Tim and Alice’s offwidth adventures

Me and Alice recently went climbing at Arapiles and the Grampians for a week or so. Whilst we did many challenging and interesting climbs, a few stand out as having that something extra special.

One day at Arapiles, we decided to do the classic crack struggle ‘Electra’ (grade 19). I cleverly suggested that we climb it as two pitches instead of one, meaning I could lead the relatively short and supposedly easier first pitch and Alice would have to lead the fire-breathing offwidth classic second pitch. I kind of cocked up the first pitch and ended up falling off and ripping the recently healed skin off the back of my left hand (injured on the nearby classic ‘Wizard of Ice’ a couple of weeks earlier). I was pissed at falling off, but after contaminating the climb with sufficient blood I got through on the next go.

Alice then set out on her journey up the second pitch. This pitch is offwidth – it’s not a crack that you can hand jam in a conventional sense and it’s not a chimney that you can chimney climb in a conventional sense. It’s in-between. You kind of stick various parts of your body in and squirm your way up. Alice led it like a champ – a fair bit of sketchy squirming and a few whimpers were necessary, but she got up it, and made her way up the relatively pleasant upper crack and across the majestic juggy headwall without any issues. This quite impressed the hardperson American we had been socializing with – he had already been impressed with Alice’s no-nonsense lead of Hyena a couple of days earlier (another ye olde fashioned crack climb). He and his friend had come up to the cliff that morning intending to climb Electra. He noted with a certain bemusement that it was unusual that, in the middle of winter, midweek, surrounded by pleasant classic non-crack climbs, that there should be a queue on the horrendous offwidth.

electra.JPG

Fast forward a few days in to the future and Alice and I found ourselves at the base of “Genuine Wage Overhang” (grade 20) at Mt Stapylton in the Grampians. To give an impression of its steepness, the authors of the guidebook note that when you are standing underneath the lip (the edge of the overhang) you are closer to the lip than the start of the climb. Overhanging probably 40 degrees, this is one intimidating climb. The pictures don't do justice the the overhanging-ness. I had seen it previously when wandering in the area looking at other climbs, and knew we would need some big gear (gear = protection to stop a fall). Thus we brought two #4 camalots with us. These are about as big as most people normally own, but they weren’t quite big enough.

I set off up the climb, cautiously jamming bits of my body in it and using the small face holds next to the crack. I put in one of the big cams just before the roof got steeper (to almost horizontal), stuck my leg up and in the crack and shoved part of my arm in. This seemed to work and I was able to squirm around without falling off. I discovered a small face hold after this that was quite positive (good to hold on to) and this helped me establish myself in a kind-of-chimneying-kind-of-sticking-half my-shoulder-in-the-crack position. I squirmed upwards, in the process scraping skin off various parts of my body until I was about 3 meters above the cam. Here the crack started to get wider, so I figured I should stick the other big cam in before it got too wide. I played around with the cam for a few minutes until satisfied the placement was good. Gradually the wall next to me opened up a bit and I could get more positive foot holds for chimneying, but I was starting to get a bit concerned about how far above the cam I was, and how far I had to go. A good arm bar (this is where you jam your arm in the crack between your elbow and the palm of your hand) gave me some time to de-stress and work out a strategy for the rest of the climb. I came up with two options. A) jump off. B) keep climbing. I chose B. Alice assured me that I wasn’t going to deck (hit the ground) so I kept climbing.

genuine.JPG

Eventually, about 5 or so meters after placing the last cam, I latched on to the nice positive holds in the guts of the chimney and hauled myself up, where I put in 5 (!) pieces of gear, just because I could. I don’t think I would have hit the ground if I had come off, but I would have taken a massive winger (fall) and come very close! Alice seconded me, getting to use the prussics when she fell off the crux, but she styled the rest of the climb and we had a bit of a de-stressing hug when we were re-united at the belay ledge. All in all, two mega classic climbs!

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