Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall, the self-confessed Wideboyz, have discovered and climbed the world’s biggest roof crack in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The line, christened Crown of Thorns by the boys, stretches for 165 feet and has been graded 5.14a.
Randall and Whittaker are no strangers to Canyonlands. They made their name as a pair in White Rim in 2011 with the first ascent of Century Crack. The line, established by Stevie Haston, was considered the hardest offwidth crack in the world when the Wideboyz jammed knees, ankles and anything that would go in it and dragged themselves to the end. Never ones to brag or rub an achievement in the faces of fellow climbers (especially US climbers), Pete and Tom celebrated with typical modesty: releasing a Wide Boyz DVD detailing their long and bloody struggle with Century Crack.
Photo by Kyle Berkompas
The embedded video features an interview with Tom about the Wideboyz’ Spring 2016 “reconnaissance” mission in Canyonlands when they returned in search of a new project – a “God Line” as the boys put it – to test their mettle.
The Wideboyz describe the moment of revelation when they discovered exactly the kind of challenge they were looking for: “A full 180 foot crack rose straight from the depths of the hollowed-out cliff side, piercing through the centre of the cave and continuing out to the lip. Strangely enough, it was also bisected by another crack which created the appearance of a giant crucifix in the ceiling.”
“As the Crucifix Project takes shape, we got distracted by one very, very big roof. This one is a once-in-a-lifetime climb as it’s not every day you get to annihilate yourself on a 300ft roof crack. Myself and Pete both lost feeling in a couple of fingers through trying so hard, had to untie from the rope mid ascent (ran out of rope) and got absolutely toasted in an upside-down marathon. The Millennium Arch, 5.14 is quite a special little route and required some serious teamwork motivation and psyche to get done. Photo below shows maybe only one half of the route or less??” – Tom Randall
The 180 foot line was duly named Crucifix by the Wideboyz and they returned to Utah this month with the intention of tackling it. Unfortunately, conditions on the rock had changed and their dreams of posting Crucifix had to put to one side due to wet and slippery holds. However, the second crack – the one that bisects the Crucifix line to form the shape of a cross – had better holds and, though a “mere” 165 feet, still seemed a worthy challenge.
Crown of Thorns became the Wideboyz’ immediate project and climbing it cost them a great deal – primarily skin. Tom and Pete nicknamed the cave in which Crucifix and Crown of Thorns intertwine as The Meat Factory since climbers will inevitably donate “skin and blood to the slaughterhouse.”
The line is also physically demanding. Tom referred to it as “one of the few routes in recent times that both of (us) have screamed on quite a bit! Overall it has harder and more technical moves than Century Crack, but it’s less sustained so you’re able to recover on a couple of sections. It felt similarly tiring on the body though.”
Photo by Kyle Berkompas
Since Century Crack stretches for around 120 feet, Crown of Thorns comfortably exceeds it in length. It is clear from the Wideboyz blog, however, that Crucifix remains their dream. “It is a whole new level of difficulty that we’ve never tried (around 9a+ route and V14 crux)” they write of Crucifix. ” Neither of us have even looked at a route this hard before never mind try and climb it.”
Having aided many sections of the Crucifix already and come up with moves such as the “Seven Sacred Shoe Shuffles” and “13 Disciples” to face up to its challenges, the Wideboyz seem well-placed to take on Crucifix when conditions improve. Wet holds on a climbing problem located in a desert seems like a very British kind of bad luck, but when Crucifix dries out the Wideboyz may well post another first in the US.
Photos by Kyle Berkompas