Wide Boyz Blog

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!


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.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Slender Gents Vs. The Cobra

So here we are in Canada. Squamish to be precise, and one of the best places on this planet to go granite trad climbing. What do two Brits who are ex-wide-convicts do in a location like this? Stuff our bags full of friend 6s, rubber pads and leather face masks? Nope.... we take a new direction and fill up on friend 0.5s, finger tape and superglue.

(c) Hotaches Productions

Our main objective for this trip is to try and climb Cobra Crack. It seems kind of weird thinking about that, as it's a route that's one of the very hardest trad routes in the world and who on earth would consider it a reasonable prospect to climb this in just a quick 3 week trip? Well, maybe we've got a bit carried away with the optimism but we're definitely not falling short on inspiration. The line is every bit of the "King" that you expect from seeing the videos over the years and the quality of moves are like nothing  else. Mono undercuts, feet-first inverts off pinkies jams and holdless bridging. Mega!!

Pete Whittaker Working Cobra Crack, Diff filming and in the way. from Hot Aches Productions on Vimeo.

We've had just under a week out in Squamish now and it's been an interesting, harsh and grounding experience. I think we've learnt a lot.

The interest:

Cobra is a hugely varied piece of climbing. It's got so many different styles of movement within one pitch and it's been a realisation that our training hasn't been as effective on the variation as one might expect. With hindsight, that's easy to see now. Also the pain factor on the route is massive. Every hold on the crux overhang brings tears to your eyes and it's pretty hard to convince yourself at times that you want to give it everything.

(c) Hotaches Productions

The harsh:

This route ain't no push over. Despite the number of repeats for such a high end route, there's not really a feeling of "soft for the grade" or "apply the cheater-beta and it'll be fine." Every jam is pretty good for a finger jam; pretty sinker in fact. But put in the factor of no feet on a 35 degree overhang and they suddenly become painful, powerful and slightly disappointing. When we first abbed down the line our first thoughts were "man, these jams are so sinker we can never fall off this."

It's not just the moves and poor feet that are harsh, it's the nature of the red point. You can get two goes a day on the route (and that's just working moves) before skin flappers occur and the shoulders give out. To do a route like this in a short space of time seems hardcore. Yuji-we-are-not!

The Grounding:

Leading up to this trip, we've poured over information, videos and anything we could find to help us. This gives some preparation, but only a limited amount. We could see the moves and try and replicate them with some specific training but at the end of the day nothing is the same as the route and I guess this has hit us fairly hard whilst being here.

It's ok though I'm sure we can handle it, I mean the hardest finger crack we've done in the the UK is 7a+ and Honnold soloed that on-sight. Nothing like going big.