Crack climbing teeters on the edge between warfare and ballet. The best climbers balance graceful choreography, rhythm and total brutality leaving knuckles raw and bloodied, fingers cut, and palms swelled pink from a mixture of chalk and blood. Last weekend I took my reintroduction to handjams, footjams, cams, and fingers struggling to barely hold on to the edge of a splitter running right up the face. My first introduction to the near artistic form of cracks came last summer at New River in West Virginia. It was a thin 5.9 where the aim was to reach for a small knob with feet just barely jammed into the split and spaces only a finger length wide to cam and pull myself to the ledge. After finishing the route in the most hangdogged style possible, the tips of my fingers were scraped and sore but the battle and the brutality was something I was completely in love with.
Some may call it masochistic in nature and the thinner the line, the more pressure the climber has to get their body in a comfortable position, or to have enough time to insert a nut or cam. As someone who had grown on face climbing, reaching for jugs, crimps, awkward positioning and clipping bolts, getting onto a gorgeous splitter that cuts the cliff in half took a readjustment to a number of techniques. The toughest part I found about learning crack was having the confidence to drive my feet right in between. As if the thin shoe crunching all my toes together wasn’t enough it took crossing my leg over and jamming it right into a thin crevasse while pushing my hands against each other to apply pressure to either side of the wall.
There’s a gentle choreography to every movement. Hands and feet move in unison, one placed on top of the other, a foot moved up for every hand movement, and in the meantime, finding all the strength to keep tethered to the wall. Unfortunately as of writing this I still haven’t gotten the opportunity to lead a line and for that I have to wait for the spring when i’m planning a trip to Indian Creek, but even in a top rope setup, a fall usually consists of a big swing before inching back to the split and resetting the position. As opposed to a chimney where my back is against the wall and feet and hands are inching up a narrow trench, the entire force of the crack can rest on three or sometimes less fingers. The ugly bit of these lines comes from the scraping of knuckles transitioning from one miniature hold to another. Last week, I ended a beautiful weekend in Leavenworth on a mild 5.9 that wouldn’t be considered an epic, but was burly nonetheless. As soon as I had come back down the skin had practically disintegrated and the bumps were raw and bright red. Despite the pain and the discomfort, the sense of accomplishment in ascending a tough line is incomparable.
I’m fairly novice when it comes to crack, but with a gaining interest in trad, i’m looking to make it an objective of mine for next season. To find higher, tougher lines, to find a crack thats going to force me to fight and use creativity to ascend and to visit as many classics as I can. I’m not writing this and advocating a full knowledge in crack. There’s a lot of technique I have to improve on, there’s a lot I still have to learn but from what i’ve done so far, I know that this is well where my climbing career is headed.