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Book Review of Crack Climbing: A Definitive Guide

The must-have climbing book was written by top crack climber Pete Whittaker and published by Mountaineers Books in 2020

As Pete Whittaker would have you believe, climbing cracks, whatever their size, is largely a matter of technique. His new book, Crack Climbing, seeks to comprehensively expose the techniques that can take you up some of the best climbs on the planet. At the heart of Whittaker’s project is an understanding of the physics and biomechanics involved. Contact forces, friction, volume, surface area, torques, force vectors, and centres of gravity all come into play as do notions of locking versus holding, and using your body’s structure rather than its strength.

Starting with high level concepts, this exceptionally well-illustrated book seeks to develop your repertoire of crack climbing skills: hand, foot, and body position by position. Lest you conflate this for a yoga manual, the author relates these to the situations encountered on rock, be it Yosemite, Indian Creek, Squamish, or the Peak District.

Each width of crack suggests a specific approach, often creative and, at times, counterintuitive. Taken together, there are over a hundred positions and movements to learn. In case you forget the details of one high above your last piece, you can always jump up a level to the key concepts: filling the space efficiently, using your body as a camming device, and keeping everything in line with the crack.

Crack Climbing is both a book of instruction and inspiration. Each chapter is punctuated with a section entitled “meet the master” which introduces a great climber and gives you a sense of how they approach the crack climbing craft.

Although laybacking doesn’t get a chapter (perhaps you can hear about it on classic rock radio), stemming and roof cracks do. If there’s a companion book to be written, it would be called Training for Crack Climbing – to the extent that most of us don’t live that close to range of cracks described, nor do we necessarily have patient and dedicated belayers. Also, the book should perhaps come with a trigger warning that reading about squeeze chimneys may provoke surges of nausea and/or be a gateway drug to spelunking.