learning to climb cracks


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Erik of Oakland

Gym climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 13, 2007 - 01:10am PT
after avoiding the cracks at the gym completely, this weekend I got on some of the cracks at mission cliffs in SF and failed utterly. I found it really painful/difficult. Any tips?

oh, and if you want to bump this thread by posting "take it to rockclimbing.com" or "stfu noob", that's totally cool with me -- have at it.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 01:16am PT
finger locks:

"put it in, lock it and don't move it"
Dale Bard

wrist/elbow low, stable.


"if you do it right, it hurts"
Dale Bard

Edit: the BEST way to learn how to climb cracks is to go to Woodson where you can really watch how it's done.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 01:25am PT
He's right - real all around shoes like the Acopa JB sized with a thin sock and a nice snug but not tight toe pack will really help.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 13, 2007 - 01:31am PT
Which cracks at Mission Cliff? I remember suffering mightly on the thin one.. the hand crack was pretty good, I thought, but a bit too artificial... it goes straight up... overhangs a bit, but has good width variation.

You can also go to Planet Granite in Sunnyvale, which has a huge number of cracks, and it looked like some people actually climbing them.

Even though Russ has stated that climbing crack with taped hand is aid, taping helps prevent too much gobi production at the begining of your wrestling with cracks. Getting scratched up can limit what you are willing to do in terms of practice.

Three pieces of advice: feet, feet, feet. You gotta get your foot work down well. You are working to transfer weight there rather than holding yourself in with just your hand jams. You need good core strength, and you need to develop excellent technique. In time you do, but you got to practice, pay your dues and you'll get it.

what do I know... only what I got from the rock (and plastic and wood...)

Social climber
No Ut
Mar 13, 2007 - 01:37am PT
Never seen an artificial crack in a "modern" climbing wall that could train you for the real thing. Most are too shallow, and best liebacked. Get on the rock, for cracks.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 01:40am PT
Eric of Oakland - the post above is your best advice from one of the most experienced and accomplished climbers in the world - say thanks - and get out there.
Standing Strong

Trad climber
super keen love song
Mar 13, 2007 - 02:13am PT
crack climbin's hard. i don't really know how either but i'm keen on it and need to learn technique. late in the afternoon today we were toproping this route and there was this weird move where you like, you needed to get your ELBOW in the thingie. i did it but i'm still working on the move after that, cuz it's like then you need to throw your knee in or something. my shoes were being sucky too, i'm going to try the weird velcro ones again next time. my partner did a good job tho. we had a super nice evening. it was fun :)

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 02:32am PT
You need Acopa JB's, a big chalk bag and pair of long pants.
This will help you express the necessary "body English".
Standing Strong

Trad climber
super keen love song
Mar 13, 2007 - 02:34am PT
english??? but the language of the body is international, baby!

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Mar 13, 2007 - 03:20am PT
Tape your hands to do the cracks in the gym until you know you won't get a gobi. Those cracks have been there for nearly a decade, and they never get a rain. Whiff your hands next time you try them for a little evidence of just how much gnar lurks w/in. It's a matter of hygeine really...espeically if you think you might add your own blood to the mix.

Also...gym cracks are pretty hard. Easiest one at MC is solid 5.9. The others are more like 5.11. Great for getting a decent workout on them year after year, but tricky for learning to jam in the first place.

Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Mar 13, 2007 - 09:32am PT
Thumbs up=longer reach

Thumbs down=more torque


Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 09:42am PT
Dude, welcome to crack climbing. So rewarding. If you live in Toakland, go the golden gate wall. There is (for me) thin hand crack about 25' tall. Great training. You can finish yourself off on the 200' 5.9 traverse.

GO TO THE GROTTO IN SONORA! It is like a gym for crack climbing, everything from 5.9 hands to 11- thin cracks. They all protect super well.

I love crack climbing. Once you master the technique, you will never be too out of shape.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 10:18am PT
Eric - if you really are 'of Oakland' go check out golden gate wall. Artificial for sure, but still outside (albeit under a freeway). Good short bouldery finger and off finger cracks to practice on aloing the main traverse wall with plenty of feet until you start eliminating them. Then up the road 50 or so feet is the perfect small hands crack (.75 camalot size) - an uncomfortable size that prepares you well for things like lunatic fringe. Mortals top rope this, though I hear tell some solo it.

