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KyleJ

Best routes to learn to climb cracks in the NW

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Hello all,

 

My goal this year is to learn to not be intimidated by cracks, so I want to tackle this problem head-on in the summer. I'm in Portland, so somewhere like Squamish is probably out without a big trip, but I'm definitely willing to put in some travel hours to get to the best spots.

 

I realize "sport cracks" don't make too much sense most places, but I don't know many people who lead trad here, so the ideal spot would be TR-able. I realize this greatly limits the options, but it is the situation I am in now. I'm just really motivated to get some crack hurt on this year.

 

So, any ideas?

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Icicle Canyon in Leavenworth has a number of domes and formations that you can walk around the backside to drop a top rope on. The basalt columns at Smith Rock and the formation Rope a Dope crack are on might be TRable as well.

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There are a lot of different options/paths to teach you how to crack climb in the NW. The good news is that Oregon has some top-notch crack climbing crags that together make an excellent progression.

 

Honestly, go to the columns in Eugene. It's literally the best place imaginable to learn to jam/lead. Easy to hang TRs, smooth rock=minimal gobies, many easy, slabby cracks to figure out your jams. To progress quickly, try to avoid using faceholds. (this is good early on, but should be used solely as a training tool to avoid transferring it to normal climbing-think of it as training wheels) Routes to focus on: Fat Crack, Hard Lie Back, Limp Dick, and Satisfaction.

 

Once you're bored of the columns, go to Smith and get down to the basalt. The Lower Gorge is a great place to break into leading 5.10. Good gear, awesome routes, nice, soft grades. Routes: Bloodclot, Badfinger, Cruel Sister, Quasar, Gruff, Morningstar, and the 10c finger crack that I can't remember the name of

 

The end of the treadmill is Trout Creek. Head to Trout once you think you're solid on .10 in the Gorge. You'll probably get paddled (I sure did) your first time, but if you stick with it, Trout will prepare you to climb long, sustained splitters (especially stemming) like nowhere else. The creek will feel soft when you go. (because it kind of is) Routes: Gold Rush, JR Token, Mr. Squiggles, Wondertwins, Two Step Left and Right, Lively Up Yourself, Sleepy Hallow, Bushwhacker, U1-3, (watch out for U1) Landing a Monster, and Suzuki.

 

If you make it this far, your love of crack climbing might have mutated somewhere along the road into a fondness for traditionally protected adventure climbing. If this happens, check out Moolack and Index. Both are comparable crack climbing areas that offer steep, sustained climbing with a very different, more technical style of movement than you typically find on basalt.

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Excellent advice, I might add after some trips to Columns, do more top roping at North Point and Student wall before moving on to the lead climbs listed in the Lower Gorge. And if you don't know any trad climbers (hence the need for toprope) you are going to have to find someone to climb with that can lead trad so you can learn to place gear. Don't get in a hurry, it takes time to learn to crack climb and place gear proficiently and safely. Take it slow and steady working up through the grades and learning to place gear. Good luck.

 

There are a lot of different options/paths to teach you how to crack climb in the NW. The good news is that Oregon has some top-notch crack climbing crags that together make an excellent progression.

 

Honestly, go to the columns in Eugene. It's literally the best place imaginable to learn to jam/lead. Easy to hang TRs, smooth rock=minimal gobies, many easy, slabby cracks to figure out your jams. To progress quickly, try to avoid using faceholds. (this is good early on, but should be used solely as a training tool to avoid transferring it to normal climbing-think of it as training wheels) Routes to focus on: Fat Crack, Hard Lie Back, Limp Dick, and Satisfaction.

