In a previously untouched cave on Utah’s White Rim, British climbers Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker have achieved something quite extraordinary; climbing the world’s longest roof crack in an incredible feat of strength, skill and the dogged determination to hang upside down from jammed body parts for upwards of two hours!
In November 2011, Tom and Pete made headlines when they successfully climbed ‘Century Crack’ - a monstrous roof crack of incredible size that had previously turned back all would-be ascensionists. At the time, their ascent of the route made it the longest successfully climbed roof crack in the world. However, on a return visit to The White Rim this month, Tom and Pete made the first ascent of a new route, that, in Tom’s words, “makes Century Crack look small”.[caption id="attachment_27219" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Left: Tom climbing ‘Century Crack’ in 2011. Photo credit: Alex Ekins. Right: Photo Credit: Kyle Berkompas.[/caption]
The pair discovered the new route, which they have named ‘Millennium Arch’, during a reconnaissance trip to the area in April of this year. The purpose of this exploratory trip was to search for the hardest roof crack climb in the world and, with such an objective in mind; they initially dismissed the colossal ‘Millennium Arch’ as “too easy”.
“I think we were blinded by this vision of something that had the most hideously hard/difficult crack size possible that we'd ignored the "giant factor" and that hanging upside down for so long isn't exactly easy...” says Tom.
The incredible length of the ‘Millennium Arch’ was a challenge in more ways than one. Extending for over 300 feet, the route was always going to be a test of stamina. However, simply holding on for that much climbing was only the start of the difficulties as Tom explains:
“Firstly, you can't access the cave by foot so you have to abseil in. Secondly the route is so long and the cave so deep that you can't lower off on attempts. This means you have to carry an abseil rope with you whilst climbing/working the route. Very strange and unfortunately quite heavy as well! Once you do lower, you're then stuck at the bottom of a cave and can't get back to the belay, so again have to be lowered a 3rd rope to get back to the start of the route. This is all an aside from the fact that we don't have a rope long enough to lead the route either so had to do a rope change.”
With so many logistical challenges stacked on top of the climbing, it’s perhaps no surprise that things didn’t exactly go according to plan on the ascent.
“…we'd underestimated the length of the route when we left our second rope for the last section of the route. It's so big that the eye gets confused and it's easy to make mistakes. When I arrived at two thirds of the way along the route…I found that my rope had run out and I was still 15ft away from the next one. Pete was shouting at me that I had nothing left and I was about to go ropeless.”[caption id="attachment_27217" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Photo credit: Kyle Berkompas[/caption]
With the safety of the second rope just out of reach and a successful ascent of the route on the line, Tom decided to untie from the first rope and climb, unprotected, until he could tie into the second line.
“Luckily this section was some pretty easy climbing so soloing didn't seem unpalatable to reach the next rope and I just untied. I think we were both laughing about what idiots we'd been rather than being terrified!”
The pair both spent upwards of two hours on the route and as is common with this type of climbing, where using jammed hands and fists is a must, they both report having lost feeling in a number of their fingers.
While Tom and Pete have offered a grade of 5.14 for the route, they are keen to stress that the Millennium Arch is very much more an adventure than it is a ‘route’ in the traditional sense that many climbers would understand it.
“It's a "challenge"… we spent 4 days just getting across the route and equipping it. We left all kit in place and did it redpoint style, but we want to stress that it's neither sport nor trad climbing.... just a very, very unique climb!”
The arch is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular natural features to be climbed in recent years. It is a structure that would dwarf many cathedrals and, to a climber’s eye, its lines are no less beautiful. Tom is happy to count the climb as one of his greatest experiences in climbing, but given the unique style of the route and the difficult logistics involved, he’s unsure it will see another ascent in his lifetime. Who knows though, perhaps some other equally masochistic soul will step up to try it someday soon.