learning to climb cracks


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Ice climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 05:36pm PT
I learned hand and foot jamming technique on the cracks at Planet Granite.

I started with the lower-angled hand crack on the slab wall in Belmont. Then moved to the vertical crack on the far opposite wall. They are a perfect hand size for most people. There are some nice practice cracks in Sunnyvale, but nothing low-angled.

I was taught how to tape up, and I sometimes do so outside. But in the gym I like to use hand jammies (tm). It took me probably 1-2 months to get the muscles in my hand used to jamming and refine my technique (such as it is) to the point where I could climb them decently outside.

At first my feet really hurt. Then someone taught me how to use constrictions and to try to jam up and down with the wider part of my foot instead of cramming toes in.

Once Tuolumne is accessible, there is also Puppy Crack on Puppy Dome. Uncle Fanny in Church Bowl was fun - have to actually lead that one sometime. I really enjoyed leading Chouinard Crack (5.7) over on the Glacier Point Apron, though I had to follow someone up the first pitch of Harry Daley (5.8) first. Leading that whole climb is a goal of mine this year.

I still need to work on finger cracks, like that 5.9 route at Cosumnes.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 05:40pm PT
Climb cracks, not in a gym.

Trad climber
Mar 13, 2007 - 05:47pm PT

"Think of crack climbing as a:
Kinesthetic mechanical aptitude test."

This is exactly right.

Thanks TGT

Bishop, CA
Mar 13, 2007 - 05:48pm PT
Erik, sorry you've gotten so many unhelpful, dismissivel answers from people who seem more interested in sticking their chests out than actually saying anything helpful. Climbers are notoriously full of sh*t. I will have to say that I think you would be most helped by some type of crack machine, as recommended by k-man.
Once, when I lived in NC, I thought 5.9 was way below me, because I was climbing 5.11 'trad' routes and 5.12 sport routes, unntil I got on 'New Yosemite' at the New River Gorge. It was perfect 5.9 hands. I got spanked and humiliated in that way that only rock climbing can provide.
Completly disturbed, I tried practicing hands on my buddies woodie. Now, his wasn't a crack machine, as k-man describes, just some 2x8s permanently spaced, for jamming purposes, in the middle of his wall. They wall was steep, steeper than 45 degrees, and so you really had to get the jams in order to pull up. It was pretty cool, because the first couple moves were just a bit bigger than perfect hands for me, then it was cupped hands in the middle, and finally perfect hands at the end. It was probably about 8-10 feet of moves.
My first session resulted in zero progress, but I did manage some horrendous gobies. So, I started using TAPE ( which I recommend as a beginner), and with a little practice was able to get up the thing with some effort. Fairly soon I could climb the wooden crack with different sequences and downclimb it. I could even run laps on it comfortably. One of the things I learned on this steep wooden crack, was that THUMBS UP is usually a more powerful jam, though it didn't feel this way at first. I found that reaching high over my head with a thumbs up jam, I could lock the jam down much furter without any feeling of insecurity. I still remember the enjoyment I had when I first began to experience that bomber feeling of a a good jam. Bomber!
Shortly after mastering this wooden crack I returned to 'New Yosemite' at the NRG, and got so psyched up for the new technique that I soloed the route, without having been on it again since getting spanked on it. From then on, the route became a part of my morning coffee circuit at the New. Hand jamming is like that, when you got it, you're lovin' it. This technique is the cornerstone of all crack climbing, and you should start there. Good luck.

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Mar 13, 2007 - 05:53pm PT
WTF are you talking about?!?!?!?
he wants to learn to climb cracks!
he doesn't need an apparattus!
he needs to go crack climbing!!!!

and no- there is no chest puffing or useless info there, it's a very simple answer to a simple question.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Mar 13, 2007 - 06:11pm PT
Don't bother building a crack machine. You'll get bored before you get any good. Also, like Jell-o said, don't guage your progress/skill by the gym crack. Unless they're really deep and really uniform it's like a whole 'nother form of climbing.

You'll probably never find it, but the best ever article about crack climbing was one by Dale Bard in an OLD Chouinard catalog. Gold mine. Some basis pointers though, some of which has already been said.

