Lucille... What's in a name ?
Despite numerous attempts, this so-called 'innocent lady' has seen only 5 known free ascents. Some indicate the name may have been inspired from the movie "Cool Hand Luke", a line spoken by George Kennedy's character 'Dragline' which goes ... "Any girl that looks that innocent just got to be called Lucille". Cool Hand Luke has definitely influenced other climbs at Vedauwoo, especially on the Nautilus where there's a 'Cool Hand Luke' area. However, to quote directly from the route's author, Jay Anderson ... "It had become known as Lucille, after B. B. King's guitar ...". (What's in a name, from Vedauwoo.org)
Lucille from Cool Hand Luke
Lucille from Cool Hand Luke
"Lucille has messed my mind up, but I still love her."
Frank Zappa, from Joe's Garage.
___In Vedauwoo I found the ultimate Wide Crack challenge. It seemed like the place to
look. The words Vedauwoo and offwidth go together like coffee and climbing. Even
some of the face climbs there have token offwidth sections. It's not true that all
the climbs at Vedauwoo are wide and mean. Dogmatic wide crack avoiders see the
large fissures that lurk there and imagine "Jaws"-like scenarios of being trapped
inside. Scenarios become rumors, rumors become stories and the tale they tell is
of nasty five inch cracks with pointy teeth and caustic venom. Most Vedauwoo
climbers don't even like offwidth. They just have to do it more often to get up
various lines. They don't search it out. But I do.
___Ever since I learned that you could get inside 'em ( a back to the womb thing)
I've been afflicted with a gluttonous offwidth Jones. At a certain point I
realized that although Vedauwoo may have the most offwidths per acre, it didn't,
until recently at least, have the hardest ones.
___In the Eighties, Bob Scarpelli upped the ante as far as hard Vedawide climbs are
concerned. His climbs Squat, Pretzel Factor, Bad Girl's Dream, Muscle & Fitness
and others represent probably the largest concentration of modern wide climbs in a
single area. These, as well as some of the older easier classics, pioneered by
Gary Issacs, John Garson, Doug Cairns, Layne Kopischka and others in the
seventies, have made Vedauwoo a necessary destination for the aspiring offwidth
hardperson. But, there are harder wide cracks in California, Arizona and Colorado,
respectively; The Owl roof, Paisano Overhang, Improbability Drive, and Animal
Magnetism, others as well.
___Still, there was this one crack in Vedauwoo that I imagined would prove to be
harder than any of those... The first time I saw the roof that would become known
as Lucille, was in August of 1979. I couldn't believe it. How could a line so
beautiful have remained unclimbed? A magnificent forty foot roof with a squeeze
chimney running through it in the corner where it meets a vertical wall. With the
bulging, smoothly rounded lines of a Henry Moore sculpture, the chimney turns the
roof and the offset slides from the North side to the South side, from a vertical
to a horizontal orientation, while the the crack goes from horizontal to vertical.
We looked up at it and tried to imagine what it would be like. It looked like
you'd be tunneling sideways through a chimney with one foot low on a foot rail.
Hard five ten or so, we guessed, easier if hidden holds turned up. Little did we
___First we had to put up a pitch to access the cave beneath the roof. Even this got
us in trouble. Bill Roberts and I attempted the crack directly beneath the big
roof. It sported it's own four foot fist crack roof. Our first attempt was brought
to an end when we had to do a lichenectomy on Bill's eye. That night we watched TV
and drank beers. A commercial for a record collection of Blues came on and we had
a name for the first pitch "Best of The Blues".
___The next day we went back up joined by Bob Scarpelli. Bill lead the pitch and Bob
and I followed. Being either ignorant or insecure, we underrated (if inflammatory
letters to international climbing magazines can be believed) it at 5.10a. Finally
we were in the cave looking at the big roof. To say it was intimidating,
especially in those days of E.B.'s and tube chocks, is like saying El Cap goes up
for a ways. Here we were, isolated in the bowels of a dark, dank, chill belay
cave, the uneven floor paved with vermin poop, while before us, the roof swept out
above and off into the blazing sunlight. The crack flared downward like an
elongated cross section of an inverted funnel, threatening to disgorge would-be
ascentionists. We worked on the roof for the rest of the day. Over a period of
several hours each of the three of us tried it several times. After the exhaustive
effort of trying to tunnel sideways, we discovered that we could use the foot rail
and do a sort of a five ten 'walk' out to near the end of the roof.
