Offwidth Beatings and Thrashings

Offwidth climbers have the reputation for being bad-asses who take joy in pain and suffering. So, this winter when the nurse asked me if I wanted a sedative before a cortisone injection for a severely herniated disk at L4-L5 I opted out. As she set up an IV the doctor explained to me: “We need to inject this cortisone in a very small space and there is a good chance of nicking the nerve with the needle. If I hit that nerve you’re gonna get a pretty damn good zing down your leg.” I immediately asked for the sedative in addition to pain-killers and anti-nausea drugs. And, I spent the rest of the day lying on an ice-pack in pink flannel pajamas with a bottle of codeine by my side. Why do I continue to seek out the world’s widest and most physically grueling crack climbs?

Pamela Shanti Pack's Bloody Hands after a long day n Vedauwoo, WY

Wide cracks require some of the strangest, most physically demanding and painful techniques in all of climbing. We wide crack climbers perform grueling sequences of hand stacks, knee-locks, armbars, chicken wings, heel-toes, calf-locks and inversions in order to surmount the world’s most despised cracks. We make desperate attempts to minimize pain with long-sleeve shirts, high-top shoes, knee-pads, elbow-pads and tape gloves but the sharp granite crystals of Vedauwoo rip up our hands and the relentless desert cracks leave us hyperventilating and trying not to vomit. Our heavy racks get wedged behind our thighs, our big cams tip-out leaving us 40’ above our last piece and on a particularly bad day we may get a foot stuck over our head for long enough to consider removing it Aron Ralston style. 

Pamela Shanti Pack after climbing Stout 5.12 in Indian Creek, UT Photo © Nathan Smith

Despite the fear and pain I have dedicated years to obsessively seeking out the most relentless and agonizing offwidths and squeeze chimneys.  I have suffered countless bruises and fractures.   I have lost teeth in Vedauwoo, knocked myself unconscious, dislocated ribs and inhaled infectious spores.  I wake up in the middle of the night with abrasions, from hours of scouring my shoulders across the sand-stone, stuck to the sheets.

I am often asked — why do you continue to climb wide cracks? Is it obsession, is it masochism, is it self-hatred, was I fed something strange as a child, did I suffer some child-hood trauma? I climb offwidths because they are my missing puzzle piece, the intellectual challenge, the ability to overcome physical pain, the elegance of the movements, the powerful nature of the routes, the mental and physical commitment  — it’s in my soul, it’s where I am at peace.  It’s my joy, it’s my torment. They are the source of my finest moments.

And for those who still do not understand all I can say is that: “Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.” ~Anne Louise Germaine de Staël

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