Rock and Ice: News, Issue 156

This article originally appeared in Issue 156 of Rock and Ice magazine.

Crack Attack: Offwidth Bouldering Packs a Pack
By Sarah Garlick

Pamela Pack picked up the fringe pursuit of offwidth bouldering this summer. This Boulder, Colorado, climber has since rapidly dispensed with numerous Vedauwoo, Wyoming, bouldering testpieces including The Warden (extended start, 5.13a), Desiderata (5.12b), University of Mars (5.12b), Life Without Parole (5.12a), Banana Hammock (5.12a) and Hobgoblin (5.12a). Her tick list also includes the second ascent of the flared-crack boulder problem The Sparkling Touch (5.13a), considered by many Vedauwoo aficionados to host some of the hardest crack moves in the region.

“I used to think that [offwidth climbing] was for people who can suffer the most,” says Pack, a 32-year-old computer programmer. “But it’s not. It’s elegant. The moves are very specific. You don’t just get in there and struggle.”

Justin Edl, of Laramie, Wyoming, has established many of Vedauwoo’s stoutest offwidth problems, including 8 Ounces to Freedom (5.13a) and It (5.12d). He says the most impressive thing about Pack’s climbing is how fast she picked it up.

“It blows me away,” he says. “To me, The Sparkling Touch is the hardest thing I’ve done. It takes people years to climb these things.” Pack sent The Sparkling Touch in two hours.

Offwidth bouldering has a long-standing tradition at Vedauwoo, where wide cracks are ubiquitous and many formations are too short to justify roping up. Most “classic” problems begin in bombay flares, and cruxes usually involve hanging upside down from inverted heel-toe foot-cams and pulling up via a series of sit-ups and stack moves.

“This is completely different than any other kind of climbing,” says Edl.

Pack’s interest in offwidth bouldering began when a rare forearm condition called Chronic Compartment Syndrome threatened to end her climbing career. Chronic Compartment Syndrome causes a painful buildup of pressure when the forearm muscle contracts during exercise. In Pack’s case, the condition leads to complete forearm failure after five minutes of exertion. Pack, a formerly dedicated ice and mixed climber, quit last winter because of the pain.

“I cried for about a day after my last route,” says Pack, “thinking I would never climb ice again. I bought a mountain bike and I started trail running.”

But Pack says she was unable to stay away from climbing. She turned to offwidth bouldering with the hope that the short, core-dependent problems would allow her a chance to climb without inflaming her injury. She was surprised, she says, by how quickly she adapted to the style.

“I had to develop a serious injury and quit climbing to find my niche as a climber,” says Pack.

Pack’s condition, however, has not abated and she now faces an invasive, and risky, surgery this winter in order to continue climbing.

“If the surgery is successful I will be significantly stronger,” Pack says. “If not, I may be significantly worse off. I have a hell of a lot more offwidths to climb.”