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Constriction Concentration: 8 Great North American Hand Cracks

Hand cracks from coast to coast

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Josh Morris hangs comfortably on Incredible Hand Crack. Photo by Dan Morris/

Incredible Hand Crack (5.10c)

Indian Creek, Utah

For a crack not to vary more than fractions of an inch over a full pitch is truly incredible, and such uniformity is found few places other than the famed Indian Creek. Follow the obvious corner crack through a large overhang, layback for a bit, and then rely on perfect jams for the rest of the roof. Guidebook: Rock Climbing Utah, by Stewart Green

Cruel Sister (5.10a)

Smith Rock, Oregon

A tight-hands to fists route in a shallow corner, this is a popular outing in the Lower Gorge, where crack climbers can escape from Smith’s tuff-tugging, sport-climbing crowds. This area features striking, vertical basalt columns—where you’ll find mostly trad climbs—with quality edges sprinkled next to the cracks. The columns are shaded for much of the day, perfect for summer sends. Guidebook: Climber’s Guide to Smith Rock, by Alan Watts

Yin and Yang (5.11a)

Red Rock, Nevada

This arching hand crack is short, fun, and classic. Yin and Yang follows a right-curving fissure that mimics the shape of the ancient Taoist symbol of shadow and light. Find your own inner balance as you attempt Yin and Yang’s burly mid-route crux. Guidebook: Rock Climbing Red Rocks, by Todd Swain

  • Want to learn to trad climb so you can tackle classic cracks? Internationally certified mountain guides Rob Coppolillo and Marc Chauvin will teach you the fundamentals of trad climbing in our 8-week online course: Intro to Trad Climbing. From placing/removing gear and proper belay techniques, to how to make an anchor and manage a stuck rope, Intro to Trad Climbing takes the guesswork out of exploring traditionally protected climbs.

Crynoid Corner (5.7)

Shelf Road, Colorado

Crynoid Corner is a perfect introduction for beginners gunning for their first lead on limestone—and for aspiring crack climbers as well, because there are plentiful face holds. The route is bolted for sport climbing, though it protects well on natural gear. Follow the unmistakable crack near the start (climber’s left) of Cactus Cliff. For a trad ascent, bring cams to 4 inches. Guidebook: Shelf Road Climbing, by Bob D’Antonio

White Lightning (5.10a)

City of Rocks, Idaho

Nic Houser fights the pump through the steep layback section on White Lightning. Photo by Mark Weber

The only route on its namesake buttress, this classic line receives less attention than it should, with sustained crack moves and a steep, layback crux, topped by patina jugs to relieve your pump. Guidebook: City of Rocks Idaho, by Dave Bingham

Plumb Line (5.9+)

Vedauwoo, Wyoming

The name says it all for this short and perfectly vertical crack. “It’s a 40-foot, beautiful, straight-in crack that’s hands all the way,” says guidebook author Robert Kelman. And with no face holds to be found, your only option is to throw hand jam after hand jam, perfect for crack training. Guidebook: Rock Climbing at Vedauwoo, Wyoming, by Robert B. Kelman

Hackberry Crack (5.9+)

Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Arkansas

Hackberry Crack is one of the purest splitters around,” says guidebook author Cole Fennel. “Definitely a contender for best moderate crack in the region.” Test your flared-crack skills about 15 feet off the ground, and ramp up your endurance for the crux bulge. Sometimes, an inexplicable breeze blows from inside the crack. Guidebook: Rock Climbing Arkansas, by Cole Fennel

Marshall’s Madness (5.9)

Seneca Rocks, West Virginia

Work your way up the three exposed pitches and be thankful that you have sticky rubber and modern cams, unlike the first ascensionists in 1955. Start with a hand and fist crack to easier ground on the second pitch. Bounce between face and crack climbing on the third pitch. Guidebook: Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, by Eric J. Hörst