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’
- Big - this roof crack had to be big, much bigger than what is currently out there
- Architecture - it had to look the business. Grand, impressive and bold shapes.
- Grade - really hard. Difficulties had to blow other cracks we’d done or tried out the water
- 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.
- 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.|