“I remember Jihad as a route that at some point you quit climbing and start trying to stay alive.” ~Bob Scarpelli
Check out this video of my battle to send Jihad (5.11d) in Vedauwoo, WY, filmed by Climbing Magazine staff photographer Ben Fullerton.
Important Disclaimer: Note that in the Holy War video I mention Jihad being the “hardest” offwidth I have done in Vedauwoo, WY. I would like to clear that up. I found Jihad to be one of the hardest offwidths and certainly a test-piece. Also, as far as the grade, I jokingly refer to Jihad as a 5.13+ offwidth. That statement was not meant to be taken literally, rather I am paying my respects to Bob Scarpelli by intimating that the 11d grade may be a bit ah…misleading? It is important to understand that in the late 80s, Scarpelli rated all of his hardest offwidths 11b and by modern consensus these 11b’s are often considered flat 5.12. Meanwhile, he rated Jihad 5.11d. Scarpelli explained the 5.11d rating to me as meaning: “Don’t bring your weak shit here.” Generally offwidth ratings in Vedauwoo have been kept within a closed system with a rich history of wicked sand-bags. In a long career of climbing hard wide cracks, Scarpelli’s routes have been some of the hardest I have encountered and Jihad was one of the most physically and mentally demanding routes of them all.
The Second Ascent of Jihad 5.11d in Vedauwoo, WY
“Abandon Hope all Ye who enter here…”
I have spent the last seven summers in Veduawoo, WY, the American offwidth Mecca, seeking out the most physically and mentally demanding wide cracks in North America. The most ruthless collection of offwidths in Vedauwoo were established by the “offwidth King” Bob Scarpelli. Late this past summer, I sought out Scarpelli’s legendary Jihad (5.11d) described by the notoriously fearless and intimidating man as one of the scariest routes he’d established and rumored to have gone unrepeated and unattempted for 25 years. I have described first ascents as offering the possibility of leaving a legacy. They tell the story of the first ascentionist’s vision, passion and inclination to venture into the unknown. A second ascent, especially of a route as enigmatic as Jihad, can offer something magnificent as well. It is like being the first person to be let in on a secret. Furthermore, Jihad was the last of Scarpelli’s legendary offwidths in Vedauwoo, WY, to have gone unrepeated. Repeating his route would be the end of an era.
Jihad has spectacular and unique geometry. It is a sixty-foot, right leaning, overhanging crack on the North Corner crag in Upper Blair in Vedauwoo, WY. The menacing crack begins as a squeeze chimney roof that quickly transitions into an offwidth and finally, concludes, with a steep flared finger crack. From the ground I could see that Jihad was not going to be a casual climb despite the seemingly innocuous grade of 11d.
However, I suspected that the 11d rating was one reason the route had waited patiently for 25 years for a repeat. Generally, offwidth ratings in Vedauwoo have been kept within a closed system with a rich history of wicked sand-bags. In the late 1980s, Bob Scarpelli rated all of his hardest offwidths 11b and by modern consensus these routes are often considered 5.12. Meanwhile, Scarpelli explained Jihad’s 11d rating to me as meaning: “Don’t bring your weak shit here” and went on to remark: “I remember Jihad as a route that at some point you quit climbing and start trying to stay alive.” In a long career of climbing hard wide cracks, Scarpelli’s routes have been some of the most demanding mentally and physically that I have encountered and I suspected Jihad, given Scarpelli’s elusive 11d rating, would be one of the most challenging I had encountered.
After weeks of waiting to overcome my anxiety, I found myself following Pat up the precarious green and yellow lichen-covered slab to the base of Jihad. We could not see into the crack to determine gear. I racked up with an unlikely combination of cams from 6” to Aliens. Before I could get into the gaping maw of the offwidth roof I had to climb another, and steeper, 10’ up the slippery lichen-covered slab around the corner. It would be impossible to place gear on the first 15’ of the climb. If I fell I would land on Pat and then slide 30’ down the slab. My initial excitement dissolved into a feeling of impending doom. I spent half an hour at the belay in limbo, debating whether I could overcome my unease. I had just decided to rap off when a group of climbers appeared below me and one yelled up: “Hey nice work on the Forever War!” – a route I had established the summer before in Vedauwoo. No longer able to hide behind anonymity, I decided I would rather be in the ominous unprotectable squeeze roof than suffer the humiliation of lowering off a Scarpelli route in front of a crowd.