If hand jamming, thumbs up if it's a good fit. Place your hand, don't cram it. Drop your thumb into your palm to gradually expand the width of your hand to fit to size. Take the time to find a good jam and park it there until you find your next jam. I've never understood guys who jam thumbs down. It's too painful and you can't pull the jam past your chest, whereas with a thumbs up you can crank it all the way down to your waist. If it's not a parallel crack, look for your next placement, just like placing a chock. If it's a wider hand jam, hook your thumb over your index finger. If it's wider than that but too narrow for fists, anything you do will be painful. If you hand jam well, you don't need to tape up. I've always believed that people who tape are just sloppy crack climbers (unless you climb at Veedavoo).

For fists, I always tuck my thumb between my ring and pinky finger because it seems to help the bone structure as I clench my fist. Same advice re placing vs. cramming. I've also found that I'm more comfortable shuffling than crossing over, with my bottom hand palms out rather than palms in. Once that size gets rattly, I place my thumb next to my fist for an extra half inch of width.

If you can't figure out finger jams, there's no hope for you. A big key though is learning to smear the outside edge of your shoe, just below your pinky toe. Flexible ankles help.

Good outside and climb something real. At least your hard work and learning curve will be rewarded with some scenery. Isn't that why we do this?

Social climber
Under a Big Sky
Mar 13, 2007 - 06:56pm PT
"Completely disturbed,I tried practicing hands on my buddies woodie."
Can we please keep this post on the topic of climbing?

Trad climber
Nowhere special
Mar 13, 2007 - 07:58pm PT
How to climb a crack:

1) Insert as much of your feet and hands as will fit
2) Suffer
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2 slightly higher.
Brutus of Wyde

Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Mar 13, 2007 - 08:03pm PT
Erik --

You're welcome to join Nurse Ratchet and I for a gym workout sometime.

e-mail me with a climbing-relevant subject line so I know its not spam...


Trad climber
The here and now
Mar 14, 2007 - 08:37pm PT
Hey Erik,
A lot of good info here already. Here's my experience.

I moved out to the bay area after learning to climb at the Gunks and CT traprock. Didn't have crack technique, so I made a crack machine with 2 2x10s stacked together to make 16' of crack, with carriage bolts to vary the crack width. Mounted on a tree in my backyard, slightly overhung, started with hands then on to thin hands once the hands technique was solid. Together with many weekends in the Valley doing classics, I was quickly up to speed on cracks up to 5.10. Good enough for me!

Once you get the hand jamming down it is pure heaven...and feels so secure. And it's like riding a bike, you'll never forget it. In fact, once you become an old fart like me, it will be the only thing you can climb (besides slabs).

I've always preferred not taping to get the best feel of the rock while climbing. I would gobie at climbs at or beyond my limit, which has taken its toll over the years. Scar tissue rips easier than original skin. So beware as you start out and definitely tape at the gym. Those surfaces are pretty grainy, much more than most Yosemite granite.

Finally, a thought on technique. Others have stated this already, but thumbs up is easier to move off of, while thumbs down is more secure. Sometimes using the upper hand thumbs down and the lower hand thumbs up works well, especially if the crack is leaning left or right a bit. You can crank to your waist with the lower hand and get good extension through your chest for the upper jam.

A previous thread had a link to a video of Dean Potter soloing the nose. Check it out to see nice thumbs up, hand over hand jamming technique (soloing the Stovelegs -- very cool!).

Mar 14, 2007 - 09:17pm PT

Stick your hands in the crack and jam.

Don't listen to all this bullshit here, it will only fill your head with useless chatter.

Keep jamming until you figure it out. It's just like riding a bike.

You gonna learn how to ride a bike by reading about it?

Now git up there and quit f'ckin around .....
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 15, 2007 - 12:15am PT
apropos the AAC Porn thread,

Oakland: what's not to love?
Mar 15, 2007 - 02:16am PT

Somebody with time on their hands and knowledge in the brain could help Erik and all of us aspiring crack virtuosos out by making an equivalent one of these for the Valley: The (JT based) Crack Workshop.

Me and a partner worked the hell out of this list; things started getting fuzzy right around Fisticuffs. It was like 'Nam after that.

From: http://www.rockclimbing.org/tripreports/crackworkshop.htm
(skip to the end for a nice list of progressively harder climbs at JT)

The Crack Workshop - An SCMA Original
by SCMA Member Alois Smrz

This article was inspired by questions from Steve Cole and Michael Gordon. Gerry's fun stories and remembrance helped too. But most of all, this article was written for the great NTC class of 2000 graduates, particularly Greg Tuzinski, Lori McKenzie, Ellen Nordberg, Sam Pierson, Laurie Carr, Liz Morelli, Shauna Hermes, Carrie Thau, and David Heenan. I hope to see all of you climbing with the club, and for you I'm recounting an important means for developing your strength and technique, homegrown here by the SCMA.

