Most of us probably know that climbing is host to some strange and twisted characters, and if we needed any confirmation of that, it came with the news that Doug McConnell recently climbed his off-width project at the granite paradise of Tarana in New South Wales, the aptly named Fight Club.
Here in the ivory of tower of VL’s HQ we don’t hear about too many hard off-widths being climbed Downunder as generally Ozzies are softer than butter sitting in the sun, so we decided to do a short interview with Doug to find out more about his overhanging granite trench, but more importantly to ask him why.
Can you tell us a little bit about the line and the story of how you came to climb it?
Well it’s an offwidth I guess. Two leaning granite boulders on top of the Evans Crown reserve at Tarana form a perfect gravelly bum-shaped roof crack through a camping cave. The challenge is obvious.
I heard about it after doing another wide, steep, gravelly classic new route near Lithgow last year (Crack, Sack and Back ), which got people discussing other notable wide projects. THE offwidth through the camping cave at Tarana sounded like a good thing to check out. In theory an offwidth through a roof doesn’t sound that hard, right? But what makes this line especially challenging is the arse flare that means you can’t get both your hands and your feet in the crack at the same time. It took a lot of effort between a few of us to figure out a sequence that would actually work.
Rowan Druce actually tried the thing first but Jamie Corkins was the keenest to come back and try it repeatedly, which was kinda funny as he has had a hip full replacement and the route requires one to hang their entire body weight off one torqued foot over and over, something he describes as searing white hot pain. He loves it but will surely destroy his ceramic joint on the route.
I injured my fingers late last year so I couldn’t really climb normal routes. Then as my fingers were coming good I injured a shoulder and was told I couldn’t use my arm for three months. Pretty fed up by this point I built a five-inch wide crack in my garage and started hanging off it by my feet. I rapidly got better and the improvement was encouraging. The crack in my shed is actually harder than Fight Club in a lot of ways.
In the end I only actually truly believed I could do the route on the day I did it. Even now it’s hard to believe I really climbed from the ground to the top. I spent so long failing on the route that the few minutes of climbing during the send feel a bit like a dream – very different to the previous year of suffering reality.
Did you get stuck at all or have any nasty falls?
I got stuck lots. It’s the only way to do the route. When you get unstuck you fail. Falls were pretty non eventful really as it’s a crack you can get gear almost anywhere. It would be bad to fall off the crux though as you’d hit a tree.
Can you tell us why (why oh why) you would be inspired to try such a line?
It’s a true king line, a thing of beauty. Ha, no initially it was just funny. Then I was inspired simply cos I couldn’t do it. The more I went out there the more I’d get excited by idea that it might actually be possible to climb it in one go from the ground to the top. It’s quite a strange and unique challenge and a style of rock climbing as valid as any other albeit probably less popular than most…
What special gear did you wear to climb it? Was double denim the trick to sending?
So many tricks, but no denim. I had a Hard Yakka shirt (inside-out so the buttons didn’t come undone in the initial squeeze chimney), a rubber knee pad for the crux knee bar, heaps of tape and I had Big John custom modify my favourite La Sportiva Miuras to be pretty much stiff rubber socks. More tape.
What special techniques did it require?
Haha all the techniques I know except using your hands. There are two holds in 15m of climbing. A friend came home early on in my crack addiction and was concerned to find images from Widefetish.com open on my computer. Take a look. There are some good tips. Actually none of them are any good for Fight Club…
The route has two difficult sections. After cutting loose on a fist jam and kicking your feet into jams at head height you lower yourself into a position hanging upside down by your feet. The next three or four metres of ‘foot jam campusing’ provides the first crux. After drilling your core (and feet) in that you have to knee-bar above your head to escape the foot hang and dive into a jug fist jam.
Rope management is tricky. If you weren’t climbing inverted you wouldn’t use one but the idea of falling head first out onto the ground even from only a few meters up wasn’t appealing. I used two ropes and ditched one half way. After the crux I was taken off belay so that my belayer could pull rope through to reduce drag for the topout.
How hard do you think it is?
It’s difficult to tell whether it’s hard or it just hurts a lot. The only thing I’ve done that’s remotely comparable is the Ogive (28) at Bundaleer and Fight Club is easily eight grades harder than that. I think 30 is probably fair but I’d love someone to come and confirm that. Word is Simon Mentz is on the way up here now.
Has it left any scars (on your psyche or otherwise)? And, if so, is it true that chicks dig scars?
The first day I went into work after trying it I knew it had to be called Fight Club. My ears and nose were bloodied from trying to turn my head in the initial squeeze chimney and my fists were red raw from gravelly jams. I felt like Tyler Durden. Everyone digs scars.
Now that you are fully paid up off-width master, are you inspired to tackle more off-widths a la the Wide Boyz?
That Century Crack thing they did looks pretty easy relative to Fight Club so I probably won’t bother.
Have you thought of re-branding yourself as Doug the Ditchmaster?
That’s genius Ross. You are a true wordsmith.