|Starting up the crux pitch|
The Casual Route on the Diamond has two sections of wide crack climbing. The first is a short, awkward slot on the second or third pitch, after the traverse. The second is on the penultimate crux pitch, where one wriggles up a squeeze chimney and then does some offwidth moves to escape via a Bombay exit. Wide crack climbing was the last technique for Mark to practice before the big day. One of the best choices for this in Eldorado Canyon is the Grand Giraffe. This is a 5 or 6 pitch route on the Redgarden Wall and the crux pitch is a 10a off width and leads to more squeeze/offwidth climbing. The wide climbing on this pitch is considerably tougher than anything he'd see on the Diamond, so if he could get up this, he would be fine high on Longs Peak.
I'd climbed this route earlier in the year with Stefan, knew just what to do at the crux, and was confident. Hence, I only brought one #3 Camalot - my standard Eldo rack. I can afford to go without any wide gear because I trust the pin protecting the crux. Also, because if I fell onto the pin, I figured it wouldn't be very forceful, as likely it would be sliding back down the offwidth and gently weighting the pin. But I wasn't going to fall.
I needed to be into work by 9 a.m. so Mark and I met at 5 a.m. We were hiking in dim light by 5:15 a.m. I brought one kneepad for each of us. The last time I climbed it I bruised my left knee a bit and wanted to avoid reliving that. I was in short sleeves and it was already hot climbing up the Lower Ramp. Once we started climbing, though, the temperatures were perfect. We were never hot because of the early hour and that we were in the shade the entire time. I put the first two pitches together into one pitch, which still was only 125 feet long. The start is some thin 5.8+ crack/stemming climbing and that leads to tricky 5.9 climbing between two slanting cracks. Mark found this upper part pretty taxing, but he did a great job in climbing it without falls, onsight.
The next pitch is a fun 5.6 pitch that goes up a big chimney (no real chimney technique required) and out onto a featured face. I set up a bomber belay from a couple of cams and brought Mark up to my stance. Above us was the business. I gave Mark all the instruction and beta I could think of, as this was a learning session, not an onsight attempt. I told him it was a "left-side-in" off width and to clear all the gear from his left side. I told him about arm bars, chicken wings, heel-toe, and, for this route, the absolutely essential knee-lock. I somewhat enjoy the misery of off widths, like I enjoy climbing on a bike. Unfortunately my cycling climbing and my offwidth climbing have another thing in common: I'm mediocre at both. I pretty much top out at 10a/b when it comes to wide cracks, so I'm quite familiar with the frustration that comes when you hit your skill/fitness limit on an offwidth. When you hit this limit upward progress seems to be impossible.
I squirmed up into the slot and oozed up just a bit until I could clip the pin. I showed Mark just where to put his feet and then got my left arm chicken wing and my right hand Gastoning on edge of the crack. I then got a thigh/knee jam with my left leg and was then able to stem my right foot over to the key foothold out on the right face. That was hard move number one. The only other hard move is the next move. With right foot pushing me against the left wall and my hands in the same configuration, only slightly higher, I pulled out my left leg and lifted it as high as I could, past the constriction that requires you to pull out your knee. Once above this constriction, I shoved my knee, protected by my pad, back into the crack and it locked in solid. At that point the crux was over and I'd never have to remove my knee/thigh from the crack again. The rest of the pitch is straight forward wide crack groveling.
Once above the crux, Mark said, "Well, that didn't look too bad." I paused and warned him, "I doubt it will go like that for you. Despite what it looked like, it is subtle climbing that is very rarely done right the first time. Really strong climbers with no offwidth technique can sometimes still climb them clean but using 5.12 face holds on a 5.9 offwidth. Heck, the 5.14-redpointing Huber brothers failed to onsight 5.11a offwidth up on El Cap. Offwidth climbing is an acquired taste and it's definitely an acquired skill, even at this grade.
I set up a bomber belay on the ledge above and then lower myself down so that I could watch and instruct Mark. It went about like I expected it would go. He didn't onsight the pitch, but he worked hard and he used the right techniques and he made progress. I think he only fully weighted the rope once, which is dang good for a tricky crux like this. At least he got a taste for what he'll be getting into up on the East Face. Once by the crux, Mark moved nicely up the route and turned the little roof/bulge at the top with aplomb.
We romped up the Upper Grand Giraffe in one 230-foot pitch (some simul-climbing). Mark arrived at the top with a wide grin. He called that last pitch the creme brûlée dessert after eating his offwidth vegetables. Once we got on the East Slabs on the descent, the sun hit us and though the thermometer only said 79 degrees it felt like 95 to me. It was only 8:15 a.m. and already it was too hot to climb in Eldo.