 

Once you're bored of the columns, go to Smith and get down to the basalt. The Lower Gorge is a great place to break into leading 5.10. Good gear, awesome routes, nice, soft grades. Routes: Bloodclot, Badfinger, Cruel Sister, Quasar, Gruff, Morningstar, and the 10c finger crack that I can't remember the name of

 

The end of the treadmill is Trout Creek. Head to Trout once you think you're solid on .10 in the Gorge. You'll probably get paddled (I sure did) your first time, but if you stick with it, Trout will prepare you to climb long, sustained splitters (especially stemming) like nowhere else. The creek will feel soft when you go. (because it kind of is) Routes: Gold Rush, JR Token, Mr. Squiggles, Wondertwins, Two Step Left and Right, Lively Up Yourself, Sleepy Hallow, Bushwhacker, U1-3, (watch out for U1) Landing a Monster, and Suzuki.

 

If you make it this far, your love of crack climbing might have mutated somewhere along the road into a fondness for traditionally protected adventure climbing. If this happens, check out Moolack and Index. Both are comparable crack climbing areas that offer steep, sustained climbing with a very different, more technical style of movement than you typically find on basalt.

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Lower Gorge soft? Cruel Sister is the hardest 10a I've ever been on.

Agreed I thought the Gorge was a bit stiff. May as well hit Trout Creek at least there's a couple of .9s there...

 

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Lower Gorge soft? Cruel Sister is the hardest 10a I've ever been on.

 

I like the wide part toward the top. That's the part I like.

I couldn't sink more'n a knuckle anywhere below that. I didn't like that part. I didn't like that part at all.

 

I do think it should be part of the CRAK101 curriculum. Is it on the syllabus?

 

The big dirty crack on Rope de dope block is 5.8 and gets tr'd all the time. There's a dope hangin' on a rope on that crack at least twice a week. Not sure why. I never climbed it.

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Another tip, if you are just getting started in "crack" - don't invest a fortune in all the costly cams (unless you already have).

Top roping is the best way to get started to see if you like it. Then if you want to build a low cost rack - you could do the "old school" scenario, and start out with some wired hexes and nuts. Then when you get hooked you'll be spending a ton of dinero on SLC's.

Good luck, lots of good stuff as mentioned above. :tup:

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If you end up coming to Eugene I'd be willing to point you in the right direction at the columns if the timing and weather works out. PM and we can work out details.

 

 

As far as Rope De Dope crack is concerned, took my first lead fall and ledged out on that thing. There are better routes at smith for learning gear and crack technique I think.

Edited by JoeR

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Awesome.

 

Thanks for all the great spots, everyone. I have the beginnings of a small rack, just accumulating things from sales, etc, but I am certainly in no hurry to lead; I just want to start tackling cracks at my own pace. I'm sure I will meet someone to follow along the way.

 

Really looking forward to this summer!

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...but I don't know many people who lead trad here, so the ideal spot would be TR-able. I realize this greatly limits the options, but it is the situation I am in now.

 

So, any ideas?

Royal Columns and/or The Bend, on the lower Tieton River, outside of Naches, WA on US-12.

Andesite columns, lots of cracks, all one-pitch wonders, with a trail to the top and chains to set up TR anchors.

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Royal Columns and/or The Bend, on the lower Tieton River, outside of Naches, WA on US-12.

Andesite columns, lots of cracks, all one-pitch wonders, with a trail to the top and chains to set up TR anchors.

 

Ditto

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so we got recommendations for the Tieton, and Index, and nobody mentions Frenchman's Coulee? If you have a limited rack, a great number of the cracks at this popular spot can be protected by clipping the bolts installed on the column faces between the cracks... my youngest son is using this tactic to segue from sport-climbing into trad leading - he can work up a crack, making some easy, straightforward placements, while feeling reassured by the easy availability of the bolt protection when he's not so sure of his own placements... where else can you do THAT?

all of the Oregon recommendations are sound... just don't forget the old Smith classics like Zebra,Karate Crack, Moonshine Dihedral...

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Hello all,

 

My goal this year is to learn to not be intimidated by cracks, so I want to tackle this problem head-on in the summer. I'm in Portland, so somewhere like Squamish is probably out without a big trip, but I'm definitely willing to put in some travel hours to get to the best spots.

 

I realize "sport cracks" don't make too much sense most places, but I don't know many people who lead trad here, so the ideal spot would be TR-able. I realize this greatly limits the options, but it is the situation I am in now. I'm just really motivated to get some crack hurt on this year.

