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Crack climbing hurts if you’re not prepared. Crystals bite, sandstone slips, and offwidths tear at exposed skin. The pain will subside with excellent technique, but the dreaded “off-sizes”—those awkward sizes between the standard fingerlocks, hand jams, fist jams, and squeeze chimneys—will always instill fear, or masochistic joy, to some degree.
The Canadian crack climbing wizard JP “Peewee” Ouellet is here to help. Years of establishing and repeating some of the hardest crack climbs in North America have given him invaluable taping beta that will preserve your skin to let you climb painful, awkward, and off-size cracks for multiple days in a row.
Before getting busy with tape, glue, and rubber, you should first shave the backs of your hands to give that tape a fighting chance to stick, says Ouellet. Afterwards, he uses a pre-tape spray (think prepping for kneepads) to prevent sweat from ungluing the tape. This spray is especially important on roof cracks where your tape gloves will experience extra pressure and are prone to bunching up, hosing you for any upcoming thin jams.
Pre-tape spray doesn’t work as well for finger taping, and Ouellet advises that you instead invest in Krazy Glue for the smaller sizes. Seek out a brand that comes with a small application brush, like that found with nail polish, to avoid a glue-in-mouth mishap like he’s experienced so many times before. You can easily remove the glue with tea-tree oil at the end of your session.
Ouellet avoids taping for cracks so thin they won’t accept his first digit, as he doesn’t want any extra girth on his fingers, limiting his ability to jam. If there is a particularly vicious jam, however, he will super-glue a single square of tape onto the finger’s high-wear spot. “It may only stay on for a couple moves or a sequence,” he warns. “Once I get to a jug or hand jam I’ll rip the tape off with my teeth.” After several consecutive days of crack climbing, be sure to file down the callus on the sides of your fingers with sandpaper.
If your fingers simply won’t fit into a specific jam, you can try taping them down with an extremely tight wrap. This can bring your digits down a few millimeters—don’t expect to start sinking into 0.1s—but it has a significant drawback: It is extremely difficult to clip/unclip and otherwise manage your gear. Introduce a bit of lactic acid into the equation and you can say goodbye to any finger dexterity.
“Baggy” or off-fingers
When your loose, baggy fingerlocks leave you desiring greater purchase, try adding one to three wraps of tape to your fingers. Ouellet begins at the top of the middle phalanx of each finger and overlaps each wrap as he trends toward the base of the finger. Aim for a conical shape—the tip of your finger must be smaller than the base.
Somewhere between off-fingers and ringlocks lies the bike-tube jam. For Ouellet’s finger size, this comes into play for tipped-out No. 0.5 cams. Instead of adding more wraps of tape to his middle phalanx, Ouellet takes a small square of bicycle inner tube and glues it to the side of his finger, securing it with a single layer of tape on top. Ouellet says this acts similarly to 3–5 layers of tape, but with multiple advantages: The glue on his fingers adheres better to rubber than to tape; the rubber allows for a full range of motion;and the bike tube tempers the pain from a day of torquing. “I would rather not climb cracks with tape at all. Skin always has the best friction,” he says. “But the issue is always skin tolerance and [pain] perseverance.”
Ouellet has one overriding tip for offwidths and deep jamming: Protect your forearms. Some climbers use neoprene sleeves, some wrap their whole arm with tape, and some wear long sleeves and tape the cuffs onto their wrists. When Ouellet tackled the offset and overhanging Necronomicon (5.13+), he enlisted a pair of polyurethane bandages to allow him to try the pitch up to three times a day. The thin foam sticks to skin and is best paired with a protective wrap of climbing tape.
These techniques may appear anal retentive, but Ouellet says there is a time and place for each one. “If you’re onsighting, you don’t give a shit if you’re bleeding all over the route… but if you’re redpointing and trying the moves over and over… your skin will get messed up,” he says. Adopting even one of these hacks may save your skin for another day at the crag. And who doesn’t want that? The only thing better than climbing is more climbing.