Vedauwoo: Still Damn Offwidth!
Summertime living in Las Vegas is not necessarily a climber's dream. Consistent 100+ degree temperatures and a scorching sun beating down on your back aren't exactly inviting conditions. The beautiful Aztec sandstone of Red Rock Canyon is pretty much all out of the picture, unless you're climbing at night during a full moon. Luckily, some other options do exist. Probably the best local alternative is to take a 45 minute drive Northwest up to Mt. Charleston for what some consider to be a limestone paradise. Here you'll find impressive caves, beautiful surroundings and perma-drawed sport test pieces waiting to pump you out of your gourd. For me, the journey to find great summertime climbing would take me a bit further away. Determined to crush myself on some hard offwidths, I knew exactly where to go. So (once again) I packed up the van with oodles of wide gear, a dozen roles of tape, and some disposable clothing and bee-lined it to Vedauwoo, Wyoming. Offwidth paradise!
Overlooking the beautiful Vedauwoo, Wyoming. Photo: Jason Molina
Jason Molina on Christies Ultimatum 5.12-
The usual suspects were involved of course. Jason Molina was van co-pilot and in it for the long haul with me. Pamela Pack and Jay Anderson were also our "partners in wide" and deemed the resident offwidth experts. Jim, Danny, Greg, and Scott also joined our motley crew to crush and be crushed by anything wider than your fist. Once assembled beers were cracked, hands were taped, and bodies were unnecessarily inverted. We started climbing some of the classics at The Nautilus, one of Vedauwoo's most easily accessed and popular climbing areas. The highlights from the day were getting on Right Parallel Space 5.9 and the Left Torpedo Tube 5.10a (more like 5.10+). Both of these climbs are really impressive and aesthetic lines. Don't let the grade fool you, you're gonna sweat and have to implement some try-hard on these classics.
Jason Molina with Mainstreet in the background.
Another classic of a moderate grade is Mainstreet 5.10a. At 120' this is by far one of the longest and most sustained offwidths that I've been on in Vedauwoo. The crack does not really change much in width, and its almost entirely #6 Camalot size for its entire duration. The crux is negotiating a steep bulge in the first 25 feet, then the rest is enduro arm bars and heel-toes with a lot of foot pain. I learned a lot on this pitch and on Left Torpedo Tube the day before. The offwidth technique required in Vedauwoo is much different than in the sandstone wide cracks I am more familiar with. In Vedauwoo, the cracks tend to open up (flare) on the outside, so jams are typically deep inside the crack or not possible at all. On a sandstone offwidth, it is typically more "splitter" and the walls of the crack will be very parallel, making the climbing technique a little more obvious and less tricky (in general). Another main difference in climbing offwidths on the Vedauwoo Sherman Granite is the large quarts crystals that can be used for foot holds outside the crack. Using some outside features on the granite is often the difference between 5.10a and 5.11b, so going "straight in" isn't always going to serve you well. In example, on Mainstreet I climbed it the burly way, utilizing fist stacking throughout the entire crux section. Jay was watching me and said that it was a pretty cool way to do it, which made be psyched. But when I asked him how he climbed it, he said that he faces the other way and utilizes face features and arm barring to pull the crux. Considerably different. In conclusion, I climbed it like a 5.11- sandstone offwidth and Jay climbed it like a 5.10a Vedauwoo offwidth... Ultimately his experience on the unique stone reigned superior, and my creativity and persistence came in as perhaps the second best option.
Finishing The Spins 5.11b as Jay Anderson comes up the unknown chimney.
Photo: Jason Molina
Later on we explored an area I've never been before to get on Someday Kid's This Will All Be Yours 5.10 and The Spins 5.11b. "Someday Kids" is a pretty unassuming wide crack tucked away in corridor between some boulders. It is a corner crack that gradually widens as you get higher and higher. To me it was very reminiscent of Chrysler Crack in Red Rocks, although shorter, slightly more flared and little more difficult because of the slick granite. This route was a great warm-up and also a great opportunity to not-thrash and focus on efficient movement. If I were to do this climb again I would forgo bringing large cams, instead placing mostly Big Bro's for protection. The reason for this is because once I got back to the ground I realized most of my energy from the climb was wasted pushing large cams up with me, despite the climbing being pretty straight forward. The "Bro and Go" method has become a much more appealing way to protect these moderate offwidths and I really like the "giv-er-hell" mentality that comes from placing a long string of Big Bros.
Greg Cameron on Burning Man 5.11
Jim on Burning Man
The crew also jumped on the excellent (but deceptive) Burning Man 5.11. Despite looking more friendly than fierce, this climb is like a human jig-saw puzzle with no correct solution. Everyone who attempted this climb had their own bag of tricks, different methods, and a different vision of how this could go down. Collectively we tried right-side in, left-side in, kick through, face holds, head jamming, and even desperate sidewinding, but nothing seemed to do the trick. In the end Pamela was the only one able to send this 5.11 today, but a lot of us were damn close! Either way it was great watching everyone work this route and I look forward to getting on it again when it isn't on my "rest day".
Danny Parker inverts Bob's mysterious top-rope test-piece.
Jay gives the invert method a shot. Pretty entertaining!
One of my favorite moments from the trip was when Jason and I went and climbed The Gates of Ladore 5.11c. This line always stood out to me as an impressive, inspiring, very clean line. This route splits a huge boulder and is about 60 feet tall and features a squeeze start that gradually tightens down to fists. Although the climb itself was excellent, the excitement really came from an impending storm that loomed overhead and threatened to strike us down. Getting a late start to our day, we got to the crag with the storm already lookiong a little to close for comfort. We were also surprised the van could make it down the "4x4" road but we were psyched it drove us within a stone's throw of the climbing. As time quickly passed, the storm gradually got closer and closer, lightning and thunder booms were beginning to crash quite near us. We took a quick moment to drive the van out of the steep terrain before the rain hit. I ran back to the crag and in a moment of eagerness quickly told Jason I was still gonna go for it. I taped up my inside (right) hand and figured that should be good enough. It was time to get climbing! I started up the crack and made as quick progress as I could up the squeeze. There was a good 15'-20' of climbing before I could get my first piece of gear, a blue Big Bro. Above this gear the climbing became more difficult, requiring some real solid technique to the next gear placement. From here I placed a #6 Camalot and kept moving.... fast! I plugged and chugged as fast I could and tried to avoid rushing and thrashing. Soon enough, I was at the anchor bolts and gave a nice solid "Waaahooo!" to celebrate. The storm, now in the close distance, was starting to unleash the rain. I cleaned the anchor and rappelled back down to the ground as the rain increased. Before we knew it, Jason and I were running back to the van (I was still racked up!) in a full-on downpour dash to the finish line. We fumbled with the keys trying to get into the van but eventually open the sliding down and jumped in! A little bit wet in the end, but a damn good time.
Scott on his first Vedauwoo offwidth Penetration 5.9+
So many good stories, photos, and beta to share still, but some must remain to be told over beers and a crackling campfire. After all, that's were they are most appreciated right? Thanks to the crew from making it another successful trip to Vedauwoo, I'm looking forward to more soul crushing next summer! Never been to Vedauwoo? Take a look at some of these climbs for your first visit too...
Mother #1 5.7, Straight and Narrow 5.8+, The Convict 5.9, Spectraman 5.11c, and The Shocker 5.11d