Off-width: The Last Bastion of True Climbing


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Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2012 - 08:32pm PT
I think I may have to concede to The Warbler's point about hard, run-out slab.

Since the protection is pre-established and one must sack up to the standard of the time of the FA, it gets the win IMO.

I still think the combination of physical ability AND mental determination put OW in a strong second position, even with the advent of modern gear.

Thanks for all of the input, it's great food for thought.

right here, right now
Jul 24, 2012 - 08:34pm PT
Yes Mister E, counterintuitive, but fairly accurate.
We might start out by mentioning slab as a joke response, but when taking a closer look it's the only thing that's really limited constraint-wise in terms of protection and does have a sack-up-and-go element to it, just like offwidth used to have.

Keep in mind it's kind of silly dragging a ton of those giant cams around for the one nice offwidth pitch one is going to encounter during a 9 pitch route.

So the things haven't been completely tamed.

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jul 24, 2012 - 09:03pm PT
Yeah, Tarbuster...just walking around the store with ONE giant cam seems a bit, I dunno, flamboyant or something.
goatboy smellz

Jul 24, 2012 - 09:12pm PT
I still say going hairless is the future.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Jul 24, 2012 - 09:17pm PT
Hey. Just a question for you OW folks-
Am I allowed to wear an old wetsuit?

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2012 - 09:28pm PT
Only if you have hand-jammies and a snorkel...

were you expecting a gimme? ;)

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Jul 24, 2012 - 09:30pm PT
And here's a photo I took a while ago near my house.
I specifically had Jay in mind, and this seems like an appropriate place to post it, finally.

Widefetish guys feel free to rip it off if you like it.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Jul 24, 2012 - 09:51pm PT
want to check that one (living conjunction) out sometime

Bring your hanta virus respirator, the "living" part of it is a stack of guano about 5' thick and 10' in dia.

Social climber
The internet
Jul 24, 2012 - 10:54pm PT
I like J's predictable response to being told he's not wearing any cloths.

Sex with a rototiller hasn't hit the mainstream either. Maybe a few of you should try it.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jul 24, 2012 - 11:10pm PT
Hanta Virus, eh?

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2012 - 11:30pm PT
I am guessing that is the bat-hang part of the climb?
Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Jul 25, 2012 - 12:00am PT
Is a strong opinion, forcefully stated, that you don't happen to agree with, what constitutes a troll these days? Really?

For his variety, yes.

Being willfully abrasive - even while using a strong base of knowledge - for whatever that gratification brings, is a bit of trollish behavior. Or maybe we could also term it boorish.

However, as a musician, I will admit to enjoying the multiple layers of string plucking that goes into these productions. Makes ya think.

I have a big problem with the term "true climbing". WTF does that mean?

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 25, 2012 - 12:11am PT
True climbing, ah yes. What is the root? The Base from which we launch all future endeavors.

A good question indeed.

Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Jul 25, 2012 - 12:13am PT
If we answer this question, we answer it all.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jul 25, 2012 - 12:13am PT
So JLP is a 5.13 climber who's done the OW circuiit at that grade?

Or is the comment just his/her opinion?

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jul 25, 2012 - 12:26am PT
Who knows? He said once that he couldn't talk much about his climbs or he'd be stalked through his appearances in "Hot Flashes," whatever that is. Perhaps he means he has a crimnal record similar to Jesus in 'The Big Lebowski"....

Jul 25, 2012 - 12:45am PT
I don't have a direct comment. But I will say I completely sucked at crack climbing. Over my early years I knew I wanted to be a strong teammate and I focused on my weaknesses.

Years ago I onsighted Maxilash at Vedauwoo.

I puked at the top.

One of the biggest smiles I have to this day! Try that SOB!


Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 25, 2012 - 03:41am PT
I think we have to impose upon ourselves some sense of
the style and standards of our forebears, the masters.

I don't mean to be self-righteous. Hardly, but I would not
attempt Cream or Twilight Zone in a way so as to defeat
what was/is the challenge. When I fed the rope out and watched
Henry Barber lead Twilight Zone, he did so virtually
unprotected, in Pratt style. I was impressed. I
have to ask, what good would it do to climb such a route
with some type of big Friend or other device I could
slide up, as I went along? Would I be able to say I
did that climb? That I had ticked that one off my list?
No. I mean sometimes, as I learned, I was able to
do a certain classic and get something where others before
had not. Right at probably the hardest part of Ahab, where the
initial long chimney tapers down thinner, I
found a kind of hidden hole that took a perfect
baby angle, and I happened to have one such with me and used it.
I was capable of climbing past that section without that point,
but since I discovered it I felt to use it. I never had a sense
I was about to fall on that route and did it several times,
my first time with Van Freeman, then with Larry Dalke, then
with Peter Haan. The challenge of that climb, though, is to
find the technique that makes a route solid.

