Offwidthing in Moab, Utah.
Back in mid December I took a trip over to Indian Creek and the Moab area to get crushed by as many offwidths as my body and mind could simultaneously handle. When I arrived in the land of endless cracks my perma-psych was at an all time high and I was eager to get out and climb! But unexpectedly my psych was at a level that sleeping seemed next to impossible despite being exhausted from the day's drive. So in preparation for tomorrow's offwidthing we stayed up till 4am drinking beers of questionable quality blathering about who-knows what until we saw the people camping next to use waking up for their early morning start. At that time we decided it was appropriate to get some rest because soon we were going to meet up with Pamela and Jay to go climb some cracks in Long Canyon. I was eager to explore the area and having these two show us around was more than rad. Onward!
The Colorado River as seen from the base of Sorcerer's Crossing.
Pamela Shanti Pack looks through binoculars for first ascent potential.
Long Canyon might be one of Moab's best kept "secrets" so make sure to forget all about this post! Essentially this area is a lot like Indian Creek, except most of the lines are unclimbed and first ascents are everywhere! It seemed a lot more adventurous to me because of the lack of other people around and the absence of some conveniences (poopers and good trails) that exist in Indian Creek. Pamela pointed out a handful of Craig Luebben's route's and some of her own newer routes. My mind was blown and they all looked awesome and hard! So the only reasonable option was to go out and try a few of them... For me the most memorable routes I tried in Moab were Slither and Scream 5.11 and Done Lubin' 5.11. Both these routes were featured in Pamela's article on Craig Luebben's "Top Ten Dessert Offwidths" that was featured in Climbing magazine and can also be read here. Both of these cracks stood out to me as not only being aesthetic and impressive but they also demanded a truly unique amount of concentration and persistence that I might'a just had enough of.
The author on Done Lubin'. Photo: Jason Molina
I happened to try Done Lubin' first. The rack for these types of climbs is always unbearable HUGE and makes even the "easy" climbing seem hard. The start of this climb is a cupped-hand crack with a funky little foot-less section that would typically be no big deal, but now became surprisingly tricky with massive amounts of gear. After this section you can kiss your hand-cracks goodbye because it's nothing but offwidth for the next twenty minutes of your life (if you're lucky). The climbing was very sustained and tricky throughout but the crux of the whole shebang has got to be when the crack widens and you can no longer hand or fist-stack the beast. This 8" wide crack seems like it goes on forever and you can forget about trying to "rest". You better love arm bars and thigh scums because that's all you get for quite a ways. Simply and delightfully brutal. I distinctly remember getting off this climb and looking down at my hands and arms and was convinced that this route had shrunk them and that I was forever a smaller and weaker human. I was completely exhausted and nearly threw up. It was the time of my life.
The author on Slither And Scream. Photo: Jason Molina
The next day we went to check out Slither And Scream 5.11. I looked up at the route with an eager nervousness and debated internally about leading the climb or just taking the easy way out and top roping it, but the choice became clear to go for the lead. After some discussion about soft rock and ground falls I decided it would be wise to pre-place my first piece of protection for the soon-to-be lead attempt. So I went up on top rope to place the peice and sure enough I ripped off a huge chunk of stone and took a 10 foot top rope whipper right back to the ground. Gnarly! Somehow this gave me confidence and after I placed the good first piece I pulled the rope down and geared up for a lead attempt.
Pamela made it seem as if this route would fit my strengths (she always sandbags me!) so I was psyched and ever determined to make it to the top without a fall. A majority of this climb is hand stacking and knee jaming on a sharp edged crack. Excellent movement that is pretty burly and exhausting. Eventually the crack widens and you happily squeeze yourself in the crack for a rest. What you soon realize is that the route is about to get seriously hard and that the rest of the climb is protected only by Big Bros. I delicately worked my way up as the moves became more precarious and difficult. I placed an "OK" Bro that did not inspire much confidence in my now shrinking body. I tried not to think about it. Continuing to slither up the crack I eventually got squeezed out and was now dangerously dangling outside the crack with nothing more than a brutal arm bar and leg scum holding me in place. I somehow managed to place a better Bro but my confidence didn't really increase. I worked my way up a few more feet and suddenly it hit me... I'm gonna fall onto this Big Bro! And I thought to myself...
"DAMNIT YER GONNA DIE!"
Obviously I was a little dramatic in my own head, but after 30 minutes of climbing and then leading hard offwidth above Big Bros was, lets say, significantly intimidating. Luckily for me this inspired me to push myself beyond my perceived capabilities. At this point I knew I was totally committed and that I wasn't going to give up until I passed out from exhaustion. So out of necessity I immediately development a new technique that has since been coined the "Super Try Hard" technique. It is a mysterious technique that can only be used in very limited quantities, typically 30-60 seconds, before it is no longer useful and you are either completely screwed or undeniably sending. So after implementing the "Super Try Hard" I was able to place one last Bro and squeeze up farther to gain the last portion of squeeze chimney. From here you can catch your breath before running it out to the anchor. YES! Success! Once I returned to the ground I had wondered why Pamela didn't just send me up there with 9" and 12" Valley Giants so I could more easily protect the crux section. I pondered this for a few moments before realizing that I had just sent one of Craig Luebben's classic offwidth's using Big Bro's (a device that he invented!) to protect the crux. Whoa, it all became clear and it was an amazing realization. I felt Craig's energy overwhelm me and I welcomed it all around.
The rack for Slither And Scream. Instagram: mattkuehlphoto
The crew looks up at Dark Passenger. Instagram: mattkuehlphoto
On a rest day we got to explore some other routes in Long Canyon. Pamela decided to show us her and Patrick Kingsbury's new route Dark Passenger 5.12 and it was sick! We hiked into the base and it was truly wild looking crack, I've never seen anything like that before. The crack on pitch two "squiggles" back and forth and I could only imagine it would be totally brutal to climb. The am pretty sure Pamela ruptured a disc in her back on this pitch. Read all about it here! SOOO much more to share but I feel I have reached my capacity for this post. More offwidth stories from Moab and Indian Creek will be added here and there for a while... as for now I am still taking it all in! Thanks for reading and a special shout out to Pamela and Jay for showing us around this awesome place. Respect!