Friday, October 21, 2011

The Lord of the Widz

This week’s Psyche is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a climbing story—and an esoteric one at that—but its narrative could apply to any endeavor. Over the last month, two gentlemen of the Sceptred Isle made a tour of America’s hardest wide crack climbs that has changed that pursuit forever. But before we jump into the what and how of the tale, we need to step back to the beginning, where a plan was hatched on a Greek island paradise famous for its sport climbing and free diving.

Kalymnos is a perfect setting for our genesis because it’s the exact opposite of where we lead. It’s a place that makes the sport of climbing seem magical. The rock climbing is incredibly fun. The surroundings are ever better. It’s a land where masses of uber fit scantily clad men and women throw themselves at mega hard routes until they’re glistening with sweat before cooling off in the Mediterranean and then lounging on the beach with a beverage. The entire scene is not unlike what a mountaineer might dream up while trapped in an ice cave during a week-long storm.

Conversely, wide cracks are most climber's nightmare. Often found in the dankest underbelly of the mountain they are avoided like the plague. There is never a crowd to contend with, unless you count bats or the various creepy crawlies that inhabit such realms. And then there’s the climbing, which is like an entirely different sport and generally consists of wedging as much of your body as you can fit into a fissure, usually inverted, and then finding a way to let go so that you can make forward progress that often proceeds inches at a time. It can best be summed up in one word: sadistic. Juxtaposing the two is like comparing Lothlórien to Mordor.

And thus it’s fitting that our heroes hail from The Shire, or England’s Peak District if you will. It’s a place steeped in history, where many a scheme to conquer the world’s highest peaks was hatched even though their own humble surrounding rarely exceed a few hundred meters. And, not unlike the race of Hobbits, locals of this region have snatched an almost absurd amount of success from under the noses of rocky heights denizens worldwide.


And so it begins. One Tom Randall, aka Randall of the Hump, and one Peter Whittaker, aka Peter of the Wide, whilst climbing in Kalymnos hatch an audacious quest, to conquer all of the most feared and notorious wide-crack climbs on the planet, and to let nothing stand in the way. Never mind that until this mad revelation they’d spend virtually no time attempting to climb such things.


Of course wide cracks of note barely existed anywhere near their homeland and, as such, they had a problem. But that didn’t stop Mallory, nor Shipton, Bonnington, Moffat or Moon. The lads would not be deterred and turned to their forbearers to guidance for which there was a solution steeped in lore. The English cellar.

Home improvements commenced and soon there was a gym, of sorts. More of a torture chamber. Kitchen counter tops, placed vertically with varying widths between, or just enough space of stuff various bits of body parts into, always upside down, in order to build muscle and tendon strength, lest we not forget pain tolerance, in order to turn this most magnificent of pipe dreams into reality.

Alas, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm... is too good to be summed up already. In fact, the Wide Boyz, as they are now called, are still at it. What is unfolding is a story for the ages. And since I’m recapping, those who fancy yourself intrepid can easily look ahead at a handful of blogs covering the story—the best belonging to our heroes, their court reporter, and, as always in matters of vertical ascention in fair Albion, UK Climbing. Or you can use some restraint and let it unfold here, like allowing your wine to breath instead of quaffing it out of the bottle—perhaps box in such a case. After all, even in the most grizzly of times we humans must do our best to remain civilized.

Of course a guy’s gotta make a living, so don’t be shy about clicking any link in this post. Who knows, it might lead to you getting fitter than you’ve ever been and hanging upside down like a bat a few thousand feet above a barren desert. But one can only dream.

Tom Randall is sponsored by Wild Country, RAB, Sterling Rope, Five Ten, Climb On and supported by The Edge Climbing Centre

Pete Whittaker is sponsored by Wild Country, Patagonia, Sterling Rope, Five Ten, Climb On

Travelling with the duo is photographer Alex Ekins. You can see heaps of trip images on his website: Alex Ekins. Alex is sponsored by Wild Country, RAB, PODsacs and Clif Bar.

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