“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?’
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.
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.
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|