Offwidth climbing in Seattle

Posted by on February 26th, 2024  •  0 Comments

I recently discovered the Vertical World North climbing gym because we were looking to practice offwidth crack climbing. We used to go to their southerly location back before our local gym expanded. It was a fun way to get out of town and climb taller walls. Plus the South gym did have some nice cracks, though nothing was true offwidth.

This new North location has all the normal stuff as far as bouldering, toproping and leading steep sport routes. Plus it has the usual well equipped exercise area with free weights and aerobic machines like stair steppers and ellipticals. 

And unlike many gyms they still have the (semi) dangerous auto-belays. These seat belt retractor style devices aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, they’re well engineered. But complacent, some might say spacey climbers, and the lack of buddy checks have led to many tragic auto belay accidents.  If you’re smart, focused and constantly vigilant, auto belays are awesome due to the fact that you don’t need to bring a partner. 

But what really makes this gym special, and worth the trip, even if you don’t live in Seattle…is the cracks. To our great surprise, we were the only ones climbing the cracks. Everyone else was pulling on plastic. 

Starting with the smallest, they have a ring lock crack that varies in width from half an inch to three quarters of an inch. That means rattly fingers if you have small hands, and lockers if you have extra large hands like me. 

Next is a standard yellow number 2 camalot sized crack. This is perfect hands for most people. If  you like Classic Crack in Leavenworth, you’ll like this crack. And it has an auto-belay, so you can cruise up and down it without a partner. 

Next up are two variations on a blue number 3 camalot crack. With my XL sized hands, I was able to get easy steeples or tight fists in both of them. My friend with small hands really struggled with these two number 3 cracks. She had to do elbow jams or shaky butterfly jams to make progress.

But the best crack of all, especially if you are training for Moab’s  Indian Creek is the number 5 crack. Even my huge fists didn’t fit. I stuck them in hoping for at least a marginal fist jam…but it was nothing but air on both sides of my hand. It was the proverbial hotdog in a hallway scenario.  This crack is also in a corner, with one of the fist cracks nearby if you need to cheat. Anyway, it’s a fantastic size for learning your worst case off-width skills. It wasn’t big enough for double fists for either of us. It was hand fist stacking. 

But the crack is too wide to get any kind of heel toe jam. Initially neither of us could make uphill progress. We were completely shut down. After much struggle we found that we could get a secure no hands jam by sticking our left leg in up to the thigh. Then by contorting our hips we jammed our right leg in up to the knee doing a toe-knee bar. With both legs deep in the crack and sort of opposing each other, we could let go with our hand fist stacks long enough to slide them up. Once my hands were secure, I’d pull my legs out, do an insecure right leg heel toe to step up, then jam my left thigh back in and lock my lower body in place with some knee to toe opposition on my right leg. With my lower body locked into the crack, the only way to reach my hands higher was a sit up. We need to shoot video of this.

This was a full body, heart pounding workout. I couldn’t climb more than about 15 feet before hanging on the toprope to rest. But wow, such good practice! This comes very close to some of the 5.11 offwidth nightmares at Indian Creek. 

Beyond that, they had the usual wide selection of cubbies and lockers. They also had some really cool free electronic lockers for phones, keys and wallets. You stick your things in the little 7 inch steel cubes, press a button, program your personal code and shut the door. That was so cool to know that my valuables were safe without having to bring a lock.

Vertical World was the first climbing gym in America. I remember going there in 1988. I’m really glad to see they are still running a tight ship!

At Thanksgiving I stepped on the scale and was shocked to see my highest number ever: 176. This is partly because of the prednisone I’m taking to treat PMR (Polymyalgia Rheumatica). That started in April, 2023 with my last (second) bout of Covid. I got really stiff joints during my week of Covid symptoms. But the stiff joints, and a cough stayed for months. In my mind it was just Long Covid. But by August I was concerned enough to bail on a Squamish trip and drop into our local clinic. I could barely climb, and some days barely get out of bed because my knees, shoulders, neck, hips and elbows were locked up.

The PA, for lack of a better idea, prescribed a 9 day dose of Prednisone, which cured my symptoms overnight. She sent me to a Rheumatologist a month later who prescribed a smaller dose of prednisone in a year long declining dose called a taper. I’m six months in and have the dose down to 4mg a day. Some people online are saying that you shouldn’t lower your dose below your pain level. But I’m willing to accept some pain because this drug is all kinds of bad.

After my yearly physical a couple weeks ago I was warned about high Cholesterol. She advised another drug for that. But I didn’t want to add more pharmaceuticals. I’ve been down this road before. You go to a physical feeling great, and all you get is gloom and doom. That’s why I waited 3 years since my last one.

Years ago I found I could lower my cholesterol and improve other numbers by going on what is basically a vegan diet. No red meat, flour or sugar. And especially stay away from the delicious $9 a pound hot bar at Metro Market. That had become a regular thing. I’d load up on mac and cheese, cheesy lasagna, meatballs, basically anything that looked delicious. And this was typically after Sue and I had exercised on the hills. We had a “we earned it” attitude. And the pounds packed on.

One of the reasons I don’t get too worked up about Cholesterol reports is because of my grandma. When she was 97 she was still living alone, with her dog, in her old house on the West Side. This would have been around 1990. Dad was doing for grandma what Sue is now doing for her mom, taking her groceries, helping out whenever needed. Anyway, dad took her for her yearly physical. They told grandma that her cholesterol was high and she should change her diet, or maybe even get on some pills to reduce her cholesterol.

Grandma asked the doctor what cholesterol was. The doctor told her it was something they had just invented. It was a way to measure, or predict your predisposition towards heart attacks and strokes. Grandma just laughed and told the doctor that she had got to 97 just fine and wasn’t about to make any changes. She lived another 2 years before old age finally got her.

She used to tell me that she wasn’t having very much fun anymore. She had out lived all of her friends and siblings. She had her vinyl talking books, church every Sunday, and the occasional visits from family on holidays. But other than that it was a lonely life. I went down and drew her portrait once. She loved that and we talked a lot about art and getting older.

Huh. I just looked and I don’t seem to have any photos online of my two drawings of Grandma. I’ll have to look into that.

I do have friends who have died from heart attacks though. I mean, I’m not oblivious of the dangers of clogged arteries. A couple weeks ago I combined intermittent fasting with the vegan diet. I have the occasional slab of salmon or chicken, but only between 5pm and 10pm. Sometimes I breakdown at 3pm if I’m really hungry. My motto is: “Hunger is not a problem I need to fix.” I know it sounds elitist, very first world…but this is where I live. I also like the clarity that comes with fasting. It’s like my body is on high alert, constantly looking for food. I’ll catch a whiff of someone eating food and my senses light up. That doesn’t happen when you eat normally.

So anyway, I was very pleased to see 166 pounds on the scale this morning, down from 176 at Thanksgiving. Now to go get some exercise, and skip the reward afterward. I was just perusing some old journal entries and I found one from May 21, 1999. In it, I complain about 165 being fat. Jeez, I’ve really slipped up in the last 30 years.

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