Offwidth tips and The Twilight Zone


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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 11, 2005 - 10:29pm PT
Hi wade et al

There is no road to the Twilight Zone, for most climbers. It is a sophisticated 5.10D offwidth with some significant perils. Even with modern wide protection techniques, it is likely to command the full attention of any climber regardless of level. I did the fourth ascent of this route in 1971, and know it well. It is 3 pitches. It enjoys a unique place in the history of Yosemite free climbing.

There is a sharp guillotine flake in the vicinity of the belay for the crux, so as you are climbing it, your prospect is maybe landing on the thing at speed. I think Pratt said the worst thing that could happen to you on the crux is that you would live. It is quite continuous, but if you donít get tunnel vision---many miss these--- you will see crucial edges for your right foot that intermittently help you develop a lot of pressure against the book with your back; you are left side in and your left knee is fitting in the crack some or most of the time. There are better sections than others. The crux narrows, and for me it became sort of fists/forearm jams for a few moves, and is overhanging. Fortunately the rock is quite good and the crack has a defined edge. And in general, it does not look real friendly; itís a hard climb in a scary place.

We used to do it with a couple of bongs, one at the little pod and one in the overhanging crux, which we had to climb over while doing the hardest moves. The last pitch by the way is serious also; there have been some wild falls on the surprise lieback!

You have to be in superior cardiovascular shape to climb offwidths of this sort, and have an awfully powerful core, as it is mostly counterforce climbing with few if any real holds in the usual sense and rests that are hardly that for most climbers. I think everyone is of the opinion that it is Prattís most important offwidth.

Do Generator crack many times (TR) using both left side and right side in approaches, get to the point that it is easy, almost so you feel you could unrope it---we sure did. As Karl said, you can toprope Chingando, but it is a gross, granular thing that is not likely to encourage you to return often. Develop a list of ascending difficulty of the following climbs: Pharoahís Beard; Secret Storm; Moby Dick left; Rixons East chimney; Cookie Center; do Ahab a few times; Edge of Night; Absolutely Free right; Peter Pan; Peter Left (first pitch is offwidth); Slack left side; worst error both sides; Hourglass right; Narrow Escape; Crack of Despair; Crack of Doom; Lost Arrow Chimney. If you can do these reasonably well and still want to do TZ, you are ready. Offwidths equal to or harder than TZ are: Steppin out, Cream; Basketcase; Hourglass left; the first section/pitch of Sky (TRable), for example. I would recommend Basketcase as the finest offwidth climb I have ever done, and it is actually safe. Its crux is surprising too, insanely smooth and clean. It just has a big approach.

Other tips: wear about half an ace bandage on each of your knees, under your pants. Tie in long or in such a way you can shift your knot from in front of you (various schemes like old fashioned swamis which were just wraps of webbing around the waist). Harnesses donít work in squeeze/offwidth climbs, especially with gear loops. Donít climb it with shoes that are not stiff enough to do oblique heel&toe and edging with real power. You have to wear a tight long-sleeved turtleneck type of shirt. I recommend fairly loose cotton pants that have some friction and structure, but not too much, and with little bulk. In climbing offwidths, many make the mistake of trying to move upward either too quickly or with upward movements that are too large each. There is usually a very delicate balance of friction and freedom that you have to monitor very very carefully. With too much friction and pressure, you canít move or will exhaust yourself to the point of failure. With too little friction, you will come flying out of there. So the challenge is to set up systems of pivots and pressure points that can be caterpillar-style released and set as you make maybe only 1/2ĒĒ movements towards the top of the pitch. Be happy with these tiny moves---they are all you can do in the circumstances. This is counterforce climbing and requires lots of practice to work as second nature while you are in these big cracks with yourself essentially really in the way.
Best PH
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Dec 11, 2005 - 11:54pm PT
Peter, Absolutely Free, Right has an R/X gear rating... and Roper's guide is dramatic:
"From the yellow patch of the left side route, climb a terrifying, overhanging flake for a pitch. Walk down and right 40 feet to a tree at the base of a long, curving chimney visible from the road. The chimney soon turns into a 5.10 jamcrack. Belay at its top, below the roof. The next lead (5.9) turns two roofs on the right..."

I have never talked to anyone who has done it... what's it like? do you remember?
Brutus of Wyde

Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Dec 12, 2005 - 12:50am PT
Glad Peter mentioned Slack Left. Shorter and easier, but definitely similar climbing.

A TR of the first two pitches for your enjoyment.

