It’s been an awesome few weeks climbing wide cracks in Vedauwoo, WY. Vedauwoo is where I first started climbing wide cracks so it feels like home — granite crystals ripping up my back, battling to stay in the flared Sherman granite cracks, crawling under barb-wire fences and all the while the sound of gun-shots in the background. Vedauwoo is renowned for some of the most physically demanding and painful wide crack climbing in North America.
The Forever War is an 85-foot pitch featuring 20 feet of inverted climbing through a steep roof, followed by overhanging arm-bars capped by 30 feet of 5.12a blue-collar groveling. Despite the two bolts, the route still requires a hefty rack.
Pat had told me about the stunning inverted roof project he found last fall. After describing it as the most “agonizing, miserable, difficult and maybe impossible” invert he’s attempted I was convinced I was going to love it. However, standing at the base of the roof I started feeling queasy. I came up with the regular excuses for avoiding the route — I’m out of shape, my back hurts, I forgot Motrin and, well, it looks impossible. I taped my hands for the next hour, took knee pads on and off, and nervously changed color shirts a few times. We agreed this was not a good route to attempt to onsight as the roof is leaning about 40 degrees. Inverting at this angle means a fall will result in a dangerous slam to the head.
After the first moderate 30′ of climbing on the new project I was wedged into a squeeze chimney of sorts directly below the 25′ roof trying to figure out how to get inverted. I couldn’t get a solid fist stack to invert off. I managed to invert by leaning off the back wall and gracefully smearing off the side of my head. I climbed it cleanly on top rope on my second attempt but red-pointing was intimidating.
We added two bolts to the route after a fall put me in the hospital with a damaged kidney. After five days in the hospital, nine days in bed, two surgeries and 100 episodes of Nip and Tuck I returned to Vedauwoo against my doctor’s recommendations. I quickly dispatched of Simianatics and 8 Ounces to Freedom both V9 and considered two of the most difficult two invert offwidths in Vedauwoo. After repeating those hard inverts I concluded I was healthy enough to get back on the project. I was super relieved to finally red-point the route after one more spectacular whip from the crux.
I’ve climbed nearly every test-piece offwidth roof in Vedauwoo: Lucille (5.13a onsight), The Wing (5.12c first free ascent), Spatial Relations (5.13a first ascent), Trip Master Monkey (5.12b) and Squat (5.12b). The Forever War is more difficult for me physically and technically than any other route in Vedauwoo.
My favorite part of the route is the kick-over into the inversion which requires a head smear off the flake—pretty damn offwidth!
The highlight of the last week was certainly climbing and drinking margaritas with the un-stoppable Matt Kuehl and his lovely companion Molly Chambers. Matt’s one of the most enthusiastic and talented wide crack climbers I have ever had the pleasure of roping up with. Molly also happily chicken-winged into the sordid world of painful wide cracks and is now an official offwidthie! Read more about our week on Matt’s awesome blog: Vedauwoo Madness
Matt could not be sand-bagged. On his last day in Vedauwoo we put Matt through his offwidth graduation test – Penetration (5.9+ notorious sand-bag), The Unicorn Exterminator (5.10c) and finally, The Empty Suit (5.12a) but he staggered away relatively unscathed and smiling. The highlight of Matt’s trip for me was belaying him as he established a burly and beautiful new route — The Gates of Eden (5.10a) — a classic blue-collar wide crack — arm-bars, knee-jams and Big Bros. Yeaaaaaah Matt!!!
Iron Maiden 5.11b and Lucille 5.12d/13a
I also coerced Pat into repeating Andy Johnson’s ridiculously sand-bagged offwidth test-piece the Iron Maiden (5.11) on John’s Tower in Vedauwoo, WY in preparation for Lucille (5.12d/13a). I have repeated both Iron Maiden and Lucille myself and have to agree with Andy that the routes are quite similar. Whether this means they are both 5.11 or both 5.13 is for you to discover for yourself. They are both vomit-inducing, agonizing squeeze chimneys — both damn challenging and well worth your time if you are a masochistic soul.
So, Pat procrastinated for an hour at the base of the route and eventually crawled back into the cave to start climbing. As he was about to place his first piece his cell-phone beeped and he gleefully announced: “I got an email from my mom!” Ah another chance to procrastinate. Despite Pat’s extraordinary attempts to put the route off until it got dark out he finally managed to crawl out the roof and onsight it. And I mean actually crawl. For the first ten feet of Iron Maiden it’s necessary to wedge one knee on a ledge and creep out it dragging your left leg across sharp crystals. Part way through the seemingly endless bloody pivot Pat announced: “I don’t feel so good.” Eventually he rapped off from the anchor, curled up in a ball at my feet and stated: “That HURTS.” I didn’t mention beforehand that I’d taken a week off after sending Iron Maiden myself with my shirts stuck to the oozing wounds on the back of my shoulders and a bottle of antibiotics by my side.
The Glass Hummingbird
Pat has had a bit off offwidth ADD on this trip however, we were able to get him to focus long enough to establish “The Glass Hummingbird” (5.12+). This route starts with steep, flared hands to a painful offwidth exit. The crux is a dyno from a tight flared hand to a chicken-wing. The route was named for Zach Orenczak and Rachel Lynn who are a constant source of entertainment and inspiration with an impressive list of FAs in Vedauwoo. Their fantastic guide-book – The Voo: Rock Climbing in Vedauwoo – is a testament to their creativity and awesome sense of humor.