By Steph Davis (from Climbing Magazine, Issue #177, June 1998)The crack above you runs forever. You reach and sink your hand up to the wrist, again and again, plugging cams at will. You're a hero. You're laughing. You couldn't fall if you tried. Suddenly the crack gets tigheter. You can't get a hand jam; your feet won't go in. You grope desperately, losing skin. Two hours later you've dogged to the anchors, almost as exhausted as your belayer. The scars are mostly emotional, but there is a lot of blood.
But before we get into that mysterious sizes, let's talk about sinker hand cracks again. They're so perfect, so delightful, and they're the building blocks for tighter sizes. When you climb a hand crack, you insert one foot parallel to the crack at about knee level. Your pinky toe should point straight down, and your knee should stick out sideways like a Russian dancer. Now, torque your foot by pulling your knee in toward the crack. Stand on that foot, then repeat the process with the other. Do this, and you'll barely need to pull on those perfect hand jams. This foot-torque technique is the key to climbing thin hands to fingers; it just becomes more refined as the crack gets smaller and less of your shoe goes in.
In a typical splitter crack I lead with my left hand because that feels comfortable to me, but you might do the opposite. I jam my left hand high and keep my right hand at chest level. The right hand acts as a lever and a stabilizing point. The left hand keeps me moving up. If, however, the crack diagonals right, I lead with my right hand thumbs down, and follow with my left thumbs up. In corners I lead with the hand that would naturally go on top for laybacking.
The true stabilizers in a thin-hand crack are your feet. This size crack (which, but the way, varies depending on your hand size), is wide enough for good foot jams. Make sure your shoes are large enough to let your toes lie flat. For hard boulder problems, I wear a size five slipper, but for hard thin cracks I wear a size six and a half, which is the same as my street-shoe size. It might sound painful to crack climb in slippers, but for thin cracks, the thin toe profile of a slipper is better. Like your hand jams, these foot jams are tight but bomber once you learn to trust them. Torque your first foot, and put your other foor in at knee level immediately. This takes weight off your hands and helps you get in balance. The hand jams mainly hold you in place while you push up with your legs. With practice, you'll find that even in a vertical thin-hands crack, you're barely pulling with your arms.
Ratchets Ratchets are the size down from thin hands, and the next step up in difficulty. A crack of this size may fool you. At first, you might believe you can get by with thin-hand jams. A ratchet-sized crack, however, is often just tight enough that trying to jam it will get you incredibly pumped, frustrated, or both.
Again, the key to success is in your feet. This size is still big enough to accept a decent amount of toe, as long as your shoe is thin and your toes are curled. Ratchets are pumpy, so don't ever look past a subtle widening or discontinuity in the crack. A locker jam or foot edge might be just what you need to reorganize, place a piece, and depump before you plunge back into Ratchetland.
To climb rings, make an "OK" sign with your fingers. Now, tuck your thumb under your index and middle fingers so the tips are pressing on it. This is a refined form of the ratchet. The cam will be on the first joints and knuckles of your index, middle finger, and thumb, just above your hand (hence the finger tape). Shuffling and crossing can be equally effective on this size. IF you feel powerful, but you had difficulty fiddling in the right jam, try crossing, If you're feeling sapped, but confident you can ringlock quickly, try shuffling. As with ratchets, rings work best when your hands are high. Try not to let the locks come below your chin or they will want to pop out.
Rattly Fingers If you thought feet were a problem with rings, rattly fingers will have you longing for those pinky-toe torques. You will get rattly fingers in cracks that are small enough to keep you from getting your thumb in, and big enough so your fingers slide down instead of catching in a nice, secure finger lock. Don't make an "OK" sign this time. It's not OK.
If you won't be needing your hand in the future, put it thumbs down into the crack as far as it will go. As usual, your elbow will be sticking straight out. Now pull your elbow in. Imagine that your fingers are playdough, and you're trying to twist them until they come off. Flex your thum up, as though you're trying to ringlock. Sometimes, particularly if the crack is offset, you can use your thumb in opposition, pushing it against the crack. The foot torque becomes more of a rand smear in this size; only the rubber on the outside edge of your shoe fits into the crack. Twist hard. Keep your feet and hands really high to get purchase. Climb fast.
The final word on all of these jamming techniques is to do what works for you. If you're feeling fast and strong, you may want to layback a 15-foot seciton of ratchets in a corner and be done with it. Or you may feel more solid jamming and getting on your feet while you place gear. Don't rule out any possibilities. Perfecting these techniques will give you more options to work with.
Knowledge is power. Now that you're armed with "book" knowledge, go practice. Build an adjustable crack machine (two 2x6's bolted together) and work through the sizes. Get on a lot of topropes. The beauty of crack climbing is that it's not about doing the same move over and over. It's about knowing when and how to apply different techniques. A technical jam can come in just as handy on a sport climb as a kneedrop can on a multi-pitch gear route. The more tricks you have up your sleeve, the less likely you are to fall when it matters. So, stock up on tape, lube your cams, and jam.
Steph Davis, 25, has learned these techniques through much loss of skin near her home in Moab, Utah.
|Classic Cracks||Get in Gear|
|Testy Canyonlands splitters||Placing pro is half the battle|
| With perhaps the most unrelenting and pure cracks anywhere,
Indian Creek offers an endless selection of splitters and corners,
from thin hands to thin fingers. Sizes given are for an average male
|| Knowing how to climb thin cracks is one thing. Figuring out how
to let go with one hand long enough to place a piece and clip it is
another. Conveniently, you can use your hands to gauge which piece
will fit best in the crack. You'll soon learn which cam or nut size
is associated with your ratchets, rings, or thin-hand jams. How you
organize the gear on your rack can make or break you. It's
individual; just make sure you are organized and can get the right
piece off your rack quickly. Think ahead, and, at least for the
initial section you can see, try pre-racking the first few pieces.
In the best-case scenarios, the off-size will let up at some point and you'll find a great hand jam or finger lock to place gear from. Don't hang out in a ringlock crux when there's a good jam three feet above you. Go for it and place from the better stance. If there is no good stance, make do with one that's just all right. Get in balance on your feet and resist the temptation to place too high. Place the piece at nose or waist level- it'll be easier to clip the rope quickly and you'll be less likely to fall with a big loop out. Once you've got a piece, climb quickly to a better stance for the next one. Above all, make sure your cams are in good shape. There's nothing worse than a sticky trigger when you're desperate.