Offwidth climbing requires a different style of gear than most traditional climbing: stiff shoes, tough pants, long sleeves, and layers of tape in odd places. But when an expandable tube chock hit the market, offwidth climbers really had their trademark. Big Bros were invented in 1984 by CSU engineering student Craig Luebben for his senior honors thesis. Craig was driven as much by his eagerness to climb (and protect) wide cracks as he was to complete his studies. While climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park, Craig heard a fellow climber mention the possibility of an "expandable tube" - Craig went to the drawing board. Twenty five years later, there is still no offwidth or squeeze chimney protection that is able to compete with the functionality of Luebben's design. In fact, the only modification that's been made to the original production of the Big Bro has also been made to nearly every type of climbing protection on the market - color coding.
There are numerous benefits to carrying Big Bros, but where they really shine is protecting wide cracks. Trango's Big Bro is the only product on the market that offers protection beyond about 6 inches and is the largest protection available at a whopping 18.4 inches. Several leading cam manufacturers build large cams and claim that they can protect cracks up to about 7.5 inches. This is true, but what they don't mention, is that these cams will only protect 7.5 inches when they are at the end of their expansion range, and when was the last time that you were psyched about placing a passive cam? Just one #4 Big Bro has a larger expansion range than an entire set of traditional cams. Big Bros are also lighter in the larger sizes, cost less than similar sized cams, and rack much tighter and cleaner than an equivalent rack of cams. On splitter offwidths, you can get away with carrying a minimal number of cams by walking one cam along with you, while placing Bros to leave for protection.
Proper placement is key to their stability and holding power. Big Bros tend to get a bad wrap in terms of their stability. If your placement is shaky, it isn't due to a design flaw - it's user error. A poorly placed nut won't hold a fall, but that doesn't mean that nuts don't work. With practice, Big Bros can be placed quickly and effectively with one hand - just ask anyone that was lucky enough to see Craig climb wide. The trick is to get the tube to settle as much as possible before climbing on, so that there is no room left for the piece to move. When I place a Big Bro, I like to turn the outer tube, gently at first, back and forth, while twisting the collar ever-tighter until the piece is completely truck. Big Bros can be a bit slow to place, but such is the nature of offwidth climbing - it's a painfully slow game. Once you've learned to place them well, they are ideal protection, because they don't walk and can be loaded from multiple directions.
No offwidth rack is complete without a few Bros - they bring even the most intimidating cracks down a peg. When your toes are on fire, your shoulder is bleeding, and you can't shake the thought of falling out of, or maybe even into that gaping black crack, it's comforting to know that Big Bro(ther) is watching you.
Colorado Mountain School Guide and Big Bro inventor, Craig Luebben, passed away on August 9th, 2009 due to injuries sustained while training for an alpine guide exam in North Cascade National Park. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife Silvia and his favorite climbing partner, his daughter Giulia. To donate to the Craig Luebben Memorial Fund, please visit the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition or stop in at the Boulder Rock Club. Thank you for all that you have done for our sport Craig. You are missed.
For more info on Big Bros, please visit Trango.com
AMGA SPI Certified Guide
Colorado Mountain School &
Boulder Rock Club