It seems I have been asked over and over about the SCMA Crack Climbing Workshop-the climbs, the workshop, and the people who pioneered it as a means to get better at crack climbing. The workshop was the brainchild of longtime RCS/SCMA members Jim Erb and Theresa Rutherford. In the early 80ís they worked hard on developing their crack climbing skills by methodically ascending series of harder and harder cracks in Joshua Tree. Only the best cracks were selected for their training. The climbs were divided into four levels, based not only on rating but also level of commitment, length and protection possibilities. Jim and Theresa's hunch, that ordinary climbers could get much better by progressing through more and more difficult ascents, proved correct. First by toproping, then preplacing pro, and later cleanly leading the climbs, the workshop graduated 13 climbers and gave our club its first group of competent leaders at the 5 11 level. Pat Orris, Jim Mathews, Ben Chapman, and Tom Brogan are among those still with our club.

These climbers credit Jim and Theresa with showing them how to get better through discipline, hard work and the use of progression from toprope to red point. The original crack workshop list included 48 climbs rated 5.9 to 5.l0d in four difficulty groups. Having completed the original list, Tom Brogan in 1990 added levels 5 and 6, with 24 climbs up to the 5.11d. Tom's extensive article dealing with the levels 5 and 6 can be found in Cliff Notes #40. Additional information can be found in Jim Erb's articles in the Mugelnoos (Cliff Notes predecessor) #651, 655, 656, 659, 660, 661, and 673. Pat Orris's excellent article on mental and physical preparation can be found in Mugelnoos #660.

The crack list proved extremely popular. I know of several club members, who spent years trying to bag it. It is as valid (and hard) today as it was then. The trick, discovered by Jim early into the workshop, is that only when one masters a level cleanly would he/she be allowed to progress to the next. You were allowed to toprope, preplace protection, and work a given line, but only after you placed protection on lead and completed all the climbs without flailing would you go to the next. Sticking with this rigid structure assured that skills would keep improving. The 1986 workshop was, to this day, one of the most exciting and innovative ways for our members to progress in climbing. The Commitment was huge every weekend for several months-and the climbing was unrelenting, but those who graduated are yet even today some of the best in the club.

By the way, the workshop was never repeated in its original form, most likely due to its extreme commitment. I have always felt that the original list should be expanded downward as well. There are many who may want the structure of progressively difficult crack climbs, but would appreciate starting at a more relaxed level. By this I don't want to dilute Jim and Theresa's philosophy-that serious climbing starts at 5.9. But there are those who need to acquire crack climbing skills to get to that level first. My intent here is not to try to improve on the original list, but to compliment it with some classic J Tree crack climbs at 5.7 and 5.8. I used several sources for these. I have led or followed all of them. I also climbed 38 of the 48 original climbs (Miguel Carmona-thanks for the memories), Roger Linfieldís written evaluations were great, and Randy Vogel's star ratings helped too. I realize that this Selection is NOT definitive-there are many great climbs out there-but after you complete this list, I'll bet you'll agree that these are some of the best easy crack climbs at J Tree.

So here you have it-the 1986 original list Tom Broganís additions, and my 32 prep climbs. Combined, they are arguably 104 of the BEST J Tree cracks, ranging from 5.7 to 5.11d. Do you want to know what it took to go from easy fifth to 5.11? Would you like to know more about the workshop method? Ask one of the graduates still with our club. It could change your climbing life forever.

(page numbers in Randy Vogelís Climber's Guide to Joshua Tree, 1992).

32 Prep Climbs
PREP CLIMBS A (5.7) Bighorn Hand Crack p. 60, Smooth as Silk p. 95, Double Dog Leg p.98, Classic Corner p. 109, Bush Crack p. 120, White Lighting p.125, Scrumdillishus p. 131, Frosty Cone p. 131, Mr. Misty Kiss p.131, Double Cross p. 189, Nereltne p. 223, Lifeís a Bitch and Then You Marry One p. 279, Mental Physics p.298, Wisest Crack p. 379, Dolphin p.463, Crackup p. 482, Gargoyle p.483.

