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
klk

Trad climber
cali
May 13, 2012 - 01:06pm PT
the mummery on petit has to be one of the most discussed if not the one with the most reproduced image.

steve's underhill thread has a picutre of the first all-woman team climbing it

eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
May 13, 2012 - 02:10pm PT
I don't have much to contribute other than thanks for digging up that cartoon reference. That IS one of the all time gems in the genre! Pure comic genius.
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
May 13, 2012 - 09:54pm PT
Those climbs on the Blatiere are really good, and Ive done a few of them, although not the Fissure Brown. Ive seen it and it looks striking. Near the top of a route called Margaret Thatcher, my partner and I watched the hanging serac off to the right of the west fact calve off an enormous quantity of ice, maybe a condominium sized piece of ice, hit the glacier that we had walked on, and set the whole glacier off. The avalanche must have run at least a half mile down the glacier, and slid over our tracks that we made on the approach. Then there was the lightning that damn near hit us going back across the Plan.

One of the most spectacular settings Ive ever climbed rock in, although the French guidebooks do seem to overrate cracks.
Paul Ross

Trad climber
colorado
Sep 15, 2012 - 02:00pm PT
Climbed the Fissure Brown in 1959 ..mountain boots. There was only one pair of double up wooden wedges in the crack at about mid hight. I attempted to flick a sling and biner over then for some pro ...both fell out and landed on my head ( no hard hats in those days)...Continue the struggle... I guess one of the first solo's!
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
Sep 15, 2012 - 02:53pm PT
Hah!

I got a good story about that route. You need double boots and crampons to get to the start. Nothing too hard, but it is heavily crevassed and in late summer slick as snot.

So we leave our boots and crampons and then just rap the route on whatever gear we could find. Unfortunately we came down about 100 feet to the right (uphill) side of our boots. There was a nice moat.

So I had to downclimb this 30 degree slippery snot ice over a huge bottomless crevasse using the stems of two old friends as daggers and pedaling my Fire's like crazy. Somehow I made it to the boots. I was pretty wigged out so I just took my helmet off to cool off. There hadn't been so much as a pebble fall all day.

Then I hear that ripping noise of a rock coming, but there was no place to hide. The damn thing went right over my shoulder and was about the size of a grapefruit. Certain death.

So I lunge for my helmet and put it back on like it would have helped or something.

Then put the crampons on and carried everything up to Sam the Welsh Kid.

No lie. The rock stuck into the moat right near my feet. Scared the sh#t out of me. It wasn't as bad as the other routes in Chamonix, many of which shed rock like crazy, but it was a shock because the face was so quiet all day.
Darwin

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 15, 2012 - 03:47pm PT

glad you're still with us, base104
rick d

climber
ol pueblo, az
Sep 15, 2012 - 05:37pm PT
Paul-

I am surprised you could drag your giant balls up that pitch.

*doink* as you were clocked in the head by the only wooden pro.
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 15, 2012 - 07:37pm PT
Paul Ross-Thanks for your contribution to this thread and welcome to Supertopo. I don't believe you've ever posted here before and it's great to have you join the conversation.

So you did it in mountain boots in 1959 and without any protection. This style is certainly in keeping with your reputation. Did you forget to mention that you carried a rucksack, like Brown on the first ascent? I somehow doubt you had a haul line in 1959. I would guess the rucksack made the chicken wings a bit more challenging?

Rick





Chris Jones

Social climber
Glen Ellen, CA
Sep 16, 2012 - 02:42pm PT
In 1965 the Brown-Whillans route on the Blaitiere was still regarded as a tough climb. I don't recall whether my partner Mike Kosterlitz or I led the Fissure Brown - but I do remember being relieved to see several wooden wedges bristling out of the crack as we got to the base. I don't recall that we resorted to aid slings, (which in those days would have been narrow aluminum steps threaded onto nylon cord), but I do recall how dubious the wedges and their frayed cords looked. Nonetheless, we did clip in, though not without some misgivings. While it is true to say the wedges were in the way, I remember mantling up on one or two of them. That was then the style - French free; grabbing the odd piece of protection was all in the game. The object was moving quickly and safely. The then-significance of the Fissure Brown was not so much of a test piece pitch, but rather a crux section on a difficult route in the high mountains; climbed with boots, pack and so on.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 16, 2012 - 03:52pm PT
Paul Sibley loaned this fine specimen of an oak wedge for the Oakdale Festival. It measures 2 1/2" X 1 5/8" X 8"




Bring back that slightly unraveled feeling, Chris?



