Squeeze-chimney climbing made “easy.”
On the first ascent of the striking parallel-sided squeeze chimney Sidewinder, in Long Canyon, near Moab, I reached a spot where the crack was just wider than the length of my foot. I was struggling for every inch of progress with my body in a vertical orientation. Many how-to books show a “T-stack” for the feet to span such a crack. Apparently it works great for some climbers, but I’ve never gotten much mileage out of this technique because the leg position feels awkward, and my knees get in the way when I try to move my foot stack up. I was desperate to find an easier way through this section, so I started trying all sorts of voodoo magic. Finally, I rotated my body into an almost horizontal position, and discovered the “Sidewinder” technique, which allowed me to easily (OK, it still wasn’t that easy), and relatively quickly, get to the end of the grueling pitch that ate 12 Big Bros for protection.To do the Sidewinder, work your body into an almost horizontal position inside the squeeze chimney, with your head slightly higher than your feet. To do that, press your palms and knees against the front wall, while pressing your back, feet, and triceps against the back wall. A combination of three techniques will hold you in the crack: chicken wings for your arms, a hip/butt rotation (twisting your upper hip into the front wall and lower buttock against the back wall) for your mid-section, and knee bars for your legs.
For the chicken wings, set the triceps of your upper arm against the back wall and your palm against the front wall, with your elbow pointing up and your fingers pointing down. Your lower arm will be the same, only with your elbow pointing down. Pulling down on your upper triceps — or pushing down on your lower chicken wing — cams your arm into place (somewhat like a TriCam). To cam your mid-section into the crack, rotate your upper hip into the front wall, and your lower buttock against the back wall. For the kneebars, set both of your knees against the front wall, and keep your heels against the back wall.
Now the fun part: slithering up the squeeze chimney like a snake. First, you need to get horizontal. Set the chicken wings, then slide your hips up and rotate them into the crack, then slide the legs up and set the kneebars. After two or three rotations you should be close to the horizontal position. To move up the crack, rotate your torso upward while letting your chicken wings slide up the crack, then reset your arms. Next, slide your hips up and rotate them back into position. Finally, slide your legs up and reset your kneebars. Repeat ad nauseum until you punch through the section. Pace yourself to keep your heart rate at a manageable level.
The skin over the triceps of your upper arm will get thrashed, so wear a long sleeve shirt. Elastic, neoprene, or best, rubber kneepads, will help protect your knees. If you have a long stretch of Sidewinding to overcome, you can switch so you lead with the opposite side of your body to spread the pain and skin damage. To do this, move upward while rotating your body into a vertical orientation, then keep rotating until your opposite side leads up the chimney. Your partners will be baffled as they first see your head, then only your feet, sticking out of the slot. Many variations to the theme exist, depending on the architecture of the crack. Being creative, open-minded — and somewhat masochistic — will see you through the worst.
Ever since Craig Luebben invented the BigBro tube chocks, he’s been forced to pursue the masochistic world of wide-crack climbing.