 

So, any ideas?

 

You don't mention your skill level.......hard to say what's best for you without knowing. Later this summer you say? hmmmm. Some general ideas. The more mileage you can get the better. (So although Squamish is awesome, it's a long way away and often wet too - thus infrequent). It's better if you are following an expert and getting in a lot of different cracks. It will shorten up your learning curve to be both watching the holds and moments, and then being forced to stop and pull the leaders pro out at the same spot where he/she chose to stop and place it. Certainly Beacon has the best cracks near PDX, but maybe not all too crack-beginner friendly. There are some great topropeable cracks at the Butte and Broughtons bluff where you can get real worked in a short time period in the longer summer days, say, after work. Trout Creek has lots of cracks too, but even the easiest kick ass, and they are talking about a seasonal closing for Eagles soon, if it isn't already shut. Beacon has a similar issue.

 

That leaves Smith for right now till later in the summer, some good advise above. Get the new Watts book and find the cracks in it. Do NOT push your grades when you start. If you can climb 5.10C bolted routes maybe you start with a 5.8 crack limit or do the 5.6 first. Easy well protected things like Cinnamon Slab and Super Slab. You'll get use to it soon. Knowing the route is important too in some locations. Some crack routes are better than others for safety. For instance, there was someone who slipped and got hurt on the start of Moonshine dihedral, an otherwise great and benine 5.9 as it is a hard start and they slipped on it. Whereas Kunza Corner, at 10c, has an easier start and a real high crux, fantastic pro all the way: impossible to get seriously hurt.

 

*BAD HABIT ALERT* People who clip bolts get use to just letting go and relaxing onto their pro wherever they happen to be. That's a good thing for pushing your grades and getting better but it's a habit that translates poorly and has killed many climbers getting into gear climbing. The mind set for cracks should be DO NOT fall unless you are damned sure your pro will hold. Learn to downclimb too. If you find yourself further above your gear than you want and it's difficult climbing above: try downclimbing, then backing up your pro before you fall or trust anything. If you look up and see difficult crack, having 2 or even 3 bomber pieces in will help settle your mind and a relaxed yet well protected climber has a better shot of both sending and surviving should you peel:-)

 

I've blown air into bodies and pumped chests before due to the leader letting go thinking they had good gear (one guy had dogged on 2 lower pieces which had held short falls which quickly ripped out with some others the final and longer fall from higher up), then the gear rips out when they jump off. It's damned needless and disturbing. Experts will often put in pieces 3-5 feet away on hard cracks anticipating that they will fall, and they want them to hold. When we see some one like Dean Potter taking a 30-40 footer on Tombstone crack, I can damned near assure you that he had done that crack many times before and perhaps taken many short falls previous to that Utube clip. Then as time went on, he started eliminating pro so as to reserve his strength. Dude knew exactly where he was and what was needed and what the results of a fall would be. Watch how he works his feet. Had it memorized. Experts will usually collect all the info they can in advance if they are unsure of what they will be facing. Don't be afraid to do the same and ask around. Even a well written guidebook is only true for a single point in time. Routes can change, ask. (ie, "have you done A,B or C climb?, whats the pro? Whats the strategy? Are there rests? Ledges or bad falls?") Even an incorrect gear sequence or your belayer can screw you over. IE, its common in bolted climbing for the belayer to step back. it make for a more gentle catch and is easier to keep an eye on the climber while still being safe. That's a no no on gear only routes unless you have a leader clued into the outward pulling and how the gear relates to it. Putting in a string of nuts then a cam might potentially be fatal in a crack where on the same climb a cam or 2 first then all nuts the rest of the way might be 100% bomber. Or not, it's climb dependent. Aid climbing cracks (west face/east face of Monkey for instance) will help get you tuned into the gear thing too.

