Almost all of my friends grow­ing up were ath­let­ic. They played soc­cer and soft­ball and bas­ket­ball. I did bal­let and swim lessons. I don’t think I real­ly start­ed to notice until mid­dle school, when school sports teams were cool and I was not on one. I was a small kid and I began to dread PE class, with all the run­ning and throw­ing and catch­ing… I am one of the least coor­di­nat­ed peo­ple (when it comes to con­ven­tion­al sports at least) that I know – when I lat­er start­ed play­ing ulti­mate Fris­bee, it took me a sol­id year to learn to throw a fore­hand, some­thing I’ve since seen new play­ers learn in a mat­ter of days.

Lizzy climbs Swedin-Ringle in Indi­an Creek, UT (pho­to by Luke Stefurak)

But just before my self-esteem could take a per­ma­nent dive, I found rock climb­ing. I rejoiced in this activ­i­ty that felt nat­ur­al to me, unlike tra­di­tion­al sports. My nat­ur­al bal­ance and strong shoul­ders from years of swim­ming meant that I could already climb routes that chal­lenged my more ath­let­i­cal­ly-dis­posed friends.

I dived in head­first and took my first trip to Joshua Tree Nation­al Park when I was 14, where I first dis­cov­ered my niche with­in climb­ing. It was on this trip that I encoun­tered my first hand crack. It was short, ver­ti­cal, and rat­ed 5.10a, and it was close to impos­si­ble with­out using the appro­pri­ate crack tech­nique. I must have strug­gled for twen­ty min­utes at the base of the route, but when I final­ly exe­cut­ed my first per­fect hand jam, it was amaz­ing. The route sud­den­ly became easy, even though 5.10a was still a chal­leng­ing grade for me at the time.

Lizzy boul­ders Jaws at Mt. Wood­son, CA (pho­to by Kyle Murphy)

As the years passed and I learned to lead climb, my love for crack climb­ing grew. Phys­i­cal­ly, climb­ing cracks allowed me to use my tech­nique and foot­work, rather than requir­ing raw pow­er and crimp strength. Men­tal­ly, lead­ing cracks also appealed to me – fig­ur­ing out which gear to place at each point and then fit­ting it in with the sequence of moves was an excit­ing puz­zle for me to solve. It also elim­i­nat­ed the frus­tra­tion and fear I often faced when lead­ing sport climbs (clip­ping bolts instead of plac­ing my own gear) when bolts were placed too far above a clip­ping stance for me to reach, or when the pro­tec­tion was more run-out than I would have liked.

Fur­ther­more, crack climb­ing is a nec­es­sary skill for many of the most clas­sic and awe­some mul­ti-pitch climb­ing objec­tives. Big clas­sic routes in Yosemite, Zion, the North Cas­cades of Wash­ing­ton, Squamish, etc. – you can’t climb these with­out the skills to climb and pro­tect crack climbs. Although I often pre­fer the relax­ation of crag­ging, I, like many climbers, enjoy my spec­tac­u­lar sum­mits, too. Climb­ing mul­ti-pitch trad routes has brought me on amaz­ing adven­tures in wild places – these expe­ri­ences are an inte­gral part of why I love to climb.

Through crack climb­ing I have become a hap­pi­er, more con­fi­dent per­son. My hard­est sin­gle-pitch sends have all been on crack climbs and I have to admit, along with the adren­a­line surge of send­ing, I love the look of awe on dudes’ faces when I get back to the ground. Before, that would have embar­rassed me, but now I’m proud of my accom­plish­ments, rather than offer­ing up some excuse why the route was eas­i­er for me. I’m proud of the faint scars on the backs of my hands from all those pitch­es of jam­ming. I’m proud of the cre­ativ­i­ty it takes to climb a beau­ti­ful, split­ter crack. Instead of a set sequence of chalked crimps, gas­tons, and slop­ers, it’s up to me to decide whether to jam my hands or fin­gers thumbs up or down, whether to shuf­fle my hands or cross-through, whether to jam or smear my feet… the list goes on. Crack climb­ing, to me, is the ulti­mate free­dom of expres­sion in climb­ing – just test­ing my strength, skills, and imag­i­na­tion against the rock. It doesn’t mat­ter any­more that I can’t play soc­cer or catch a ball – when I’m try­ing my hard­est, it’s an all-con­sum­ing activ­i­ty phys­i­cal­ly, men­tal­ly, and emo­tion­al­ly. I’ve yet to find anoth­er activ­i­ty that is so com­plete­ly demand­ing and yet com­plete­ly ful­fill­ing at the same time. And that is why I climb cracks.

Lizzy boul­ders Hard Crack in Bish­op, CA (pho­to by Luke Stefurak)

Lizzy is a grad stu­dent at Stan­ford work­ing towards a PhD in geol­o­gy. She likes to study real­ly old (3.5 bil­lion years old) rocks that are gen­er­al­ly no good for climb­ing. You can read about the adven­tures of Lizzy and her fiancé Luke at their blog, Dream in Ver­ti­cal, or fol­low Lizzy on Twit­ter.


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