Splendor in the Cracks


The Best Crack Climbing Destinations Within 5 Hours

Photo by Ritchie Espenilla

Crack is addictive. At some point most climbers will try it. At first, of course, it is mere curiosity. It seems innocent enough, and hey, all your friends are doing it. They flaunt their full racks of shiny cams and smile at you persuasively as they make their tape gloves. Here’s the dirtbag truth; they want you hooked too. Sure, they’ll lead the first couple of routes for you, but then, your itch becomes irascible and eventually you succumb to it. You have been awakened to the splendor in the cracks and nothing else compares to this singular euphoria.

You will sacrifice your relationships and sell your possessions to get high, several hundred feet high. You will do anything to get more gear for your rack. Sharing with your friends is not enough; you need your own. Sorry you missed Grandma’s birthday party, but there was a splitter you just had to get. Job? Job-schmob. The diagnosis is this: a mania that is so engrossing, so hopelessly myopic that you will never overcome it.

Trad is often perceived as climbing in its purest form because it requires a greater and more dynamic arsenal of gear, muscles and technique. It’s slightly more sinister and obliges climbers to become proficient with finger locks, thumbstacks, ring locks, rattley fingers, hand jams, fist jams, hand stacks and arm bars. Relying on fractures or fissures in the rock, trad climbers use removable hardwear (cams, nuts, hexes) to protect routes so they leave no trace after the ascent.

Cracks come in all shapes and sizes, as does Trad gear, and the difficulty rating changes depending on the size of the climber’s hands. Ladders for some are thrashers for others. Crack users love Utah for its splitters, which lend themselves to the fluidity of route judging and gear placement. The crack dictates the movement of the climb as well as the protection. Crack climbing is more about endurance than gymnastic ability and power. Placing your own gear preserves the magic of discovery for those who come after you, and remember, you want them hooked too because crack is cool.

If you live in Salt Lake City, you are within striking distance of the best crack climbing destinations in the world. Admitted junkies, meet the dealers that are within five hours driving distance and just say yes to these classic homegrown routes while you’re there.


Little Cottonwood Canyon is a recreational masterpiece set in the majesty of the Wasatch Mountains with a bounty of granite cracks. Though there are ample amounts of bolted routes, more than half are trad. The white granite rock is primarily made of quartz monzonite and makes for bomber placements in plentiful cracks.

The Coffin .9 (one pitch, 80’) Sew up the left seam with rattley fingers and flaky rock.

Mexican Crack .10a (one pitch, 90’) Get off to an iffy start and make your way spindly double cracks with leftish finger jams.

Stormy Resurrection .11b (one pitch, 80’) Wide fingers to start with and offwidth at the end. Big fingers and big hands pay off.

CITY OF ROCKS – 3.5 hours

“The City,” as most climbers call the place, is peppered with precipitous monoliths rising to six stories and offering some of the best granite crack lines this side of Yosemite. There are a wide variety of options for rookie and pro alike, making it a popular quick fix for SLC day-trippers. The City’s granite formations are composed of Almo pluton and Green Creek Complex, which gives the brown and whitish rock a stout surface.

Animal Cracker .10a (two pitches, 200’) The first pitch is the best: a thin finger crack on the flake leads to perfect hands followed by an offwidth, ending in a roof.

Bloody Fingers .10a (one pitch, 100’) Hand jams v. Liebacks. Technique is the discerning factor in enjoyment level, but twin cruxes give fingers unique appeal. One of the city’s finest cracks.

Crack of Doom .11c (one pitch, 80’) One of 15 routes to the top of Morning Glory Spire, and it ranks superior from tips to fist.

CASTLE VALLEY – 4.5 hours

Big senders journey to Castle Valley in pursuit of iconic desert towers. Indeed, jamming your hands and feet in a game of inches to sky high summits is intoxicating. The lines are steep, elegant and each comes with its own particular brand of aching brilliance. The hearty calcite-coated wingate sandstone provides much relief for pro, though it loses strength in wet weather. Layton Kor and Huntly Ingalls changed the game for climbers in the ’60s when they cracked these minarets.

Castleton Tower Kor-Ingalls Route .9+(four pitches, 375’) Beleaguered by a steady stream of tower enthusiasts, this celebrity desert spire features a comparatively moderate level of difficulty paired with steady sandstone and substantial views. Most choose the Kor-Ingalls route over the perceptibly easier North Chimney route (5.9-) due to its status as one of North America’s 50 classic climbs.

Fine Jade .11a (five pitches, 400’) Steep, exposed climbing and finger crack cruxes blend to give Fine Jade its illustrious reputation. The route winds its way to the top of the Rectory long, slender summit with Castleton Tower and the La Sal Mountains in constant sight to the south.

Jah Man .10c (four pitches, 325’) Some would say this is the best 5.10 they have ever climbed. Narrow and steep, Sister Superior is a gorgeous spire and Jah Man’s continuous series of cracks lead to stellar panoramic views.

INDIAN CREEK – 5 hours

Located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park lays the crown jewel of the crack empire, Indian Creek. Boasting more than 600 wingate sandstone routes, it’s a mecca for crack-amores. The imposing buttes overlook green pastures and showcase a selection of objectives bursting at the seams with every type of crack imaginable. Very few Indian Creek routes are rated less than 5.10, so it’s not for novices. Its colossal curb appeal enraptures many covetous climbers with delusions of glory, but the continuous nature of the climbing renders most Creek virgins (and some veterans) to complete and utter humility.

Anunnaki .11c/.12a (one-pitch, 50’): The overhanging pillar features zig zag fractures on a steep splitter.

Belly Full of Bad Berries .13a (one pitch, 80’): This overhanging arching offwidth requires inversion at crux and plenty of large-sized cams. Remember, you like suffering.

Incredible Hand Crack .10c (one pitch, 100’): Aptly named. Perfect hands all the way up.

Scarface .11a/b (one pitch, 70’): Legendary. Beautiful. Smaller hands succeed.

Supercrack of the Desert .10a: (three pitches, 100’) Impressive, sustained splitter requires impressive, sustained endurance. The vast majority of people only climb the first pitch.


Zion National Park is known for dramatically big walls in high doses and many routes are easily more than 1000 vertical feet, requiring a serious level of compulsion. The park presents inspiring landscapes and crack climbing in epic proportions. The deep red Navajo sandstone, while seductive, is not as strong as the wingate stone particular to the Creek, so it demands more protection.

The Headache .10+ (three pitches, 380’) Lots of finger, hand and fist jams with a bit of offwidth.

Iron Messiah .10c (ten pitches, 1000’) Mind the raptors and rope-eating chimney as you make your way up the long and dynamic left-facing dihedral system and chimney corner.

Squeeze Play .10a (one pitch, 80’) This route has every kind of crack you crave; splitter, thin and even double. Almost a triple.


About Author

Melissa McGibbon is the Senior Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Her work also appears in Outside Magazine, Lonely Planet, SKI Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Elevation Outdoors, Scuba Diving Magazine, and Matador Network. She is usually in pursuit of adventure, travel, or some daring combination of the two. IG @missmliss // melissamcgibbon.com

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