August 5, 1994
Paul Jacobs and Bruce Bindner

"This year's crop of kisses is not for me... for
I'm still wearin' last year's love...." (Billie

Sport climbing is the rage. Most folks I know
spiel a rap about crimpers, side-pulls, drop-knees,
dead-points, even figure-fours. As I tie into the
rope at the base of Cookie Cliff in Yosemite, I
reflect that one of my few loves has always been wide
crack climbing. It's difficult to find partners for
cracks where one wears padding similar to that of a
Hockey Goalie, and the most elegant movement is a
strenuous, desperate thrash.

Oak tree ants run a highway from branch to
granite, fascinating me, while above, Paul Jacobs
negotiates an overhanging, loose hand crack. "Watch
me!" floats down.

"No problem. I got you." I glance momentarily up
to where Paul is light years away from his last
protection, one foot swinging a barn-door arc in the
shadowed evening air. No problem. He'll handle it,
somehow. He always does. (I hope.)

The ants are unconcerned, furiously transporting
the last segments of a dismembered beetle across the
rock. Most of the beetle is gone when "Off Belay"
echoes down from above.

I sigh and heave another full rack of huge
protection onto my shoulder. Above Paul, the fissure
widens obscenely to just under body-width. No body
part will fit. At least, I reflect, this monster
won't be loose and grim like Instant Espresso two
weeks ago. I still bear the scars on my forearms
from the roof on that climb.

Paul's pitch is a signpost to the void. At one
point, my foot peels away from the rock and I barn-
door out of the corner, hanging only by jammed hands,
one foot kicking in the shadowed evening air. Whew,
glad Paul was watching me there!

Above the belay, I lead slowly up the crack,
savoring the last 30 feet of easy moves to a nest of
horrifyingly loose, garage-door-sized flakes. I test
each in turn, drumming a tune on one-ton granite
blades poised above Paul's head. I stand on the
guillotine with the nicest harmonics, set an 8"
piece, and begin to climb for real.

Twilight Zone is a one-move climb. (one move,
repeated without respite for 120 feet: Pick your nose
with the pinkie of your left hand. Pinkie still in
your nose, raise your elbow to the level of your
face. Now, spread your fingers as wide as possible,
with the left thumb pointed toward the ground.
Insert that arm, still in that position, in the
crack, and you are doing a chicken-wing. Problem is,
the chicken-wing move doesn't work in this crack. My
right hand alternately claws the edge of the crack,
or splays out to small edges on the face, or fumbles
protection. Right foot does one of two things:
Scrabbles against vertical edges far outside the
corner, to my right, or pops off unexpectedly,
repeatedly, eliciting small screams of terror in the
deepening twilight. ) The move gains half an inch. 119 feet,
11.5 inches to go: 2,879 repeats of the same, one move
that doesn't work.

The sunset is invisible and forgotten. As I
reach the top in the early evening, head exploding in
pain, the world fades into a dim twilight of misery
and success, ants, oak leaves, dust and solid
anchors. Paul guides my rappel back down the
Elevator Shaft to the ground, and shepherds me out to
the car, staggering toward darkness and a campsite
full of friends.

We stand in darkness at the car, almost done
puttering gear. The smell of formic acid is
overpowering, and I brush hundreds of ants off of
Paul, who is standing like an ant-bridge between the
ground and the berry pie on the hood of the car.

"That is one of the hardest things I've ever
done" says this 5.11-5.12 climber.

I brush off a few more ants.

"Thats OK, its a pretty casual technique, once
you get the bugs out." I smile past my headache,
reach back, and ease the berry pie out of ants'
reach, into the trunk.


It turns out that the day I climbed this, I was coming down with the flu, hence the headache.
Thanks for the memories!
Brutus of Wyde
Old Climbers' Home
Oakland, California
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 12, 2005 - 01:14am PT
Brutus, great TR, really. Thanks! I can't agree with the notion it is a one-move climb, though. That is what I was referring to when I mentioned tunnel-vision. It is actually a complex climb involving some variety. But again, great TR, really.


Rt Side of Absolutely Free was overrated. It looks badass from below, but is kind of simplistic and if you keep your wits about you it is not R/X. I can't remember much about the route; I did one of the very early ascents early 1971-2. It was coarse, granular, not that interesting, and because it is not that steep and in that rough granular area of the Brothers ends up not that technical. Just because it was a Jim and Mark route does not mean it had to be hard; we all did easy stuff too. I think we all thought it was kind of gross. We were in kind of a mode then of fighting to just find stuff to climb with the equipment and mindset we had. So The Brothers.... But I mention it because it IS one of the offwidths, in an unusual area, and requires some attention.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 12, 2005 - 09:53am PT
Addendum: I forgot to add the Left side of Reed's Pinnacle. A really clean classic offwidth.

