Wild Country Crack School Part 1 - Fingers
by Wild Country / Tom Randall May/2012
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Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall looking at their route Century Crack
UKC Articles, Apr 2012
© Wild Country Collection
'Crack School' is a series of six short videos designed to utilise the skills and knowledge of Wild Country climbers Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker to give an introduction to basics of crack climbing.
Over six episodes (shown each Tuesday on UKClimbing for the next six weeks) the guys cover all widths of crack: Fingers, Hands, Fists and Offwidths as well as looking at the skills of gear placement and taping up.
Designed for those who know next to nothing about crack climbing and who want to make their first steps, the videos are made to illustrate what the guys think are the most pertinent points for starting out on each size of crack. They look at how to use hands and feet in the crack as well as gear and overall tips on technique and the way to approach each type of crack.
Importantly, and often overlooked, is the fact that these 'crack' techniques not only allow you to climb routes defined as cracks but this new knowledge makes you a more rounded climber. So if faced with a short section of crack, or a corner or groove you have an armoury and variety of ways of placing your hands to keep you going. These techniques therefore are incredibly important if you are making a transition from indoors to out, when holds move from 'sticking out' to 'going in' and thrusting, poking, camming and jamming become more important than simply grabbing and pulling.
As Tom Randall says: 'Crack climbing well is a fantastic feeling and learning how to climb cracks opens up a world of routes, and indeed some of the best routes in the world: from Brown and Whillans' classics in the UK (try doing Cenotaph Corner or the Sloth without being able to jam) through to Yosemite and Indian Creek in the USA. And remember, the best climbers always have a variety of techniques at their disposal and having a variety of techniques always makes you a better climber!'
VIDEO: Crack School - Episode 1 of 6 - Finger Cracks
Each week there is a competition to go alongside each video. You can access this week's competition by going to the Wild Country Website
In this weeks competition there's a chance to win a one of ten great prizes - including some great 'finger sized' gear - and a total prize pool of over £500.....
This Week's Prizes
And as a bonus there's a competition running on UKC for all 6 episodes which is to win a days 'Crack School' climbing with Tom Randall. You can enter this competition here
Tom Randall's Crack School Hints and Tips
Probably the most useful technique after the handjam, the finger
'jam' or 'lock' is based upon simply putting your fingers into a
crack, or a constriction in a crack and pulling down until your
fingers lock. At its most basic this is a simple, secure and very
effective technique and the lock or jam becomes extremely good
once you can place your confidence in it.
Unfortunately, it's not
quite as comfortable as a jug and this technique does require an
amount of pain resistance as it's the torquing or twisting action
of the fingers in the crack which holds you in place. However, as
your technique and your footwork improves, the potential pain
should lessen as you pull less and climb more – a great reason to
practice and learn!
One of the great things about the finger jam is that you will find
lots of places to use it as it doesn't necessarily just appear simply
as a long crack but in corners and grooves there is often a place to
be able to jam your fingers to make a secure hold.
Brian Kim looks for gear on London Wall
UKC Articles, Apr 2012
© Wild Country Collection
Techniques and Tips
Once you've got the basic idea of shoving your fingers in a crack
and pulling down, feeling how the fingers 'lock' and how (as we
show on the video) you will probably be relying on two fingers
for grip as you swivel your hand, the most important thing to
learn is whether to climb thumbs up or thumbs down. This is
important because as soon as you are dealing with a crack which
is not straight up (as well as some straight up ones) changing your
hand around can be the secret to success, maintaining balance and
keeping you relaxed.
In general you will probably climb 'thumbs down' in most situations
and this does feel most secure on straight up finger cracks,
but as they kink or turn, knowing when and how to switch hands
is crucial to maintaining flow and balance.