Edit - I should have read prior post!

Social climber
The West
Mar 13, 2007 - 10:26am PT
Though I have big chalk bag, I don't have acopas, and don't like to wear long pants ... I'll never learn to climb cracks. Please advise.

"tips?" all kinds of good ones, but it's better to get hands down first.

Social climber
So Cal
Mar 13, 2007 - 10:27am PT
Think of crack climbing as a:

Kenesthetic mechanical aptitude test.

Mar 13, 2007 - 11:03am PT
for other low-stakes practice you could go to the
beaver street wall in san francisco (15th and castro)...i've never been but i hear there are some featureless "splitters" at this little urban crag that would force you to work your feet and everything can be TR'd. anybody ever been there?

Social climber
Under a Big Sky
Mar 13, 2007 - 11:18am PT
If I might chime in here. Work out your forearms w/the "roll up a weight tied to a large dowel" method.I think Russ posted up on this work out a while ago. It will get your forearms in shape to handle extended jammin' w/out getting too pumped.
"Hey, how do I get to the top of Reed's?"
Practice, Practice,Practice

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 11:22am PT
Yes, not to mention wrist curls are a good way to help prevent tendonitis - I always do lots of wrist curls.

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Mar 13, 2007 - 11:34am PT
dood- here's how it works:

1st you take your belay card off your harness

then you drive to yosemite for the weekend

start with the multi-star climbs at the easiest grades, climb them all

drive home

drive back

start with the next grade


funny thing about gym climbing and crack climbing: they tend do be different

Gym climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 11:42am PT
The internet is an amazing thing.

I wrote up an article about 10 years ago on rec.climbing on how to build a crack machine, the best way to learn how to jam, IMHO.
Lo, I found the old article here:


Basically, you create a hand crack that you can do pull-ups from. The crack is horizontal, like in a roof. But since it's perfect hands, you should be able to hang and do pulls. Using wood to simulate the crack walls, you will at first have a hard time getting your jams to stick. But soon you'll get the hang of it and after you do sets of pulls for a few days, your hand jams will have more holding power than a #2.5 Friend.

You'll need:
1 6 foot 2X8" wood board (a 2X6 or 2X10 will work alright, too)
4 8" bolts with nuts on the ends
1 drill
A saw
Some spare sling
A place to hang your bar

1) Cut the 2X8 board in in half (you'll have two 3' long boards, not two 1X8 boards or two 2X4 boards, OK?).
2) Cut 1.75" to 2" off the end of each board (same size is best). 1 7/8" is perfect hands for most. These are used as spacers between the long boards, at the ends.
3) Drill 2 holes at the ends of each piece of wood and two holes through each of the spacers.
4) Assemble the crack.
5) Drill holes at the top for the slings and hang the thing.

Landscape view. o's represent the holes for the bolts...
| |
| o o |
| |
| |
| |
| |
| |
| |
| o o |

[OK, the HTML collapses the spaces so the drawings look real
funky. Go to the link above and scroll down to see what
these ASCII arts should really look like...]

Turn the thing on its side, this is how you'd see it
if you're looking up at it after you hang it:

| | hands | |
b b

OK, this looks pretty bad, but it's as good as I'm going to get it. In the bottom 'drawing', you have two 2x8 boards, you're looking at the 2" side. They are separated by 2", the spacers are poorly drawn at the ends. The b's are the bolts that hold the contraption together. The 'hands" shows where you put your hands to jam.

I swear by these. One time, we made an outdoor gym and made a pull-up bar that had 4 different size pull-up cracks, thin hands, tight-hands, hands, and cupping. There is Nothing like this for improving your jamming techniques, other than actually going out and doing laps on Reeds.

The first one I made, I made the mistake of using two sets of 1"x8" boards. I doubled the boards on each side to get them stiff enough to jam. But the boards flexed like crazy. What a great torture device! you had to jam extra hard just to stick, then when you did pulls, Whoa!

Joe Bob sez Check It Out!
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