The Cobra bites at fingers.
For seven years Tom Randall and Peter Whittaker listened to tales about its painful nips and power-hungry moves. The world-class, British climbers knew they had to see it for themselves. Last month they came face-to-face with it and conquered it in the process.
“This particular crack broke world-class records,” Randall said, having arrived at his Sheffield home in England from Squamish four hours prior to his interview on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Cobra Crack runs up a 30 metre tall granite overhang on the Cirque of Uncrackables. The Squamish crack's rating places it four notches below the most difficult climb in the world — a Norwegian route that juts along the ceiling of the Flatanger Cave.
There's only one way up the Cobra's 14 hard moves. You have to stick your fingers in the tiny, dark line and jam them there. It's painful, Randall said, cuts are a par for the course. To numb his fingers he hits them against the rock before climbing. It's all about mind over matter, as the body's weight transfers to the digits.
“In the end it is in your mind and how much you want it,” he said.
Cobra's famed for its mono undercling, a climbing position in which your weight is on a single finger that's jammed up into a crack rather than hooked down it. In Randall's 17 years of climbing he's only ever encountered the move once before.
“It's a very rare move,” he said.
To prepare for its bite, the two Brits hit the hardware store. Using two-by-fours, Randall built a climbing circuit in the cellar of his brick home. The planks were placed vertically along the ceiling various widths apart from each other, allowing the duo to simulate cracks.
“We approached it like when you go to the gym and do weights,” Randall said. “We just identified certain moves and concentrated on them.”
In 2006, Cobra Crack was propelled into the spotlight by Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter. The Toronto-native starred in a documentary capturing the first accent of the route. Today, the list of people who've completed it reads like a climbing who's who — two-time Lead World Cup holder Yuji Harayama, Patagonia sponsored climber Nicolas Favresse and Squamish's very own Will Stanhope. After three weeks working on the route, starting in the beginning of September, Randall and Whittaker added their names to the list.
Climbing is about constantly evolving challenges, Randall noted, it's the perfect mixture of a mental puzzles and physical exertion.
“Everyone has a small journey that they have to take on a route.”