Social climber
The West
Dec 12, 2005 - 02:20pm PT
New year's resolution;
Go to the cross roads, pimp my soul to whomever, to gain the ability to write (esp about ow) like Brutus.

If you like the 'same move thing' you'll love Wide World of Sports @ Patterson flake.
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Victorville, CA
Dec 12, 2005 - 02:32pm PT
There is nothing sophisticated about an offwidth.

If you seek to punish yourself, cause your circulatory system to leak, and get frightfully little air in the process, just go do the aptly named: Human Sacrifice

or go do something more friendly, or get some welders gloves and tape'em on good and tight, an ole'largo technique he used on some italian overhang.

or for sicknesses sake, just watch Ron Carson fire off a solo at dome rock, there is only one offwidth there so there can be no doubt about which route.

Social climber
The West
Dec 12, 2005 - 02:45pm PT
I'm guessing you aren't 'into' offwidth.
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Victorville, CA
Dec 12, 2005 - 02:56pm PT

I confess.
some former climbing partners would not comprehend my failure to appreciate, but, you are correct.

Trad climber
Fremont, CA
Dec 12, 2005 - 05:01pm PT
I have to confess I have an interest in Chimneys and offwidths. My friends think I'm nuts. I was in the valley yesterday but my partner's car blew a gasket on the way there so my boys and I were left to our own devices.

I setup a toprope on a short swan slab climb and put my older boy on it. Later we wandered a bit and I was eying the offwidth and chimney on swan slabs.

Anyway, I liked both your stories, Thanks!


Trad climber
Gunks end of country
Dec 12, 2005 - 05:09pm PT
OK, Peter, et tu Brute. Nice stories. Post some pics! Want to see your smiling faces.

Gym climber
Dec 12, 2005 - 06:55pm PT
Peter, you forgot Mental Block, a fine one indeed!

Nice to see your posts...

:- Kelly
Brutus of Wyde

Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Dec 12, 2005 - 09:39pm PT
"Addendum: I forgot to add the Left side of Reed's Pinnacle. A really clean classic offwidth."

Especially if you do it right-side in.

Having done it both ways, I must say that doing it left side in is really missing out on all the fun.


Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Dec 14, 2005 - 01:11pm PT
Ed, Abs. Free Right was a v. tight squeeze tunnel-through crux for J and I. I struggled to worm through, so if you're much bigger you might have to go on the outside (enhancing the R/X factor as I couldn't imagine falling out of the squeeze...I was freaking out that I'd get stuck). I think it took cams in the back of the wider chimney part, but I had the TR, so the pro didn't make as much of an impression on me. It didn't seem X, and huge gear would probably work even if you had to go on the outside.
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
Dec 14, 2005 - 01:58pm PT
The best way to train for OW is to do friction and slab routes. This is because both OW and slab basically involve utilizing friction techniques and moving upward very, very slowly in small increments so that you don't tire yourself out. The slower the better. If you start breathing hard, stop right there and rest until your wind comes back. Never get tired. OW should be relaxing like TM.

Dec 14, 2005 - 02:08pm PT

Are you sure that's the "Best way to train for Off Width" is to do friction slabs?

Seriously, I had to laugh pretty hard about that tip.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Dec 14, 2005 - 02:37pm PT
Then what's the best way to train for slabs? If it was ow's, I'd be a better slab climber!

Dec 14, 2005 - 02:42pm PT
I think you are right Melissa according to the Bruce Morris logic :-)
Wade Icey

Social climber
the EPC
Dec 14, 2005 - 03:11pm PT
Thanks all esp. Peter for the excellent advice. I really appreciate it. I've been looking at that 'thing' for years. Uh Oh...morbid curiousity shifting to actual interest...Keep the beta and stories coming please.

Re: the harness tip- I still have my old swami and that makes sense but begs the question- What do I do with those big camming units (the ones I haven't placed yet)? Seems that if a knot is in the way then a bandolier full of big cams is going to be a drag. I've got a sinking (slipping) feeling I know the answer (leave 'em on the ground?). Is there some kind of arcane OW racking trick?

Re: "Best way to train for Off Width"- I think you're serious Bruce, if so I appreciate the advice. I've been climbing slabs (read-avoiding offwidths) for almost 30 years so I've got a good start on my OW training. It took me a minute to figure out "OW should be relaxing like TM." (...Herbert? Tuolumne Meadows? acronym for Too Much?) and that makes sense also.

Brutus- would Paul Jacobs be the Paul J. of Berkeley/Marmot? if so small world, he taught me to Fly cast and I worked with him for years.

Thanks all

You've renewed my faith in the forum

The 'real' Wade Icey


Social climber
The West
Dec 14, 2005 - 03:44pm PT
er- you're not racking big cams on your harness? are you?
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