench Warfare exentension first ascent 5.13a (flash Pete)
Trench solo (Tom)
Century Crack first ascent.... grade??? (Tom and Pete)
Gabriel 5.13c (Tom and Pete)

Unfortunately this has all coincided with our worst internet connection yet. It literally took about 6 hours just to send through a report from Century Crack for Alan James at UKC. So, basically, we have lots and lots to say but no form of connectivity..... which will hopefully be sorted out in the next couple of days.

We'll have:

THE WORD on the grade on Century
How Tom didn't completely crap his pants on Trench
Pete's prognosis on formely the hardest offwidth in the States - Gabriel.
And a WHOLE LOAD of pictures.

Over and out for now....