When I first looked at Jihad from the ground, I surmised that the roof would be a “casual belly crawl” but from my new vantage point at the belay the initial squeeze appeared perilous. I stepped off the belay onto the treacherous slab and crawled into the roof. It was flared, dark, slick and creepy. I awkwardly attempted to squeeze my body through the first ten feet of the slick over-hang. I turned my head to the left in the desperate hope I could place gear and quickly discovered I could no longer turn my head as the passage was too tight. My chest was stuck and I tried to control an instantaneous sense of terror. I exhaled deeply to get my chest to fit through the dark passage while battling not to slide out. After what seemed like an eternity of groveling, I was discouragingly only eye level with my belayer. I finally managed to crawl out from the roof and inhale; immediately I began hyper-ventilating due to the tremendous effort it took to make progress through the roof. I fought back tears and swore at Scarpelli for crushing my ego and soul. The mystery of Jihad’s dormancy was unravelling.
The route did not ease up past the squeeze. It constricted to a 4” crack and I fought to get the four off my harness without sliding 15’ directly onto my belayer. (On a later attempt, I unhappily noticed another belayer drop his Gri-Gri and put his hands up – whether to spot me or protect himself I am unsure.) I desperately placed the four and made a long strenuous reach to a jug in front of me. I grabbed the jug, dropped my feet out of the crack behind me and kicked my right leg over my head to bypass the constriction. I ended up awkwardly resting on my back in the squeeze again. I looked back and my four inch cam had fallen out of the odd undulating crack. If I had fallen, I would have landed head-first on the slab. I had the feeling I had crawled into one of Dante’s nine circles of hell and had come out the other side seven years later. After another 15’ of desperately brawling with this slippery, flared crack, my onsight attempt of Jihad came to a heart-breaking end with a fall in the final few feet. Despite having climbed cleanly through the crux offwidth, I fell at the last section of traversing fingers, just too crushed from the brutally physical offwidthing to make the transition into the delicate flared finger crack traverse.
Weeks later (after a month of Rabies injections from an earlier bat bite on the route), I regained the courage to return to Jihad. This time I climbed slowly through the roof and the offwidth trying to remain calm, relaxed and efficient. As I approached the last few feet, I locked my left knee into the crack sideways. I have never given up on a route, but I knew, in that moment, if I did not send Jihad on this attempt I would abandon it, unwilling to face that horrifying offwidth roof again. I paused, focused on my breathing and successfully climbed though the final few feet. I clipped the anchor, and exhausted, lay my head on the slab.
In a long career of climbing hard wide cracks, Jihad was one of the most fierce that I have encountered requiring a myriad of techniques — chicken wings in an overhanging roof squeeze, sideways calf-locks, a foot-over your head style invert, sideways hand-fist stacks and flared fingers. It is exceptional in that it is both physically brutal but also requires tremendous wide crack artistry. I had unlocked the secrets of the last of Scarpelli’s offwidth masterpieces in Vedauwoo. I could imagine no greater tribute to Scarpelli than to have done the second ascent of his route. I had solved the mystery of this magnificent and perilous climb.
“To get back up to the shining world from there My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel, And Following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed: he first, then I-so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.”
~Dante, The Inferno
The Holy War
I have spent the last seven summers in Veduawoo, WY, the American offwidth Mecca, seeking out the most physically and mentally demanding wide cracks in North America. The most ruthless collection of offwidths in Vedauwoo were established by the notorious “King of Offwidth” Bob Scarpelli. Late this past summer I sought out Jihad (5.11d), a Scarpelli master-piece, rumored to have gone unrepeated and unattempted for 25 years. Jihad is a 60’ right leaning crack on the North Corner crag in Upper Blair in Vedauwoo, WY. The route has spectacular and unique geometry – it is a flared, steeply overhanging, 45 degree leaning crack that begins as a squeeze chimney roof, transitioning into a predominately 4-5” offwidth for another 40’ and concluding with steep, traversing flared fingers.
Images from the 2nd ascent: