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EnlargeIllustration by Chris Philpot

The Calf Lock
The Calf Lock

Illustration by Chris Philpot

A key technique for mid-difficulty offwidths

One of the most dreaded wide crack sizes is just bigger than your fists but too small for your knees. For most people, this means a four-inch crack. This size usually requires the hand/hand (“butterfly”) stack instead of a fist jam. Although hanging from such a stack feels quite secure, it’s difficult to make upward progress because a knee jam won’t fit. The solution lies in holding your full body weight with a leg, allowing you to make a higher placement with the hand stack. This position will make you think of all the sit-ups you should have been doing.

Stack and shuffle

1. Stack your hands as high as possible, using a butterfly jam or other hand/hand stack.

2. Move one foot up the crack to about waist height. Try to get your calf all the way in to your knee.

3. Now rotate your high foot toward your big toe, with your calf pressing against the other wall. Turning this foot causes torque between your foot and your calf, making for a more secure lock.

4. Bump your low foot up a little, cam it into the crack, and then lock off with your abs and bump your hand/hand stack as high as you can.

5. As you pull down on the hand/ hand stack, slide your high foot up. Generally you will not need to remove the high foot from the crack. Repeat.


This is a technique that is best practiced on toprope, because placing gear in this position can be very difficult. When calflocking, it’s often best to place gear below the high foot and deep into the crack, as it’s very easy to pin the rope behind your low foot and/or kick out your gear as you move. Note that if you fall out of a calf-lock, there’s a good chance you will catch your high foot on your gear and flip upside-down. Consider a helmet.

Wondering what to wear? Hand taping is optional but will allow more climbing and less pain and suffering. Long pants will prevent your calves from ripping across the lip of the crack. Tape the cuffs of your pants to your ankles to keep them from bunching up around your knees.

Pamela Pack has climbed many of America’s hardest wide cracks, including an onsight of Lucille (5.12d/5.13a) at Vedauwoo, Wyoming, and the first ascent of Gabriel (5.13c) in Zion, Utah.

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