JCA'S Wide World Of Sports
by Jay Anderson ©
___I was in trouble. No matter how much I waved the seven inch big dude around in the crack it was still just too small. My back hurt. My right leg was locked in, but my left foot snaked around to a lame smear on the face wasn't much help. I gripped the edge of the crack with my left hand for support. I was fifteen feet above the last piece, a maxed #5 Camelot, and more than a hundred feet to go. I had two bigbros big enough to fit the crack above. Finally I found a spot where the cams tentatively bridged the gap...
"Paul, send up the drill....."
___There are a lot of tricky wide cracks, gymnastic climbs involving inversion and or hand stacking techniques. But the epitome of offwidth is a continuous, full rope length crack slightly overhanging of constant width. Too wide for hand stacks, too narrow to get inside, in a crack of a certain width and steepness, no upper body lock off technique is applicable.
A solid chicken wing is a utopian fantasy. Reality is an irrepressible force; tipping you back and squeezing you out; the only thing holding a climber in in such a climb are various thigh- and leg-locks. These low lock off put a huge lever-arm on the upper body; constant tension of front and back torso musculature holds the body in place. Arms and shoulders pressed hard enough that the rock cuts to the bone merely relive a small amount of the shearing torso strain. Such a crack is an ultimate expression of the offwidth ideal.
___Richard Leversee, in his grid work exploration of climbable rock found a crack that seemed to fit the criterion. It splits a two hundred and forty foot tall flake in the kings River basin. The flake sits atop a chaotic hillside of manzanita, scrub oak, ticks and rattlesnakes. It sits at the base of the six hundred foot loaf of orange granite from which it cleaved. Nightmarish tales of horrendous bushwhacking through overgrowth so thick that progress takes hours to the mile, so bad that it lead one party of bolters, (forty years ago, no names, please) to opt for the extreme measure of clearing a trail via a controlled (?) burn. For us this dictated an approach from the top of the crag. An abandoned summit road, overgrown but hikable, and six hundred feet of static rope allowed for a relatively stress free approach. It also lent a sort of big wall feeling to the whole affair; rappel in, Tyrolean across to the flake, climb, jug out.
Prospective routes first become projects then obsessions. How deeply involved the participants get embroiled determines the final product.
"What do you think?" asked Richard.
___I didn't know what to say as I looked up the perfect crack. Above where I sat on a bay laurel branch an almost perfectly parallel-sided, wide, offwidth swept up for over two hundred feet. A trick of the perspective and foreshortened made it look less than vertical. It looked like a beautiful, classic moderate offwidth. I planned to get inside it and run it out. Place two bolts for a belay and we'd be out of there; ha-ha!
___I hung my clothes out to dry in the dense undergrowth as I racked the Arsenal.: Two sets of bigbbros, two sets of Big dudes, Five # five Camelot and a larger , prototype cam. I included some smaller pieces on general principles. The first ten feet were like the crux of some five eleven minus route, Cream maybe, it over hung slightly, but was never quite wide enough to get in. I could jam my legs but my arms merely served to hold me upright. Twenty feet higher and it hadn't let up, it had gotten harder. But fortunately the overhanging nature kept the rain off me and even Richard hanging in space with his photo gear.
___Forty feet up I passed the last place narrow enough for a #5 Camelot. There had been no let up. I did an occasional five ten stem move to rest ( read, fatigue different muscles) long enough to get my breathing back down below the anaerobic threshold. At fifty feet after placing a marginal 'Bro and seeing double, the decision to drill was made. I'll just haul up the bolt rig, place a good one here and get on with it. With three and a half inch steel security, I proceeded.
___Above me the wall rippled like a highway on a hot day in the desert. I climbed right side in , with my back against a pronounced offset, unfortunately the whole wall overhung slightly and the crack slanted to the left. Above me the more overhanging left side of the crack undulated into a series of little overhangs. I could see a series of little mini-cruxes coming one after the other, but after each, it looked like a little rest. Five overhangs, and no rests later, I was only a hundred feet up and the March afternoon shadows were getting long. I left a photo rope clipped at the high point and bailed.
___What I like about climbing, any climbing, be it; offwidth, finger cracks, crags, slabs, pockets, sport climbs, long routes, granite, limestone, plastic, even trudging up snowfields or hanging in a hammock in the rain; is that the way through it is to fully abandon yourself to what your doing and accept it on it's own terms. Keeping this in mind, there was a lot to like in this climb.
___ Later, we returned.
___The first fifty feet were harder than I remembered or expected. I truly didn't think I could do it. I decided to keep going as long as I could. I climbed as far as possible, then got whatever, thigh-locked, toe smeary, upper body levered out backwards-'rest' that I could and held it until my breathing rate dropped to a sustainable level, or I got too pumped holding the rest. Then I'd creep a little higher up the crack, hopefully through the next overhang I never felt like I could do the entire thing, but I always felt that I could go just a little bit farther.
___I didn't think of the climb as a whole but managed each short section individually. The climb felt better after I unloaded all the usable pro in the first fifty feet. The climbing above is harder, but I was down to slings, quickdraws, two pair of large Bigbro's, and a solitary mutant marfanesque giant cam; a skeleton rack as these things are judged. Every so often I tried to push the cam along for overhead pro, but each time it slid right through and I ended up clipping it on the rack to give it a ride up the cliff. There were no little tricks left, just climbing on, face grinding into the rock.
___The route by this point was a series of mini-bulges each with it's own physical and technical crux. My Legs and hips were in a constant state of tension, levering me into the crack, as it was too narrow to hang much weight from my shoulders and upper body. I approached each little bulge, squeezed through it, and found some sort of feeble stance to rest on, long enough to get my respiration and heart rate back down to sustainable levels. I had to pace myself and I couldn't get a regular breathing pattern going. Illustrate more strain. In the last fifteen feet the angle lessens somewhat, there are occasional, actual, micro edges. I pulled up on a Thank-God face hold near the top and just as I start to adjust my hips it snapped! Visions of failure; all that work for nothing,! I ground in my hips, and slapped the china smooth surface of the inside wall of the crack. I got just enough purchase to fight gravity. It's in the bag, I thought, as I neared the end. Then I reached up to clip, my forearm spasmed. Try as I could, I couldn't work a carbiner held over my head. I inched up until the piece was at my waist, then I could clip it. The belay stance was just above me. I reached the lip to pull up. It was too hard, I couldn't do it. I continued up the crack until I could step over left onto the Eagle perch of the belay. Careful not to blow it at the end, I tied in slowly and methodically, the double loop of the clove hitch was almost beyond the available dexterity of my mashed potato forearms; I dropped it twice before I could tie in.
"Off belay! " "Belay off." "How much rope is left?" " " ... .....' Bout a foot......."
___Sell your soul for all the biggest cams you can find; #5 Camelot, the larger size big dudes, (now #6 Friends!) these are the smallest things you'll need . Use them to protect the first fifty feet. After the first bolt the crack is too wide for all conventional pro, except the two largest size bagboys. Carry them for possible use on the rest of the pitch, if you can hang on long enough to get them in.