 

Try to find a mentor who has skill. Assuming you can get up 5.9 pretty well, a good one later would be to grab your gear and head out to Beacon. Try to find Jimmy O for a trip up the SE Corner route. It's a short 5.7 crux with lot of great climbing in it's 600' or so length. That will blow yer dress up for sure, and may be the safest way to get the fire lit and the comfort level to rise, and Jim is a fantastic person who also happens to like turning strangers onto the corner route. (I don't, as I'm too selfish).

 

Lastly, if it's a learning thing or catching up with some experienced mentors, {again, you don't say where you are in this game), check out the Mazamas. Lots of safe solid climbers and great classes. I saw Lee Davies posted to the Sisters TR thread in the Oregon section: maybe he'll check in.

 

Good luck! :wave:

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Thanks for the great post, Bill, (and everyone else!)

 

At the end of last year I was climbing low 10s, so even in sport climbing I'm still a beginner, (though I have been climbing off-and-on for a while due to elbow tendon issues.)

 

I might check out some of those climbs at the Butte, as I live right near there, (hopefully we can get some more cleanups done this year, too!)

 

I looked into the Mazamas courses last year, and was hoping to get into the Advanced Rock this year, but other things have kept me from applying. I read the lectures are open to the public; is this true? If so, I would love to just sit in on those, then maybe take the actual course next year to get the hands-on experience. I've already read most of the recommended books for it, but I don't have any delusions about how much that knowledge will actually help on the rock.

 

Thanks again, everyone

Edited by KyleJ

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It looks like you've gotten some great advice. It really comes down to getting the mileage. Cracks are very much about jamming technique and body positioning, and the methods can be counter-intuitive if you're used to face climbing.

 

Crack climbing often demands a different strategy. Figuring out how to rest and getting efficient movement down just takes time and top-ropes. I learned by flailing around at Skinner's Butte as much as I could. After years of flailing I'm still learning little tricks to make getting up easier, smoother and safer.

 

Finding a mentor before you start leading on your own gear is huge. It is important to get a handle not only on the actual physical aspects of the placements, but how to approach the whole game of traditional leading. Finding a mentor should happen naturally as you spend more time in and around cracks. Also, participating in stewardship type stuff(crag cleanups etc) is a great way to meet people.

 

I always get excited talking about crack climbing when all there is to do is pull down on plastic. I'm looking forward to seeing where you go with this. Keep the stoke alive and you'll be jammin with style in no time.

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Hey Kyle,

 

I'm in Portland too. The Farside is decent this time of year. The maples are bear so it gets some sun. And there's even a bolted trad route or something like that...

 

There's always the Circuit in the mean time.

 

 

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take especial note of Billcoe's suggestion to do some aid-climbing. this can fast-track your protection skills, because you have to make so many placements each pitch, and you must load every single placement - you quickly sort out what works and what doesn't, and when something doesn't, the consequent fall is short. don't be afraid to catch some grief when some jerk sees you aiding a 5.8 crack -- you'll be leaving them in the dust soon enough...

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Oh! And you can help me clean Red Dihedral and Jungle Safari out at Carver this summer. That should be fun :rawk:

 

Adam, that's funny you mention Red Dihedral. That's been on my need-to-clean list for two years. I guess I'm not the only one that thinks it's a worthwhile project.

 

 

Chad

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If you make it up to Index, there are some great intro crack climbs, in order of difficulty:

 

1. Godzilla

2. Breakfast of Champions

3. Princely Ambitions

4. Toxic Shock

5. Sagitarious

6. Rattletale

7. Zoom

 

That would be a pretty great week if you're breaking into the 10s.

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If you make it up to Index, there are some great intro crack climbs, in order of difficulty:

 

1. Godzilla

2. Breakfast of Champions

3. Princely Ambitions

4. Toxic Shock

5. Sagitarious

6. Rattletale

7. Zoom

 

That would be a pretty great week if you're breaking into the 10s.

 

Good climb but you're order is all wrong.

 

4. Toxic Shock (1 move wonder than mellow and fun) Do the twin cracks around the corner.)

2. Breakfast of Champions (straight forward, mildly burly. Do Rogers corner to approach).

3. Princely Ambitions (mmmm, technical fun)

1. Godzilla (dude!)

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