Paul liberated this one from the Titan on the third ascent.
Chris Jones

Social climber
Glen Ellen, CA
Sep 17, 2012 - 06:25pm PT
Those are pretty sophisticated wedges, and in good condition. Some of those in the Fissure Brown would have been stacked. The cords were likely to have been threaded around the wedges once they were in place. Sometimes one saw a piton hammered in between the wedge and rock; these were the approaches of the day. On top of this, the wedges were soggy from snowmelt water running down, and they had been out in the elements for quite a few years. It was not a pretty picture.
chill

climber
between the flat part and the blue wobbly thing
Sep 17, 2012 - 08:18pm PT
Steve - Were those used on the 3rd of the Finger of Fate route? Can't think of where you'd need them on that.
Paul Ross

Trad climber
colorado
Oct 5, 2012 - 11:19pm PT
In reply to Rick. In those days (1959) we climbed on a 300' 9m .The leader tied on in the middle so if you had to sack hawl you just pulled up one end .and dropped it back down. This only occured on the rare more difficult pitches , most alpine pitches we did climb with packs. I do not think Joe climbed this crack with a pack ..neither did I ... but still was a bit strenious.Of course our packs were pretty light as our gear was very primative....Thanks for the nice welcome comments on the forum...
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Oct 8, 2012 - 12:59pm PT
That modern sport rating of 5.11 can't be close.
I know quite a few people who have done the Fissure Brown,
and the impression has been 5.9, because of the location,
weather, gear they have on, sometimes (as we've seen above) a
pack. You're not going to do 5.11 in a pack, I don't think.
What is more important is when the climb was done, a ways back
in time... which always makes something exponentially more difficult,
in some relative sense, due to the gear and consciousness
of the time, etc.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Oct 8, 2012 - 03:05pm PT
If I ever had any desire to climb off-widths...

I would probably just stay at home and push needles into my penis. It would be just as fun as climbing off-widths, and I would be able to watch South Park.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 25, 2013 - 01:10am PT
Classic Passage Bump...
Lambone

Big Wall climber
Ashland, Or
May 25, 2013 - 01:21am PT
Isn't this the most famous off width?

BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
May 25, 2013 - 01:41pm PT
Those wedges were still there in 1984 and looked like rotten cardboard with tat hanging from them. There was no gear to protect it even at that time, so it was pretty much a solo.

I agree that it is on the low side of 5.10. No way was it 5.11. To compare it to Supremacy Crack or the Naked Edge is ludicrous.
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 25, 2013 - 01:45pm PT
How does it compare to Generator crack?
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Sep 3, 2013 - 08:33pm PT
After all the OW threads, this one deserves a bump.

John
Elcapinyoazz

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Sep 3, 2013 - 08:38pm PT
but everyone has heard the name of the pitch (if you are over thirty).

I'm 40, and enjoy the wide, spent seasons specifically seeking them out, never heard of it.

Monster OW of Freerider probably the "most famous". Or that thing whathisnutz got his knee stuck in over there in Pakistan back in the 60s or 70s and had to hack at with a piton...Boysen or something?
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 3, 2013 - 08:48pm PT
Comparing the Fissure Brown to Supremacy Crack or the Naked Edge is as ludicrous as comparing marriages.....seductive they all may be but far too different for comparison.
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Sep 4, 2013 - 12:17am PT
I don't think supertopo has matured enough to comparing marriages...?
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 4, 2013 - 12:27am PT
I've had some experience.....more than most unfortunately.

edit: Put Generator Crack up on an alpine crag in the Alps and see it acquire a "reputation."
Michael Hjorth

Trad climber
Copenhagen, Denmark
Sep 5, 2013 - 04:14am PT
My partner and I did Fissure Brown (which is low on the route)and half of Blaitiere Brown-Whillans in 1986. Well, he did, sort of. Rested one or two time as I remember, whereas I heaved and pulled on gear whenever possible.

