The Origins of an Offwidth Revolution
To the ordinary eye, concrete joists holding up a parking garage do not look particularly enticing. But to Randy Leavitt and Tony Yaniro, two teenagers hooked on crack climbing in 1977, they offered a unique training opportunity – a series of cracks, including four roof cracks – and a chance to reinvent the sport. “There were 45- foot long roof cracks,” recalls Leavitt, who said it was a Wells Fargo garage in Los Angeles that they would visit at night. “One was hands, one was wide hands, one was fists and the other was an offwidth.”
Leavitt and Yaniro would do laps in tennis shoes, with duct tape on their hands. The thinner cracks were easier, but the offwidth presented a challenge. “We realized it wasn’t chicken-wingable because it was a roof. The only way we could hang in there was to put one hand jam on top of another, so we started monkeying around with that,” says Leavitt. “We realized that you have to stick a leg in and somehow hang from it. We finally got enough balls to start doing that.”
They didn’t have bouldering pads, so they just sucked it up and pulled into the roof crack with 10 feet of air and a concrete slab below. Eventually, they found that if they could stuff their lower body – foot, calf or leg – in the crack long enough to shuff le the hand stack, they could climb the horizontal offwidth. “That became what we call Leavittation. I know it’s bad to name something after yourself, but it was so natural. It just came out of our mouths one day and it got well-known as that.”
Leavitt and Yaniro spent hours there, honing their skills and building roof-crack endurance. “We were just becoming animals at the upside-down world. It’s extremely strenuous – a lot of core.” Leavitt says that they invented a game, starting from opposite ends of the roof. “When we’d get to the middle, we would pull up and try to raise our legs high in scorpion scissors around the other guy. As soon as you got in that position, you’d just squeeze and hold on to the other guy until he’d just fall out of the roof crack.
“One time I got Tony Yaniro in a death scissor-grip with my legs and he came rocketing out of the crack with me on top of him. We looked at each other and said, ‘We’re never doing this again, ever.’”
One of the first times Leavitt used leavittation on real rock was on Bad Ass Mama 5.11d in Yosemite in 1978. “I was out with John Yablonsky and some of the other Yosemite crew. Everyone was trying to chicken-wing up that thing and it was just ridiculously hard and I kept looking at it and thinking, ‘That thing I was trying in the garage, it would work here.’”
Leavitt had to fine-tune the technique on the spot, as the garage offwidth was horizontal, and Bad Ass Mama was more vertical. He had never transitioned from fists to stacks, but soon solved it by stuffing his leg in at waist-height and hanging his weight on it for long enough to slap a hand up inside the crack and bring his other hand into a stack. Higher, as the crack widened even more, Leavitt replaced hand-stacks and calf-locks with hand-fists and knee-locks.
He worked it on top-rope and climbed it with such ease that he overheard Yabonsky tell someone later that night that Leavitt had made it seem 5.8. Yablonksy added that Leavitt could never lead it with the technique. “So, later I went out and lead it,” says Leavitt, “because I realized you could get a knee-lock and let go to place a piece of gear. The perfect leavittation crack is whatever your knee size is. For me, it’s like a hand-fist. You stick your knee in and you pull your foot back out so that the outside of your foot is cammed against the outside of the crack. And it just locks you in. You can let go with your hands.”
He later told Yaniro and they brainstormed other routes they could try, like Paisano Overhang, a 5.12R roof crack in Tahquitz, which had repelled most attempts in the 1970s. One exception, according to Leavitt, was John Long, who solved the puzzle by wearing two pairs of gloves underneath several layers of tape to mutate the offwidth roof problem into a fist-crack. His success inspired Leavitt to try three pairs of gloves himself, but Long’s gargantuan hands are legendary, and Leavitt found his enhanced
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