the seal route

Climbing Cracks – Wanna Give it a Try?

What is Climbing Crack?

Crack in this article literally means crack in the pavement or in rocks. 401px-Joshua_Tree_-_Illusion_Dweller_1Do not let your mind wander and think of the other popular and illegal crack. You will definitely need a clear mind to master the climbing of cracks.

Climbing Crack or crack climbing is a type of climbing where a climber follows a crack on the rock wall to climb from the base to the top.

The cracks may vary in sizes. Sometimes they are wide enough only for the fingers to fit inside while others are as wide as an entire body. There are different climbing techniques for catering to different sizes of cracks.

Crack Climbing History

the seal routeTraditionally, when rock climbers seek to create new routes in a new area for climbing, they generally follow the natural cracks in the rocks or walls. This provides an essential location to place protective equipment such as spring-loaded camming devices.


A spring-loaded camming device is a rock climbing protection equipment that is inserted into a crack or pocket in the rock.

Camming Device
When triggered or released, the spring-loaded cams expanded into the rock creating a safe anchor for our climber. It is important and critical to place the device in solid and strong rock.

Climbing cracks is technical and challenging especially for new crack climbers like me. It can painful and unnerving. You can easily get scraped up and contribute your skin to the rocks so taping up your hands is totally recommended. However, many climbers who discovered the rhythm and flow of climbing crack can become addicted to crack climbing.  I have not done enough crack climbing to say that I am addicted to it yet.

Why Crack Climbing?

Learning to crack climb can open up more route opportunities with different techniques than just sport climbing. Crack climbing also helps heighten the awareness for climbers, connecting the mind and the body and utilizing the principles of torque and opposition in the placement of their feet and hands in the crack precisely. It also could improve the climber’s performance in sport climbing.800px-Crack_climbing_layback_left

I have not found a prominent reason for crack climbing other than to seek another advanced technical challenge in climbing. From what I saw and read, there is a lot of pain and frustration involved as a beginner crack climber. If you feel bored with the same old climbing in the safe gym and want a mind-blowing experience with sweat, pain, and frustration (or maybe letting go of frustration?), you may want to give crack climbing a try.

Crack Climbing Techniques

One basic technique to crack climbing is jamming. Jamming is when you insert your hands, feet, or other body parts into a crack and expand it to create torque for a secure hold in the rock. The jamming techniques are painful initially. With the help of the tape and practices, you can create secure holds and maybe have some fun. The different jamming techniques are

1. Hand Jams – It is generally the easiest jam and the most secure hold. A crack about two inches wide is a typical size for a hand jam. Insert your hand into a crack, cup your hand keeping your fingers close together, and place your thumb into your palm.

Example of Hand Jam and Foot Jam
2. Finger Jams – We use the finger jam when the cracks are smaller than the hand size. Insert a few or all of the fingers as far as you can preferably the second or third knuckle into a crack then rotate your elbow down to torque your fingers into a jam.

3. Fist Jams – Fist jam is used when we have a fist-size crack. Turn the hand so it is either palm up or palm down, insert into the crack, and make a fist with the thumb folded in front of the fingers creating a fist jam.

4. Foot Jams – Usually when you have a crack that is big enough for fist jams, you can also secure foot jams. In general, the width of your foot is about the same width as your fist. Place your foot straight into the crack where the rubber is on each side of the crack. This should keep your foot jams in place with a slight movement.

5. Off-Width Jams – Off-width jam is generally when the crack is wider than your hands and too narrow for the whole body. Many climbers do not like off-width cracks because it is much harder and requires more advanced crack climbing techniques such as armbars, knee jams, and hand stacking. I shall save the advanced techniques for the next article. Once you figure out how to climb an off-width crack, you may consider crack climbing outrageously fun or maybe not. =)

Where can you find Cracks?

There are many famous places outdoor that have crack climbing routes such as Joshua Tree National Park (California), Yosemite National Park (California), Canyonlands National Park (Utah), or British Columbia. However, it is difficult to simulate cracks in the climbing gym so it is not as common to find a climbing gym that has crack climbing available.

I have been lucky to found two possible gyms so far during my travels that have a crack climbing wall available for practice. There may be a lot more available in many other gyms that I have not discovered yet.climbing crack at Vertical Adventure

1. The first one is Vertical Adventures in St Petersburg, FL. They have a lead / top rope wall that has finger-sized cracks.

2. Climb Cleveland in Cleveland Ohio is a bouldering gym that has a dedicated corner for crack climbing to practice your jamming techniques. They also provide a wide range of crack climbing training to start your crack climbing adventure.

My conclusion

Climbing cracks is a fun and unique climbing of its own. It requires tenacity, endurance, high pain tolerance, and certain stubbornness.  I am sure it is very rewarding and addictive once a climber discovers the flow and the techniques for crack climbing.

I climbed some small cracks before but have not utilized any jamming techniques yet. From the research on crack climbing, I am not sure I am ready to seek out a painful session in crack climbing yet. If the opportunity presents itself to me on crack climbing, I will definitely give it a try.

Have you done crack climbing before or would you like to give it a try? Love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments below.

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