___I finally made it most of the way out the roof, with the psychological protection
provided by tipped out tubes. That got me out to the hard part. Where you have to
move up, after going sideways, is where the puzzle starts. Your toes are on a
sloping edge that you can't see. Your shoulders are in a bomb bay chimney that
starts at mid chest height and is offset from the the foot-rail by almost two
feet. You lean back over the abyss. Somehow you have to move your body into a
chimney that is so flaring that you have to hoist yourself up to a horizontal
orientation to get your lower leg to a point narrow enough to jam the flare knee
to heel, and yet two feet higher, it's too narrow to turn your head. You could
either look back at the tube chalk, rocking on it's tips, or alternatively, out
through blinders, into the abyss. In either case, you can't see the part of the
crack where your arms, legs and body are trying to make unlikely jams. You have to
do them blind, looking ahead at how far you have to go. After a few feeble
attempts we ran away and tried to plan a better protection system.
___Late that summer my Father died and I went to California. When I got back to
Wyoming it was winter and nobody was climbing cracks, wide or thin.
-"Any Girl that looks that innocent just got to be called Lucille" -George
Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke, as recalled to by Paul Piana after last call on 25¢ beer
night in "The Operating Room.".
___The spring of nineteen eighty I spent in Yosemite, riding earthquakes and big
walls. I didn't get back into offwidth shape till the fall. I placed a bolt at the
end of the foot-rail and it began to snow. I tried the moves a few times before
lowering off. Winter came and I called it a year. Eighty one was like eighty with
the difference being that when I finally got to the climb and clipped the bolt, it
broke off in my hand. Remember the defective bolt episode of the late
___In eighty two I moved four hundred miles away, to Utah, commuting was getting
impractical. I didn't return to Vedauwoo until the Fall of eighty four. Mike
(Fred) Freidreichs and Greg Waterman and I went out and tried the climb this time
armed with big camming units. ("Friend" is a registered trademark that I wouldn't
want to compromise). The BCU's worked perfectly. I was able to safely fall more
times than I really wanted to. Cold reality hit me in the face like an old diaper,
a realization came over me, I knew then that it would never go.
___"That's it, I'm tired of this damn thing, I don't ever want to see it again!
I'm never coming back here!"
___A few months later I was in Laramie for a wedding. I visited Bob Scarpelli.
"Are you going back on that climb? Because if you're not, I want it."
"It's all yours Bob." I said.
___It was three years before I came back. I climbed in Vedauwoo for three weeks
before even thinking about the big roof. Even though I'd abandoned it, we'd named
it. It was now known as Lucille, after B.B. King's guitar, continuing the Blues
motif started with best of the Blues.
___Somehow word of this route got out. People I'd never met before in Yosemite,
Paradise Forks, Joshua Tree,even far flung gravel piles in the Desert were asking
me how Lucille was going. With all this commotion we decided to give it another
shot, just for laughs.
___We set out armed with tunes. We soloed up Walt's Wall, the blaster in Fred's pack
sending out a sonic wall infringing on some nearby, athletic slabin' greenies'
wilderness experience. For the nth time Fred lead best of the Blues. We left the
booming boom box at the base of the Crag. I tried a few times and at my high point
came within less then a body length from the summit. This was real progress! It
changed my whole view of things. Fred was still skeptical, but hopeful. Just then
Little Richard's memorexed voice wailed from below, "Lucille!"
___"That's the first time I ever thought this thing could go." Fred said
when we got down. We decided to take a break and get rested before the next
attempt. We rapped down to get into the sun; did I mention that this thing is
always in the shade and it's always cold, no matter what? Even on ninety degree
days in August? Unfortunately we found the University of Wyoming Norwegian
exchange students having a many keg, generator-run-stereo-party. We stayed for "a
beer" but after a few beer relays, keg spout sucking marathons, etc it was late.
The next day was the last chance to try the route before I had to take off to
Arizona (I'd moved again).
___When I tried the climb, the efforts of the previous day appeared to have created
more Lactic acid then I could push through. We'd also climbed pretty hard for the
previous weeks with too few rest days (At least for an old guy like me.) I got
into the hard section and just hurt too bad. I needed everything and could muster
nothing. Rats! For over a year an armbarring wound on my left elbow would make it
too painful to rest that elbow on the armrest of the car. [as we approach the
millennium, twelve years later, that pain is still with me]
___Nineteen Eighty Eight. This thing had clearly gone on way too long. Visions of it
were invading my dreams at night, I was dating events in my life relative to
attempts on this climb. I was going to be in Wyoming for other reasons and decided
that my only goal in Vedauwoo this time was Lucille. I was completely invested, I
wanted nothing more than to do that climb. I I talked to Fred and he was psyched
too, he wanted this thing over with as much as I did. He spent $150 on wide pro.
