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This blog is about two climbers who are searching out the widest, dirtiest and hardest offwidths that this planet has to offer. The journeys, the training, the routes and the failures - no holds barred. It's not about the grade, it's about the experience and when it comes to The Wide the experience is the same for everyone!

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!


Thanks

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.

8 comments:

  1. Next up: Rodden's "The Meltdown" in Yosemite?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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      Delete
  2. I second Nick's comment. "The Meltdown" should logically be your next goal. Still waiting for 2nd ascent and it's been 5 years...

    ReplyDelete
  3. or Ron Kauk's "magic line", which i heard of as being unrepeated and not yet climbed placing gear...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Squamish is wonderful, as are the folks who call it home. Glad to hear that's still as true today as it was 20 years ago.

    Nice work on Cobra. I always felt Equinox seemed brick hard, so there's not much I can add of substance to the current discussion :-)

    Stingray is a beautiful line, albeit not epically hard (by current standards - plenty damned hard for me!).

    Amandla always looked a gorgeous line, and there's been rumours of next-gen thin projects on the Upper wall for... well, decades. Also used to hear that there were epic thin lines up in the Cirque, but never did verify firsthand.

    ReplyDelete
  5. amazing effort once again boyz !! its inspiring to read and watch the movies showing your exploits !!

    ReplyDelete