I had the good fortune of climbing quite a lot with Pratt, and he
was indeed the crack master. His physical being seemed to have
been made for off-widths. He was thin-chested but had wide shoulders.
So that gave him great leverage at chest level. He also had wonderful
natural technique. Often, strangely, when I expected otherwise, he
had me lead the crux, for example on the Right Side of Reed Pinnacle,
that off-width at the very top. He was happy to follow some of those,
and I was happy to gaze downward and watch how he did it. "Sick," he
said, softly, as he began that off-width. Then he made the
critical comment, "It lends itself to technique." Many have rearranged
those words over the years or quoted them as something different, but
that's exactly what he said, and it's the perfect, succinct way to
say certain climbs more or less bring out in one the necessary
technique or inspire one to be the measure of a pitch. It seems
most off-widths lent themselves to technique, when he was around.
I think I climbed better when he was there, and I felt his inspiration.

A Colorado climber must learn off-widths by coming to the Valley,
which I did. I started when Royal brought me in '64. The first real
climb I did at that time was Sentinel North Wall (which later
became known as the Steck-Salathe). Pitches found on that
great climb I had not seen before, and I taught myself as I
went. In short order, back in Colorado, I led the Crack of Fear,
virtually all free but for a piton or so (later realized that
could be eliminated by facing a different way at the crux). And
there were a few isolated off-widths, but still to learn a
true Yosemite off-width meant to go to Yosemite and be there.
I was always solid in Generator Crack, a warmup we sometimes
did when the weather was sketchy for longer climbs. When I led
Left Side of the Remnant, I had no trouble in the chimney-off-width
at the bottom, but my partner Dalke found that to be hideous.
He then floated the higher crux. He simply had not spent as much
time at such cracks.

Pratt, Mort Hempel, and I did the Left Side of Reed, and I
recall Chuck having me lead some part right at the top, and
when I peered over the ledge at the end of the crack I came
face to face with a snake. I asked Chuck what to do. He asked
what color it was. I said it had red on it. He said, "Don't
worry, it's just a king snake." I passed by as invisibly as
I could.... Again, though, I remember Chuck simply walked up
the whole route, as though it was some type of practice climb.

When Bridwell and I did the Left Side of the Slack, Jim was
in his element and in about his best form ever. My experience
that day was a bit like Royal's, when Royal followed Pratt. I didn't
quite get that little crux move, but I soon returned with
Higgins and led it solidly. Higgins was perfect in the way he
followed the crux. He didn't do many off-widths, but when he
was forced to Tom had the skill -- simply brilliant at all types of
climbing, not just face climbing, as some speculated.

In '68 I did the Steck-Salathe with Pratt, and by then I had honed
my crack skills. We made a relatively easy day of it, but still the
goal was to do each pitch properly, and certainly Chuck did. He was
so at home up there, on one of his favorite climbs. I put up a
few new routes in the Valley, one a bomb-bay chimney-off-width
up behind Camp 4 on that big wall. I called it April Showers,
because the insides of the crack had flakes that rained down on
my partner.

When you spend enough time in Yosemite, off-widths become familiar
and great climbing. When you try such cracks without the necessary
experience they can be a real horror show.... And once good at
such cracks, you can let years go by and get out of shape for
them. Bates told me he returned to the Valley and tried an old
play thing, Generator Crack, which he once could easily climb, and
had real trouble with it. He hadn't seen an off-width for quite some
time.... In his best shape, he was one of the best.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 25, 2012 - 03:49am PT
Dave Rearick in the foreground. Chuck Pratt is standing in the <br/>
Dave Rearick in the foreground. Chuck Pratt is standing in the
background. Note his wide sholders, though thin chest, perfect
for off-width. Taken probably fall '67.
Credit: Patrick Oliver

Jul 25, 2012 - 01:20pm PT
thanks Pat, that was interesting.
But, didn't Higgins write about an ow machine he had on the side of his house?

It's entirely different to lead something with the pro available at the time (where technique can be included as pro) or to eschew pro available to you now. Some may rail against pushing a big cam, but I think Schneider partially did that while onsighting 3 hard ow on excaliber. He could elaborate/correct the record. Judging from the photos, no one in their right mind would call those pitches light, or well-protected.

Anyhow, the reason for doing these climbs in a "lesser" style is not for bragging rights, but maybe to have an up close appreciation for just how good Pratt and others were, while not taking on nearly the same risk.

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