After a day of warmups Fred and I went up to the Hatbox, I'm not sure if that's
the day he lead Best of the Blues blindfolded or with one hand tied behind his
back. I lead out the roof and toped my previous high point, but still didn't make
it. Then Fred tried it (The first time in all these years anybody else had, after
the very first attempt!). Ten years of climbing fierce offwidths had honed him
more than he'd thought. He made it into the hard moves before being launched into
space. All of a sudden this was something within his sphere. We decided to rest
and do some easier climbs and come back in a week.
___That week we got some rest and did some early ascents; pretzel Factor- 3rd ascent,
Muscle & Fitness-2nd? (5.11? Bob? really?) in an effort to "Think Wide." The drive
built. When the bolt broke in '81 Will Gilmer, my comrade on that attempt, and I
considered toproping it. I wasn't completely sure why we didn't.; I was so
frustrated at not being able to continue right then that it seemed like the only
thing to do. But for some reason we held back. Likewise, as this project dragged
on into the more conservative era of Reagan, Thatcher and top to bottom climbing,
somewhere along the line we realized that we could have saved a lot of time
(years) in the long run by employing the hangdog rehearsal strategy. A strategy
that by 1988 was hardly controversial. But we didn't. It wasn't so much that we
felt as strongly against these styles as in " the old days", But that I'd started
this climb in one style and it seemed important enough to finish it that way.
___Another compromise presented itself. When I almost had it, on the last few
attempts, slimy lichens caused falls. It seemed almost stupid not to wire brush
these on rappel, I've certainly done this on other climbs.. This time a war
council with Fred decided against it. This climb had already turned into a nine
year epic, since we'd already gone so far doing it , we figured we might as well
persevere and go the full, classic, yo-yo, ground up, traditional style. We
weren't making an effort to sway anybody else's views of how to climb. It was more
that we were going to get the full value, for ourselves. It could at least be a
lasting footnote to a passing style and a tribute to the climbers who thought
enough about style to climb that way.
___I remember thinking; "Today it has to go. This is the the third day on the route."
The third day on the current trip, that is, I didn't even know how many times I'd
tried this climb in the last nine years. " It has to go today. " I had put back my
travel plans a day for not getting the day before. "I've got to climb this climb
get in my car and drive a thousand miles." "Yesterday was so close, my chalk
marked hand had marked a spot I'd once put my foot on when downclimbing from the
summit. It had to go. I couldn't be that close and not do it. "
___Fred tells me the belay's ready and I go. The five ten lieback seems shaky in the
cool morning eight thousand foot air. After ten feet of lieback I'm at the start
of the forty foot roof. I reclip the #4 Camalot ( in 84 it was a #4 friend, in
1979 an #11 Hex) left from yesterday. Now I'm squeezing through the first
constriction, my feet below me on a toe-rail, my upper body jammed over space in a
downflaring bombay chimney. I rest and get my breathing under control before I
continue out sideways, clipping the next two pieces, bigbros. Now I'm in a
position that seems like a rest only because it's easier than where I've been and
what's to come. I clip the last piece accessible from the dwindling toe-rail, a
six inch big dude. Lichens grind into my scalp, I blink chalk out of my eyes. I'm
losing strength here.
___Fred reminds me that the pump meter is going.
___I start the first five twelve sequence. " I went up and almost got it.
Fred went up and I expected him to get it. "I'll be so glad to have it over that
I won't go psychotic by the thought that I worked on it all these years and then
still didn't lead it first," I though/believed/rationalized. Fortunately I didn't
have to test this rationalization. Fred came close, but not close enough. Lucille
squished him out into space in the middle of a particularly difficult and insecure
___We took an hour off for stretching and meditating and previsualisation after the
first attempt. As it turned out I previsualised it all wrong, but I hung on long
enough to be at the top finally, screaming and crying with Fred screaming at the
belay below me, and Alobar the Dog barking at the base of the crag. After all
those years, all the changes in techniques and equipment, finally I knew where the
hardest wide crack was.
___On my second attempt I lead the crack and it became a climb. To my knowledge it is
the very first 5.13 Squeeze Chimney, one of a small number of five thirteens put
up in traditional style.
___When it was Fred's turn to follow he got going and climbed the hardest squeeze
chimney in the World in perfect form.
___The next day Alobar and I drove home to Arizona. We took the long way, East
through Cheyenne before heading South, so that I could see the climb one last time
from interstate eighty. Appropriately enough, just as we saw it, KTCL played Stone
Free by Jimi Hendrix. -"Play it, Lucille." B.B. King.