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Learn to Crack Climb

The Art of Jamming Cracks

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The legendary climber Jimmie Dunn jams a crack at Turkey Perch in Colorado.

Crack climbing requires jamming or wedging your hands and feet in cracks of various sizes.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Climbing routes usually ascend natural weaknesses in cliffs. The most common weaknesses are crack systems or naturally occurring fissures in the rock surface. Cracks vary in width from thin cracks that are the thickness or size of your fingers to wide chimneys that are climbed with your feet and hands pasted onto opposing walls. Crack climbing, using the climbing technique called jamming, is the technique used by climbers to ascend various sized cracks.

Crack Climbing is a Traditional Skill

Climbers traditionally ascended cracks since they were able to place protection, like threading a sling or piece of rope around a wedged stone in the crack, pounding a piton or metal spike into the crack with a hammer, or wedging a nut or cam in the crack. The technique to climb cracks is naturally called crack climbing.

Types of Cracks

Cracks are usually described by climbers by the appendage that is used to climb it, including finger cracks, hand cracks, and fist cracks. Wider cracks from four to ten inches wide are called off-width cracks, while cracks that are big enough to fit your body inside are called chimneys.

The Technique of Jamming

Jamming is the climbing technique used to climb cracks. Jamming is simply “jamming” or wedging different parts of your body, including fingers, hands, fists, arms, shoulders, feet, and legs, into a crack, depending on its width. Jamming is a learned technique that seems unnatural at first. It’s not intuitive like face climbing. Most beginners or even novice climbers usually can’t start jamming cracks without first practicing and learning all the different ways to place their hands and feet in different sized cracks.

Jamming Takes Lots of Practice

The art of jamming takes a lot of practice. Crack climbing is not an easy or natural climbing skill to learn but if you head out to your local cliff and practice jamming different cracks then you will eventually learn how to evaluate and climb cracks. Crack climbing, however, can be painful since cracks are often rough and course inside and can cut your hands. A lot of climbers tape their hands to avoid painful cuts, sometimes called “gobies,” so they can jam their blues away in comfort.

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