Mari Augusta Salvesen Schools Us In Offwidth Climbing

PeopleDecember 6, 2022

Mari Augusta Salvesen might not have woken up on March 27th, 2022, expecting to make history. But by the end of the day, that’s exactly what she did.

A seasoned and prolific rock climber originally from Bergen, Norway, Salvesen traveled to Monticello, Utah, this past spring to attempt one of the most infamous offwidth climbing routes in the world. Not only did Salvesen succeed, but she did it on her first try, a feat referred to as “flashing” in the climbing lexicon. (For a full roundup of climbing terms used in this article, scroll to the bottom.)

What turns this story from a notable personal accomplishment into an entry for the record books is that Mari Salvesen is not only the second person in the world to flash the route ominously known as “Belly Full of Bad Berries”—she’s also the first and only female climber to ever ace the feat. (The first person to flash the route was, incidentally or otherwise, Salvesen’s partner, Pete Whittaker, a well-known climber from the U.K. and one half of the Wide Boyz climbing and YouTubing duo.) For a route that contemporary climbers have been workshopping for almost three decades, Mari’s accomplishment carries serious weight.

An avid climber since her teenage years, 32-year-old Salvesen was originally introduced to the sport by her mother. The fact that her hobby-turned-lifestyle was passed down to her by a woman feels significant considering that Salvesen has consistently smashed expectations and preconceived notions of what it means to be a female climber. Flashing Belly Full of Bad Berries (5.13a, 7c+) isn’t the first record Salvesen has added to her list of wins. She was also the first female climber to ever complete Ray’s Roof (5.13b, 8a) in Staffordshire, England, and the fourth climber in the world to send Ronny Medelsvensson (5.13d, 8b) in Jøssingfjord, Norway.

The ominously named Belly Full of Bad Berries is a 24-meter overhanging offwidth climbing route in Monticello, Utah. Climbing offwidth cracks is characterized by the careful, and often brutal, wedging of limbs into a crack in a rock face, allowing the climber enough stability to gradually work their way upward. While this may not be everyone’s definition of a good time, offwidth climbing presents a unique physical challenge many rock climbers seek out time and time again.

In fact, some dedicated climbers travel the world to tackle specific offwidth cracks, and Belly Full of Bad Berries is one of the routes that has garnered international attention over the years. Originally discovered as a contemporary climbing route by Brad Jackson in 1995, this infamous route overhangs at a 45-degree angle, making the strength necessary to send it almost inconceivable to the average person. Most of the route requires the climber to be virtually upside down. It took Jackson himself 12 tries to finally complete the first successful ascent in 1997, and some of the world’s most legendary climbers (including Alex Honnold of Free Solo fame) have had to work extremely hard to complete this gnarly climb. Another one of the world’s strongest and most accomplished climbers, Adam Ondra, has called this route “one of the biggest fights of [his] life.” It’s worth noting that neither Honnold nor Ondra were able to flash the route like Salvesen.

The Wide Boyz video of Salvesen flashing Belly Full of Bad Berries reveals the climber’s undeniable grit, determination, and sheer strength. Relying heavily on the technique of wedging her limbs into the rough sandstone crack, it’s clear that Salvesen is pushing through a significant amount of pain as she ascends. At several moments, the climber “rests” (if it can be called that) by the strength of her legs alone as she leans back from the overhang, breathing heavily and chalking up her thickly taped hands. After letting out a few guttural screams to push herself through with brute power and strength of will, Mari finally tops out. Having overcome the brutal and unforgiving route, she rips off one of her shoes (which came loose during the climb) and throws it triumphantly to the ground.

In one interview, Salveson expressed that she “like[s] the discomfort of [climbing], because [she] know[s] it will end.” She says she feels “surprised” by what she’s able to accomplish when she enters that space of discomfort and determination. “I can get angry,” she says. “Climbing allows me to be angry and use it purposefully.”

Despite sharing these thoughts several years before her success in Utah, Mari’s most recent record is clearly her most focused expression of constructive emotion, discomfort, and accomplishment yet. In her own words, “I’m just happy I pulled it off. It was hard work.”

Climbing Terms –

-Crack climbing: A type of rock climbing in which the route follows a crack in a rock face

-Offwidth: A type of crack that is too large to wedge a hand or fist into but too small for the climber to fit their entire body into

-Chimney: A type of crack climb large enough to enter and climb from the inside 

-Send: To complete a climbing route successfully from start to finish

-Flash: To send a climbing route on your first try

-Top out: To reach the top or end of a climbing route successfully

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