The Fissure Brown: the most famous off width crack

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Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - May 12, 2012 - 05:15pm PT
We hear much on ST about off width cracks and the bizarre cult who do not avoid them, but instead,actively seek them out. The famous Yosemite examples, like the Cracks of Doom and Despair, are well documented and loom large in Valley lore. Sheridan’s caption accompanying his drawing of a depressed Camp 4 inmate hitting the wine bottle is timeless: “She left with Bridwell, all my hardware, my American Express card- and then she climbed the Crack of Doom.”

Despite the keen interest in off widths here, we hardly ever hear about the most famous off width of them all, the Fissure Brown. This pitch is on the West Face of the Aiguille de Blaitiere, in the Mont Blanc Range. The only accounts I can find of Supertopoians climbing the route are by Blakey and Base104. Both had no pictures and only sparse descriptions, so I am still unclear how wide it is, how long it is, and what the difficulties are really like. It sports a modern rating at 5.11(b) and 6(b). Pretty hard when you consider that Brown first led it in 1953.

Joe Brown, in “The Hard Years,” waxes laconic describing its first ascent.

"A crack reminiscent of Curving Crack on Cloggy led to a good ledge at the foot of a vertical wall. This was split by a huge bulging crack leaning to the left. The crack looked deceptively easy and I set off up it with my rucksack. It was not long before I realized that the pitch was liable to be as hard as some of the big cracks on Gritstone. It was completely holdless and had to be climbed by wedging one arm and leg inside it. The climbing was strenuous but straightforward up to a bulge, where I managed to fix an upside down peg behind a poor flake. Overcoming the bulge was even more strenuous and all of us tore the skin off our knees."

Rebuffat in his 100 Routes in the Mont Blanc Range is also terse:

"You now arrive at the foot of the first crack, the Fissure Brown, which is vertical with smooth edges and back (VI, very strenuous free climbing: A1 using aid with wedges or very large pitons)"

But Rebuffat does include the best picture I’ve seen of the crack itself, showing the author–nattily attired in knickers and patterned sox- in the middle of it, apparently free climbing, right side in.

However, the picture looks a bit suspicious, since on Gaston’s rack are a bevy of 4”wooden wedges and most significantly, aid slings with metal steps. It suggests that Gaston posed heroically until the shot was taken, at which time he resorted to the aid slings. Judging from the photos in his other books like Starlight and Storm, Gaston had prior experience with these sorts of shenanigans.

So until the wide crack aficionados organize a field trip across the pond and provide a current, first hand description, it would be great to hear some details from those of you who have actually climbed the route.
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
May 12, 2012 - 05:23pm PT
I was surprised at how hard it was. Most routes of that era that had ratings in the mid 5.10 range were fairly light.

From what I can remember, it is 5 to 8 inches, straight in, pretty much vertical, and not a lot of holds on the outside. Basically armbars and the usual groveling.

There were still some wooden wedges, and climbing around them was the hardest part. They were the only pro for it then, though. It is too wide for a #4 friend.

It wasn't that long. The hard part was anywhere from 30 to 80 feet. That is how poor my memory is.

Very cool pitch, and fun route in general. From pictures I have googled up it looks like most good routes now. Get in line.

I thought it was mid 5.10. Easier than Generator Crack by a long shot. It is still a route that I remember well. I didn't know all of the history when I did it, but it is a good route on good rock.

I have a really funny TR on doing that route. I get to the base and find out that my partner doesn't know how to climb. He jugged. Duane Raleigh can verify that one. Shipley is now RIP. Never trust smack-talking welsh 16 year olds....
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
May 12, 2012 - 05:44pm PT
I thought the most famous was the fissure Boysen?

Either way, I think we're dating ourselves!
Blakey

Trad climber
Newcastle UK
May 12, 2012 - 06:02pm PT
I did this in 76, and was a bit underwhelmed by the crack, I'm no crack guru and I recall we wore our sacs and just thrashed our way up it. I reckon it to be similar to, and perhaps a bit easier than Eldar Crack on Curbar. So maybe only just 5.10

Much, much easier than Right Eliminate on Curbar - a Brown crack, and a world from Sentinel Crack on Chatsworth a Whillans test piece. Even further away from Ramshaw Crack........ All of which while on outcrops, predate the Fissure Brown methinks.

There were as described above, a selection of wide and flat, decrepit wooden wedges, I can't recall the number....

My memory is that there was harder climbing above the FB than the FB itself, but age may be taking its toll!

