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2016 Golden Pitons: Vision Award

Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall, Sheffield, England

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Tom Randall climbs The Millennium Arch (5.14) in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Photo: Mike Hutton

When Brits Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall ventured to the White Rim in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park last spring, their hunt for a supremely difficult roof crack project was “a stab in the dark,” according to Whittaker. From their 2011 trip to send Century Crack (5.14b), they knew that roof crack projects abound in the area. The question was, would there be one hard enough to suit their vision?

“We were really looking for something that was absolutely desperate,” said Whittaker, whose goal for the trip was to push the existing boundaries of trad and crack climbing. The duo spent three weeks exploring the desert in search of the perfect line. Along the way, they discovered nearly a dozen routes in the 5.13-5.14 range—but not one of them was quite hard enough.

The Millennium Arch (5.14) was among their “easy” first ascents. “Although we’d found this massive 300-foot roof crack, when we first found it in the spring we sort of just sacked it off because it looked too easy,” said Whittaker.

Though they would eventually return for the send, Whittaker and Randall’s visions of difficulty deterred them from hanging around Millennium Arch that spring. “We were so picky. We nearly never actually found the right project, because it is kind of hard to find that line between impossible and possible, but then not too easy at the same time,” said Whittaker.

After three weeks, the mission seemed fruitless. It was only once they began to drive out of the park that Whittaker proposed they double check one last cave. That’s where they found it: the Crucifix Project, 180 feet of what could be 5.15a crack climbing. “It doesn’t get much luckier than that, really,” said Randall.

Randall and Whittaker returned in autumn with an agenda to send. Though they still considered it too easy, the pair got on Millennium Arch when other climbs were too wet to attempt. Upon returning, the grand scale of the 300-foot roof crack made an impression on them. “When one person is standing at one side of the arch and the other person is standing at the other side of the arch…the other person just looks so small,” Whittaker said.

Even though 300 feet of continuous horizontal crack climbing posed many logistical difficulties, (rope-length being one) the pair was ready for the challenge.

“I like a good fight,” said Randall. After just three days of working the route, both Randall and Whittaker sent, unceremoniously stepping back onto the ground on the far side of the arch.

With only a few days on the Crucifix Project under their belts, Whittaker and Randall have returned home to focus their training for a return trip in the fall of 2017. Thinking about their next dream line, Randall said, “it doesn’t represent an achievement, it represents a process, and if me and Pete can completely revolutionize how we operate and where we are as climbers and move crack climbing standards to a completely new level—that’s what that route will represent, it’ll represent that process.”

See the rest of the 2016 Golden Piton winners: