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crack climbing
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Article By Ryan Ojerio; video by Dan Crowe watch a VIDEO of crack climbing techniques

Good face climbers can interpret complex hand and foot sequences, moving efficiently from one body position to the next constantly shifting their center of gravity relative to their hands and feet. Crack climbing sequences, however, are often repetitive, ascending the seam of the crack like an inchworm. Of course, body position is still important in crack climbing, but perhaps the greater challenge for the aspiring crack climber is figuring out how to create "holds" from vertical cracks. Learning the subtleties of finger, hand, fist and foot jams involves building a repertoire of movement patterns, or motor engrams, just like learning face climbing techniques. So repetitive practice with a variety of widths of cracks is the best way to build your "bag of tricks" for becoming a crack master.

"The Columns" on the west side of Skinner Butte is an excellent place to learn crack techniques while on top rope. Go to the Anchor page for instruction and photos on how to build a top rope anchor from two bolt placements.

Finger Cracks

1. For the thinnest cracks, use a thumbs up position to allow you to slot your pinky and ring finger. Look for a constriction in the crack and slide your hand in above it and pull down to set the jam.

2. You'll get a secure jam if you can slot your first knuckle just above the constriction so it gets wedged in tight when you pull down. For a tighter lock, cam your hand inward, towards your thumb.


1. As the crack widens you may be able to slot the thumb too. 2. Stack your fingers and cam your hand by rotating your elbow inward.
Hand Cracks
Too large to get good finger jams, but perfect for the hand, notice how you can create oppositional pressure by cupping your fingers and flexing your thumb. As with finger cracks, you can slot a hand jam in the thumbs up or thumbs down position. Experiment with both. How do the different positions affect your arm position and your body position?
1. Make your hand as thin as possible and slide it in the crack, moving it up and down to feel around for constrictions in the crack that you may not be able to see. 2. To create counter pressure you can cup you hand pressing your fingers on one side and your knuckles on the other. To fatten your palm flex your thumb down as if you were trying to touch it to the base of your pinky. As the crack widens, notice how your fingers pull down even further in a "crimped" position.
Fist Cracks
Uh oh! too wide for a hand jam... what to do?


As the crack widens notice how the fingers are crimped all the way down, but they are beginning to lose purchase on the right side of the crack.


Turn your fist palm down and ball up your fist, clenching tight to expand the fleshy part of your palm to create counter pressure.

 "Hidden Booty" - Taking a look or feeling around in a crack can sometimes yield hidden treasures, consider the following examples:
Although this crack is too wide for a good finger lock, its also too shallow to get a decent hand jam. But deeper in there's a thinner crack! Slide your hand in deeper, slot those fingers, and this awkward crack turns into a great finger lock! Check out how the index finger is resting on a slight "ledge" on the right side of the crack. Counter pressure with the knuckles keeps the fingers pressed on the ledge for a secure open grip even though the "ledge" is pretty thin and sloping.
Similarly, hidden vertical ledges inside cracks can turn into great sidepulls.
With hands it is easy to alternate between a thumbs up and thumbs down position because your wrist offers such a wide range of motion. But your ankles are a lot less flexible. Try this experiment, sitting in a chair, rotate your foot into a "big toe up" position and then try a "big toe down" position. Which feels more natural? Which position keeps your center over your feet?


1. With a secure hand hold to lock off on, my body weight is supported by a smear as I move my foot up and rotate it to slot it above a constriction in the crack.

2. Twisting my knee inward cams the foot in the crack and puts my leg in a good position to stand up keeping my center over my feet. Since this crack flares out, I can also get some friction from the sides of my shoe if I keep my heel down putting more rubber from my sole onto the rock.
Stemming is a great way to make gravity work in your favor to get a rest position or ascend a seemingly blank wall.
Check out how Jay's legs are pressed against the opposite walls of this chimney. Gravity pulls his center down, driving his legs into the wall, increasing the friction on his feet as they smear or rest on tiny ledges that would be impossible to stand on without the stem. Here you can see how Jay creates counter pressure with both legs and bracing his back against the wall. Standing up from this position he'll be able to reach handholds higher up, or if non exist, he can push his hands and back against the wall and then walk his feet up and repeat the process. Go Jay, You the Man!

If you can't get your body position for decent jamming, consider a layback. The key to a good layback is keeping your body positioned so you get the best use of your legs. If your feet get too high, you're not standing on them and the only way you can keep from falling is to create massive oppositional force by pushing with your legs and pulling hard with your arms. On the other hand, if you move your hands up too quickly and let your feet get too low, you'll lose the pressure needed to drive your shoes into the wall and you'll find yourself sliding down, scraping the rubber off of your shoes as you go.

Jay keeps his arms straight, saving his biceps while ascending a crack that is too close to the corner to allow his body to get in position for jamming.

Making a Tape Glove
Although, its not necessary, a well made tape glove will save the skin on the back of your hand and make for more secure hand jams. Its a skill well worth having if you plan to spend a day on crack. Drawings from Metolius.
1. Place 3 strips of tape across the back of your hand, overlapping each strip by about 1/4". Make sure the top strip covers your knuckles. 2. Starting on the back of your wrist, run a strip of tape up, around the base of your index finger and back down your wrist. Bunch the tape together where it passes around your finger. Repeat for the pinkie (some folks wrap all of the other fingers). Repeat strips to build up a thick enough layer of tape to protect the skin. 3. Anchor your tape job with several wraps around your wrist. Now you have full protection on the back of your hand for jamming, but your palm is bare for grabbing face holds.
4. To remove, simply cut the wrist wraps on the inside of your wrist. Carefully pull the tape glove off intact. 5. Save yourself some coin and reuse your glove. 6. Just slip it back on and re-wrap the wrist. You'll be amazed how long a well-made glove will last.
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