As we demonstrate, there's also plenty of technique to placing
your feet in thin cracks and once again it's wise to remember
that, as in all climbing, the more weight you keep on your feet
(and utilise the strength of your legs) the less you have to pull on
your arms. And as we show, the basics once again involve finding
either constrictions or overlaps: so either jamming your toes into
pods or constrictions and crucially moving your knee upwards to
get maximum rubber on the rock; or looking for overlaps, where
you can apply a sideways frictional force – both of these allowing
you to push up. Finally don't forget to look outside the crack for
face holds, as on many easier and easier angled cracks these may
be the key to success.
Overall, it's worth noting that the finger crack is possibly the
most difficult crack to master foot technique on (especially when
there's few face holds) and therefore the better you get the easier
they will feel. Lastly, remember soft boots are generally better in
these size cracks - both in terms of rubber surface area in contact with the rock and comfort.
Types of finger crack
It's also worth noting, that whether a finger crack is natural or manmade, it can make quite a difference to
how you climb a crack. For example in a 'pegged' out' finger crack such as at Millstone in the UK or many of
Yosemite's cracks, there will be more almost 'pocket like' constrictions where pegs have been, meaning that
you must choose which to use. Testing and choosing can be slow but when you find the best one having a definite
narrowing at the bottom can make these feel very secure
On the flip side, natural cracks may have longer sections of a more equal width. Here it may be harder to find
obvious constrictions (and unlike peg scars, no 'stop' to pull down on) but there is possibly more scope for simply
shoving your hand in and pulling, which can be quicker.
Practice makes perfect
As always, the more you practice the better you get. If you can practice whilst stood on the ground this will
make life a lot easier! Get plenty of trial and error in placing not only fingers but also feet and gear too. There's
nothing worse than being halfway up a route you're desperate to on-sight and realise you've not learnt how to
jam "thumbs up."
Tom Randall demonstrates a basic jam
Where to use thumbs up and thumbs down
Remember your feet are fantastic tools - use them!
The Hitlist - Some of the best finger cracks around - Selected by Tom Randall and UKC Readers
Christmas Layback, HS, Hawkswick
Once Pegged Wall, VS Lawrencefield
Wind Wall, HVS 5a, Sheeps Tor
Jabberwock, HVS, 5a, Pitch 2, Gable Crag.
Supra Direct E1 5b, Millstone
Gomorrah, E1 5b, Running Hill Pits
Embankment 3 ,E1 5B, Millstone.
Fools Gold, E1 - Bus Stop Quarry -
Meirionydd E1 6a, Craig Pant Ifan
Elgin Crack, E2 – Limekilns
Sandy Crack, E2 5C, Sandy Crag Northumberland
Orangutan, E2 5c, Stanage.
First Blood, E2 5C, St Govans East
Snicker Snack, E3 6A, Gable crag
The Asp, E3 - Stanage
Saville St, E3 6a, Millstone
Twicker, E3 5c, Millstone
Comes the Dervish, E3 5c, Vivian Quarry
Jolly Roger, E3 (6a,5c), Fairhead, Northern Ireland
Cream E4 6A, Tremadog
Tea for Two, E4 6a, Millstone
Chisel, E4 – Cambusbarron
London Wall E5 6A, Millstone
Goosey Goosey Gander E5 6a, Stanage
Milky Way, Ilkley E5/6 6b
Pretty Girls Make Graves E6 6b, Llanberis Pass.
Bursting the Wave, F8a, Cheddar Gorge
West Crack 5.9 / HVS – Tuolomne Meadows
Nutcracker, 5.9 / HVS – Yosemite
Flying circus 5.10a .E1 – Squamish
Thin Ice, 5.10b / E2 , The Needles
Exasperator (P1) - 5.10b / E2 - Squamish Chief.
Serenity Crack 5.10d / E3 - Yosemite
Cobra Crack – 5.10c / E4 - Squamish Chief.
The Rostrum – 5.11c/E4 – Yosemite
Johnny Cat – 5.11d/E4 – Indian Creek
Swedin Ringle – 5.12 / E5 – Indian Creek
Learning to Fly 5.13 . E7 – Indian Creek