PREP CLIMBS B (5.8) Right Sawdust Crack p.32, Baby Roof p.53, Dinky Doinks p.97, Sail Away p.157, The Flake p.187, Dog Leg p.189, Hands Off p.197, Tennis Shoe Crack p.210, Right Peyote Crack p.224, Small World p.394, Music Box p.473, Where 2 Deserts Meet p.477, Crank Queenie p.529, Taken for Granite p.550, At Your Pleasure p.553.

The Original List
LEVEL 1 (5.8-.9) Cake Walk p. 96, Dummy's Delight p. 178, Looney Toons p. 223, Middle Peyote Crack p. 224, Pope's Crack p. 245, Room to Shroom p. 278, Touch and Go p. 241, Nurn's Romp p. 384, Gem p. 445, , Colorado Crack p. 445, Continuum p. 459, Invisibility Lessons p. 459.

LEVEL 2 (5.9-.10c) Right Baskerville Crack p. 35, Tossed Green p. 36, Aftermath p. 52, Left Mel Crack p. 90, Right Mel Crack p. 90, Sphincter Quits p. 154, North Overhang p. 187, Orphan p. 189, Watanobe Wall p. 208, Effigy Too (TR) p. 239, Spiderman (TR) p. 445, Bird of Fire p. 463.

LEVEL 3 (5.9-10b) Tinker Toys p. 97, Friendly Hands p. 111, Tax Man p. 130, Illusion Dweller p. 169, Lower Ski Track p. 183, Super Roof p. 210, A Woman's Work is Never Done p. 214, Bruiser (TR) p. 214, Roller Ball p. 219, Halfway to Paradise (TR) p. 239, Dangling Wo Li Master p. 316, Exorcist p. 384.

LEVEL 4 (5.10b-.10d) Foreign Legion p. 52, The Importance of Being Ernest p. 127, What's It To You (TR) p. 154, Clean and Jerk (TR) p. 155, Fisticuffs p. 1 70, Bearded Cabbage p. 188, O'Kelly's Crack p. 229, Book of Changes p. 316, Caught Inside on a Big Set p. 316, Morning Thunder p. 316, Perpetual Motion p. 414, Rubicon p. 462.

Brogan's Additions
LEVEL 5 (5.10c-.11c) Butterfly Crack .p 32, Psychokenesis p. 63, The Lemon Slicer p 70, Papaya Creek .p 124, Pat Adams Dihedral p. 131, Coarse and Buggy p. 136, Left Ski Track p. 183, Jumping Jack Crack p. 212, Hot Rocks p. 223, Swept Away p. 245, Heart of Darkness p. 373, Grit Root p. 382.

LEVEL 6 (5.11a-.11d) Erotic City p. 41, Hyperion p. 73, Scary Monsters p.104, Right Banana Crack p. 124, Where Eagles Dare p. 168, Hidden Arch p. 178, Spider Line p. 188, Wangerbanger p. 229, More Monkey than Funky p. 257, Zen and the art of Placement p. 406, Human Sacrifice p. 413, The Woodshed p. 461.

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
Mar 15, 2007 - 10:02am PT
I'm surprised that noone's mentioned the but buy, beg or steal a copy of Parallelojams, Montrails movie about climbing the splitters at the Creek. There are lots of good descriptives here but nothing beats good visuals. The move has to be one of the most entertaining climbing that's ever been made and it has lots if great crack climbing instructions.
Erik of Oakland

Gym climber
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 16, 2007 - 02:14am PT
someone suggested posting a Valley Crack Progress List, and I'm seconding that.

btw, could someone comment on how representative the first pitch of After Six is of Valley cracks, both in terms of feel and protectability?

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Mar 16, 2007 - 03:46am PT

Trad climber
Falls Church, VA
Mar 16, 2007 - 11:42pm PT
If you ever visit Seattle be sure to check out the concrete boulder/slabs behind the UW stadium, if it is still there. I learned taping and jamming there to a high level commensurate with my physical strength in just a few months on that remarkable facility.

Take my word - as you gain skill the pain will diminish and the blood disappear. Or at least you'll pay the price willingly, for the privilege of doing the Central Pillar, or a thousand others equally beautiful.
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Mar 16, 2007 - 11:53pm PT
Here's the Dale Bard essay on crack climbing someone was referencing.


Social climber
Joshua Tree, CA
Mar 17, 2007 - 01:08am PT
Crack climbing is cool!
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Jul 21, 2007 - 03:01pm PT

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