The Fissure Brown: the most famous off width crack


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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.

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
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!

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

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.

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

glad you're still with us, base104
rick d

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

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

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?


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.

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
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...

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


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.

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

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


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?
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