But I seem to remember written somewhere by Brown that he have a long peg in one hand which he kind of cammed sideways on certain parts of the crack. And in another text (possibly by Whillans) about the awestruck French aces, who simply couldn't figure out how the two lads had overcome the crack - with no pegs or wedges left in for the next ones....!

Here's the crack with some insitu pro (peg and a few wedges) plus our largest cam, a friend 3½ (not much help):



And my partner Søren in some of the easier corners further up:



Rgds
Michael Hjorth
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 12, 2014 - 12:10am PT
Nice shots Michael!
superimposed

Trad climber
Chamonix
Apr 12, 2014 - 03:09am PT
No problem in using the link of the photos from UKC, climbed this in 2010 with MR Lopez (I'm walts4).
Seem to remember that its wasnt too bad, still wooden chocks in the back off the crack though!

But, getting to the start was possibly the crux, a loose shelf where a slip would have been very serious.

Unable to compare totally, but seem to think that the OW on the rostrum was more difficult, or I found it so!
As blakey say, Eldar crack is easier, right eliminate harder, but then again the fissure Brown is in an alpine setting.
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
Aug 20, 2014 - 08:49am PT
Not as hard as Generator Crack. If you put Generator Crack a thousand feet above a glacier approach with no pro, it would be a horror fest. As it is, the FB is doable by anyone who doesn't mind climbing worm drive style. I didn't even know much about offwidth, so it can't be that hard.

The hardest part by far was climbing around the wooden wedges. They got in the way, but were still the best pro in 1984. I think it is bigger than a #4 friend.

I did it with this Welsh kid who was following me around and pestering me. We got to the base of the route and he pulled out a set of jumars, and he jugged the whole thing. I think he was in high school or something. Duane remembers the story.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Aug 20, 2014 - 12:34pm PT
Neat pictrues, Michael.

John
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
Aug 20, 2014 - 03:17pm PT
Just had an email from my partner on the Blatiere. He recalls:

I remember the first bit vividly, as we were approaching, the 3 French in front of us in the lift/approach got well in front of us.
As we got near the face, there was a party of 2 bivied above the rimaye( easier than the German word)& they panicked as they saw us all approaching so much so that they dropped a big bandolier of gear into the rimaye.
They were English & a bit distraught. We set off behind the Frogs( no golf type etiquette there) I did the 1st easy pitch & you led the " Fissure Brown" There was at least one big unnecessary threaded wooden wedge for French Free.
I remember a bit of a thrutch of about 5b, then a traverse to the left, where we kept alternating leads.
We wore pas & sackhauled the 1st 2nd and 3rd pitches. I still have my sack with the crampon holes in it.
I remembered the rest as being OK & we put on boots, in my case edging boots & crampons with Chouinard hammers for the descent onto the glacier where the snow turned to rain etc etc.

Les
Blakey

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
Aug 21, 2014 - 12:08am PT
As an explanation to the grade that Les gave it '5b'. That would be standard British 'Extreme' from BITD, which would equate to bottom to middling 5.10.

Regards,

Steve
Rick Sylvester

Trad climber
Squaw Valley, California
Aug 21, 2014 - 01:59am PT
I climbed it, probably in the early Seventies, when I was in full glory as a Valley crack climber. I figured I'd have no problem with it. But it was harder than I expected. My guess is, as others opined, maybe 5.10b ( but definitely easier than Generator Crack as someone else wrote) I think I actually ended up grabbing a wooden wedge at its crux, to my surprise and chagrin. My only rationale is that I was wearing boots not climbing shoes.
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