'Al Descanso!' Spanish for 'Offwidth'

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

I learned how to crack climb in the land of the off-width: Vedauwoo. I can still remember taping up for the first time, and sinking those first painful but thrilling jams into Edward’s Crack. I still have my tape gloves that my climbing partner gave to me that day (thanks, David!). On some autumn weekends during a particularly car-less fall semester at CSU I’d stand on the side of 287 by Ted’s Place with a sign: “Going Climbing.,” and I’d hitch my way up to Laramie to grunt in the Woo with a Wyoming friend.

Since moving out of FoCo I haven’t climbed much off-width stuff, but I was inspired by off-width fiend friends the other day in Moab and we made the 15-minute, .8-second approach to some 5.10 splitter offwidth on Wall Street above the Potash Road. Vedauwoo gets a bad rap (you know, bring tape, advil, and plenty of thrift store clothes to shred). But after chicken-winging and road-runneering on slick sandstone, I realized that I’d been a little bit spoiled by the Woo. At least there the crystals are so big that if you can’t hang onto them, they’ll at least hang on to you, and just about everything is a foot hold. Sandstone off width is nothing by squirming and squealing. Less painful, for sure, but a little trickier.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

My King Fisher Tower partner, Adam, hopped on the sharp end after we warmed up on “30 Seconds Over Potash” and “Lucy In The Sky With Potash.” The route is kind of like the Generic Crack of off widths: spliter, pod; spliter, pod; repeat. As he reached the size-6 Camalot parallel crux, he writhed up, set a cam, and down climbed to rest before the final push. “A la muerte!” I yelled from the road, trying to evoke the macho magic of our favorite cri d’guerre. Seemingly inspired, Adam arm-barred, side pulled and thigh-mastered up toward the cam, sending slow and ferocious, and just at the apex of the effort….he down climbed again. “That wasn’t very ‘a la muerte,’” yelled Max, Adam’s belayer. “More like “Al descanso!” I yelled. “Al descanso!” When Adam finished his descanso, however, he saddled up and rode that wide horse all the way to the chains. “A la muerte, después del descanso!” That seems like a fitting new war cry, not to mention a worthy modus operandi, especially in the desert. Especially in the desert in the spring. So, once the TR was hanging, I put on the patched-up Carhartts, with long underwear, and ½ size too big Sportiva high tops with thick socks, and got back to off-widthing.

Then, Max’s climbing partner got on the thing and proved once again that 5.11 face climbers can hike right up – or rather, around – 5.10 offwidths. I guess even crack climbers benefit from a little crimp strength, eh?

Got any favorite off-width climbs or off-width stories? Share your grunt and glory in the comment box below!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

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