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Interview: Tom Randall on Cobra Crack

Following their recent ascent of Cobra Crack in Squamish, Canada, UKC caught up with Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker, aka The Wideboyz, while they were having a wet weather rest day in Squamish.

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Cobra Crack. Courtesy of Hotaches Film/Randall Coll.Tom and Pete are two of the UK’s (and the world’s) most accomplished crack climbers, having travelled far and wide in pursuit of this gnarly genre of our sport, but of course both are superb climbers in all styles.

One of their biggest ascents was back in 2011 when they made the first ascent of the desert offwidth Century Crack (perhaps the hardest crack climb in the world and the centre of the awesome film Wideboyz), and the dynamic duo are known for putting in the effort with specific crack training on wooden crack replicas back home in the UK.

Repeating the Cobra Crack in Squamish was a little different to their usual upside down bum wiggling however, as it is a thin finger crack and requires more forearm and finger power – similar to normal climbing.

INTERVIEW Tom Randall – Cobra Crack

Jack: Cobra Crack – where did the idea to go and do it come from?

Tom: Okay, so the offwidthing thing of America wasn’t exactly an end goal – it was a process we needed to go through to complete the master plan. The same can be said about Cobra. It’s a big tick for us (we are after all, just gritstone weaklings) but it’s a stepping stone towards some bigger goals.

Jack: And you trained specifically for it, what did you do?

Tom: Well, we needed to change things up from the offwidthing. Cobra is a pure power or power endurance problem – 14 hard moves in the crack. Whilst our chicken wings, pirate shuffles and arm bars had grown strong over 2 years, our fingers and forearms had withered away. We did a load of lock-offs, bachar laddering, Crackar laddering and trained on a wooden 6ft finger crack.

Jack: And was it harder or easier than expected?

Tom: The route was way more painful than expected, even though everyone had warned us of that! Much of the first week was spent trying to find comfortable sequences and learning to deal with the pain – especially the mono undercut move. I’d say to start with the route felt harder than expected and when we actually did it, it felt slightly easier. If that makes sense?

Jack: Did you each have different cruxes / hard parts?

Tom: Yes, definitely. Pete has really fat fingers (he once mistook his own fingers for sausages and put them on the BBQ) and so the top few moves were pretty spicy for him as you have to jam your pinkie into the crack whilst upside down. I, on the other hand, have small buttocks, so the rockover move on a small crystal lower down was really hard as I couldn’t clench tight enough.

Jack: And Tom, you took a little longer to do it, was that stressful? Did you think it might not go down?

Tom: It was stressful at times. I did have really bad sleep for the few days after Pete did the route and I was struggling on this one move. I did what most men do in desperate times… I called on my Mum for advice.

Jack: And how does it compare in difficulty to some of the other cracks you guys have done?

Tom: Well, that’s a big question! There are obviously some issues with comparing cracks as I think body size and conditions can change experiences. But if you were to take the top 5 we have done it would be:

Century Crack (5.14b)
Cobra Crack (5.14a)
Anna Kournikova (5.14a)
Karlek (5.13d)
The Sheep (V8)

Jack: And how did you know your training crack / plan was A) the right size, B) hard enough etc.

Tom: A) We didn’t really know! We asked some friends who’d been on the route or done it and based it around that. It was a best educated guess really. B) This part, we seriously doubted ourselves on. It was so hard to guess at what 8c (5.14a) would feel like and whether we in fact needed to be “8c+ fit” in order to tick in a short trip. I think we still don’t really know!

Jack: Is it as good as it looks?

Tom: Oh, it’s truly amazing. Hands down, the best stone we’ve climbed on. Impeccable white granite on a big leaning wall. It’s even better than there’s no other routes on that buttress – it’s a total stand out line. Sonnie must have been so psyched when he did such a mega line.

Jack: And what have been the highlights of the trip?

Randall places a stopper on Cobra.  Courtesy of Hotaches Film/Randall Coll.Tom: I think it was getting benighted on The Grand Wall, a 5.11 on The Chief. We decided to go fast and light and in fact we ended up wet and stuck below the last pitch in the dark. We had a bit of an epic retreat with ropes too short, no guidebook and head torches with almost no battery. It was mostly Pete’s fault to be fair.

Jack: And what are the Wideboyz going to do next?!

Tom: Take a rest week!!!! We’ve got some plans, but I think we’ll just let them develop on their own..

Jack: Anything else worth saying?

Tom: Massive big thanks to our sponsors who supported this trip and also to Hotaches for sitting in a tree for 3 weeks filming us and our stupid antics.

Jack: And, last question… How does it compare to the Sheep at Burbage?!

Tom: Jack, that’s the BIG question. I (Tom) have been asking myself this for many years. It’s a Font 6C (V8) crack at Burbage that I’ve been projecting for over 10 years now. It’s so gnarly, I can hardly pull off the ground on some days. All my friends think it’s hilarious that I can’t do it (and it’s a crack) despite that so many of them have tried it with me and given me beta. Maybe it’s harder than
Cobra in fact?!

Jack: Thanks Tom, and good effort on the route. Also good effort looking after Pete in a foreign country! 😉

Originally posted on Additional reporting by Andrew Hewitt.