How To Climb Offwidths 101
- December 2009
I am a novice crack climber since moving to a city close to Joshua Tree.
While living in Utah I never really got into crack climbing despite being
only a couple hours from IC. I have found your posts on crack climbing to be
the best on the web. However, I am hungry for more information on crack
climbing. My wife and I are climbing low 5.10 cracks and struggling with
finding more info. We only get to climb about once a week because of work
and three young kids, but when we go we like to climb crack.
I would be interested in off-width advice if you have any. If you know of a
book on crack climbing that actually works, or if you know things to
practice (or other internet sites) that would all be helpful. Thanks for all
that you contribute to climbing.
Thanks for writing! Offwidths are really not as awful as they first seem. In fact, the great thing about them is that they are only about technique. Once you’ve gotten the techniques down, they go from impossible and horrific to actually enjoyable, and not very strenuous.
So as with everything, offwidths are all about the feet. I have good news or bad news, depending on what size you are: the bigger your feet, the easier it will be to climb wide cracks. If you are climbing sandstone offwidths, which tend to have less small footholds and little edges, I strongly recommend you wear Five Tennies for wide cracks. It makes it way easier, and more comfortable. On granite, where you need to take advantage of anything you can get, just wear a big, stiff shoe. I use Anasazi Laceups (in a big size), which are normally a little on the too-stiff side for me. Also, if you aren’t going to wear thin socks, tape your ankles!!! These tips alone will instantly make offwidths far more enjoyable. And easier.
But as I said, it’s all about the feet. Get your footwear organized, and when you approach the wideness, think about camming your feet into the crack. Wedging your heel and toe inside the crack, or cammed against the outside edge, works incredibly well. Once you have this down, and if your foot happens to be the right size for the particular crack, you will suddenly find that you have to do very little with your arms and hands except hold yourself in place as you walk your feet up. It’s an amazing thing.
The general technique for offwidths is wiggling and wedging. Get your feet wedged in there, and then do whatever you need to do with your upper body to make it stick in order to move your feet up again. On granite, there are often small edges in and around the crack. Use these as much as possible. Also, don’t forget to reach inside the crack as deep as you can, because sometimes they taper inside and you can actually get a fist jam. Again, the bigger you are, the happier you will be, because you are more likely to squeeze a fist jam out of the crack. If there is a fist jam back there, use that and forget about the offwidthing. If there’s not a fist jam back there, don’t flail around wishing there was. Instead, use your wide technique….
Chicken winging works great. Wearing a thick, fuzzy shirt makes it work even better.
Chicken winging also works with bare skin, but it’s not recommended .
Chicken winging is the most basic arm bar for wide cracks, but you want to wiggle around and do whatever works. Basically anything you can do inside or outside the crack that makes you stick, is what you want to do. Don’t get hung up on wanting a solid jam feeling. Fist stacking and hand/fist jamming are great. Chicken winging is great. Finding a little edge to crimp on is great. Wedging both shoulders or inhaling to make your chest stick is great. Basically, as long as you don’t panic and you are willing to be creative, like a little kid, you are going to find a way to make your upper body stick in the crack long enough to step up your feet and get them cammed and stuck in the next section.
I think the biggest thing with offwidths is to remain calm and be patient. It’s actually harder than it seems to actually fall out. And it will take much longer to move up than in, say, a hand crack. If you remain calm and don’t thrash around, you will find it’s actually not very strenuous. It’s okay to take twice as long to go half as far, as long as you don’t get yourself all exhausted. That’s part of the deal with wide cracks.
So the best way to start is to hang a toprope on a likely looking offwidth, and spend some time trying all of these things. You will be surprised at how quickly it goes from impossible to actually pretty fun….make sure to bring the kids along to lend you their attitude of limitless creativity.
I hope this helps a little!