Book Review: ‘Crack Climbing’ by Pete Whittaker

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Vertical cracks can be found on routes on almost all rock types, but pure parallel-sided cracks provide a technical challenge and demand such a different set of movement skills that ascending these style of routes has become an almost distinct sub-sport within rock climbing. Pete Whittaker, a Sheffield-based climber who grew up on the Peak District’s gritstone edges, has gone on to become one of the worlds leading practitioners of this part of the sport. His new book is undoubtedly the most detailed manual to crack climbing written yet and is one of the most detailed explorations of climbing movement and technique available.

Each width of crack, from fingertip wide to body-width chimney, has a distinct set of techniques needed, and so the book is divided up into chapters dealing with each of these. Every movement is accompanied by detailed descriptions and a series of illustrative diagrams, with arrows showing directions of applied force. These drawings themselves show a deep level of understanding and mastery of movement, but also demonstrate Whittaker’s impressive ability to communicate what are sometimes subtle techniques. For an insight into the process of writing the book, it is worth listening to Trek & Mountain contributor Andy Kirkpatrick’s interview of the author on his Psycho Vertical Podcast. The techniques of crack climbing are delved into in such detail that many of the movements lacked existing descriptive terms, leading Whittaker to develop a new vocabulary.

The technical information is accompanied by a selection of beautiful action photos, each illustrating the style of crack climbing under discussion. Many of these photos feature routes that are well within the grasp of mortals, alongside the inspiring images of world-class athletes fighting their way up testpieces. Extra inspiration comes from interviews with 15 of the world’s best crack climbers, including Hazel Findlay, Lynn Hill, Peter Croft, Alex Honnold and Nico Favrese. Reading like a ‘who’s who’ of the discipline, this collection of contributions, along with the accompanying photographs, makes the book worth a read even for those not sucked into the minutiae of crack technique.

A masterpiece, we can’t recommend this book highly enough, and essential reading for anyone serious about improving their crack skills. If you are heading out to Yosemite or Indian Creek then this book is as essential as the obligatory rack of cams.

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