Steve
jaaan

Trad climber
Chamonix, France
May 12, 2012 - 06:09pm PT
I'm sure Lopez and Walts4 won't mind this link: http://www.ukclimbing.com/photos/search.html?nstart=0&text=fissure+brown
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 12, 2012 - 06:14pm PT
Maybe because it's not the "most famous offwidth" anymore? Glossy, classic pipe and sweater shots in classic coffee table books not withstanding?

Just a guess.....
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 12, 2012 - 06:18pm PT
Thanks for the rating recollections.
I've changed it in the list of early hard climbs to 6a+, 5.10b.

I believe 6b is 5.10c, and 6c is 5.11b.

Here are some photos I found with google image search:




from
http://montagnes-des-alpes.over-blog.com/article-news-d-ete-55303025.html
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2012 - 06:24pm PT
Jaybro-I thought that statement might generate a reaction!

Ok then, name another off width crack with that is immortalized in song and verse, like the FB in Patey's "Joe Brown song".

I'll wait.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 12, 2012 - 06:40pm PT
Ricky, Don't forget to mention The Fissure Beck, now while you are doing Fissures. It was a big effort to get that in there, especially for Beck. Lower Cathedral Rock, East Buttress. What is it, the second or third pitch? It's 5.8, a cheap slut with giant hidden holds 'n stuff. But was part of history in the Valley.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 12, 2012 - 06:43pm PT
And the Fissure Boysen which Martin would love to forget! LOL
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 12, 2012 - 07:26pm PT
And he sang a mournful tune about that one!

Hmm, well it looks cool in the photos and having its own theme music is novel, but does that make it most famous?

Now if we take fame to be seen by the most eyeballs, I'm nominating an equally obscure ow on a sub formation of Arizona's Pinnacle Peak. I do t remember the name, but I believe it's .11a. Anybody who has watched through Raising Arizona, has seen in it. In the scene where the lone Rider of the Apocolypse drags Nicholad Cage from under a truck it can be seen in the background.

Still I gotta think the Fissure Boysen has to be the most famous, though Century Crack is a current popular choice.
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
May 12, 2012 - 08:10pm PT
I dunno if it is the most famous offwidth, but everyone has heard the name of the pitch (if you are over thirty).

It looks nice without the wooden wedges. Climbing around them to do it free was by far the hardest part. Even though the pro was rotting wooden wedges.

By valley standards, it is light. Somehow the narrrows on S-S went from 5.7 to 5.9, though.

It is harder than anything on the Steck Salathe, but not too bad. It is just your usual secure chicken wing deal.

As for it being the crux, yeah, it is by far. The rest of the route has all kinds of groovy 5.8 - 5.9 romper room fun, kind of like the East Butt, but cleaner.

There are some amazing long rock routes on the Massif. Kind of like the valley, but with people throwing football sized rocks at you all day.

I think the rating is so high because as a rule, french climbers of the day couldn't climb cracks for sh#t.



Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 12, 2012 - 08:28pm PT
Where is the calender page with Sheridan Anderson's "Ghastly Rabbitfat" illustration?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 12, 2012 - 08:40pm PT
It never hurts to have the favor of a bard either...

He crossed the sea to Chamonix
And to show what he could do,
He knocked three days off the record time
For the west face of the Dru-
On the unclimbed face of the Blaitière,
The crux had tumbled down-
But he cracked the crux by the crucial crack
Now known as the Fissure Brown.

Tom Patey-The Joe Brown Song
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2012 - 09:09pm PT
Thanks for locating those photos Clint. I got the rating from Piola’s 1986 free climbing topo guide to Mont Blanc. It shows French VI b/c for the pitch, and that loosely translates to 5.11/a/b. But the first hand experiences here indicates that it is easier than that.

Now we just need to hear from someone who has done it in the last decade.

Peter-I haven’t forgotten the Fissure Beck. Here is the link to the thread where Eric Beck describes the first ascent.

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1530860&msg=1536072#msg1536072
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 12, 2012 - 10:13pm PT
and here's the other image you referenced:


from
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=457072
hobo_dan

Social climber
Minnesota
May 13, 2012 - 09:39am PT
Going across the BigHorns-Taking the Northern Route. Steamboat Rock? Up on the the North Side is THE Offwidth! JayBro any stories on that one?
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 13, 2012 - 09:44am PT
Clint,
that's a good one, but I'm talking about the Midi Tobacco "ad" in the calender with "Ghastly Rabbitfat".
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 13, 2012 - 11:04am PT
I know the one you're talking about, Hobo. I've seen it but never got on it.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 13, 2012 - 01:04pm PT
Ron,
The Ghastly Rabbitfat Midi Tobacco ad (and calendar) is on this page (about 1/3 of the way down):
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=553782&tn=40
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