The Crack Climbing Workshop or How to get much better at crack climbing

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Date Climbed/Hiked:
Feb 2, 2005
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The Crack Climbing Workshop or How to get much better at crack climbing
Created On: Feb 3, 2005
Last Edited On: May 15, 2008
It seems I have been asked over and over about the SCMA (Southern California Mountaineers Association) Crack Climbing Workshop-the climbs, the workshop, and the people who pioneered it as a means to get better at crack climbing. The workshop was the brainchild of longtime RCS/SCMA members Jim Erb and Theresa Rutherford. In the early 80’s they worked hard on developing their crack climbing skills by methodically ascending series of harder and harder cracks in Joshua Tree. Only the best cracks were selected for their training. The climbs were divided into four levels, based not only on rating but also level of commitment, length and protection possibilities. Jim and Theresa's hunch, that ORDINARY climbers could get much better by progressing through more and more difficult ascents, proved correct. First by toproping, then preplacing pro, and later cleanly leading the climbs, the workshop graduated 13 climbers and gave our club its first group of competent leaders at the 5 11 level. Patricia (Pat) Orris, Jim Mathews, Ben Chapman, and Tom Brogan are among those still with our club. These climbers credit Jim and Theresa with showing them how to get better through discipline, hard work and the use of progression from toprope to red point. The original crack workshop list included 48 climbs rated 5.9 to 5.l0d in four difficulty groups. Having completed the original list, Tom Brogan in 1990 added levels 5 and 6, with 24 climbs up to the 5.11d. Tom's extensive article dealing with the levels 5 and 6 can be found in Cliff Notes #40. Additional information can be found in Jim Erb's articles in the Mugelnoos (Cliff Notes predecessor) #651, 655, 656, 659, 660, 661, and 673. Pat Orris's excellent article on mental and physical preparation can be found in Mugelnoos #660. The crack list proved extremely popular. I know of several club members, who spent years trying to bag it. It is as valid (and hard) today as it was then. The trick, discovered by Jim early into the workshop, is that only when one masters a level cleanly would he/she be allowed to progress to the next. You were allowed to toprope, preplace protection, and work a given line, but only after you placed protection on lead and completed all the climbs without flailing would you go to the next. Sticking with this rigid structure assured that skills would keep improving. The 1986 workshop was, to this day, one of the most exciting and innovative ways for our members to progress in climbing. The Commitment was huge-every weekend for several months-and the climbing was unrelenting, but those who graduated are even today some of the best in the club. By the way, the workshop was never repeated in its original form, most likely due to its extreme commitment. I have always felt that the original list should be expanded downward as well. There are many who may want the structure of progressively difficult crack climbs, but would appreciate starting at a more relaxed level. By this I don't want to dilute Jim and Theresa's philosophy-that serious climbing starts at 5.9. But there are those who need to acquire crack climbing skills to get to that level first. My intent here is not to try to improve on the original list, but to compliment it with some classic J Tree crack climbs at the 5.7 and 5.8 level. I used several sources for these. I have led or followed all of them. I also climbed 38 of the 48 original climbs (Miguel Carmona-thanks for the memories), Roger Linfield’s written evaluations were great, and Randy Vogel's star ratings helped too. I realize that this Selection is NOT definitive-there are many great crack climbs out there-but after you complete this list, I'll bet you'll agree that these are some of the best cracks at J Tree. So here you have it-the 1986 original list, Tom Brogan’s additions, and my 32 prep climbs. Combined, they are arguably 104 of the BEST J Tree cracks, ranging from 5.7 to 5.11d. Do you want to know what it took to go from easy fifth to 5.11? Would you like to know more about the workshop method? Ask one of the graduates still with our club. It could change your climbing life forever. (page numbers in Randy Vogel’s Climber's Guide to Joshua Tree, 1992).

32 Prep Climbs


Bighorn Hand Crack p. 60, Smooth as Silk p. 95, Double Dog Leg p.98, Classic Corner p. 109, Bush Crack p. 120, White Lighting p.125, Scrumdillishus p. 131, Frosty Cone p. 131, Mr. Misty Kiss p.131, Double Cross p. 189, Nereltne p. 223, Life’s a Bitch and Then You Marry One p. 279, Mental Physics p.298, Wisest Crack p. 379, Dolphin p.463, Crackup p. 482, Gargoyle p.483.


Right Sawdust Crack p.32, Baby Roof p.53, Dinky Doinks p.97, Sail Away p.157, The Flake p.187, Dog Leg p.189, Hands Off p.197, Tennis Shoe Crack p.210, Right Peyote Crack p.224, Small World p.394, Music Box p.473, Where 2 Deserts Meet p.477, Crank Queenie p.529, Taken for Granite p.550, At Your Pleasure p.553.

The Original List

LEVEL 1 (5.8-.9)

Cake Walk p. 96, Dummy's Delight p. 178, Looney Toons p. 223, Middle Peyote Crack p. 224, Pope's Crack p. 245, Room to Shroom p. 278, Touch and Go p. 241, Nurn's Romp p. 384, Gem p. 445, , Colorado Crack p. 445, Continuum p. 459, Invisibility Lessons p. 459.

LEVEL 2 (5.9-.10c)

Right Baskerville Crack p. 35, Tossed Green p. 36, Aftermath p. 52, Left Mel Crack p. 90, Right Mel Crack p. 90, Sphincter Quits p. 154, North Overhang p. 187, Orphan p. 189, Watanobe Wall p. 208, Effigy Too (TR) p. 239, Spiderman (TR) p. 445, Bird of Fire p. 463.

LEVEL 3 (5.9-10b)

Tinker Toys p. 97, Friendly Hands p. 111, Tax Man p. 130, Illusion Dweller p. 169, Lower Ski Track p. 183, Super Roof p. 210, A Woman's Work is Never Done p. 214, Bruiser (TR) p. 214, Roller Ball p. 219, Halfway to Paradise (TR) p. 239, Dangling Wo Li Master p. 316, Exorcist p. 384.

LEVEL 4 (5.10b-.10d)

Foreign Legion p. 52, The Importance of Being Ernest p. 127, What's It To You (TR) p. 154, Clean and Jerk (TR) p. 155, Fisticuffs p. 1 70, Bearded Cabbage p. 188, O'Kelly's Crack p. 229, Book of Changes p. 316, Caught Inside on a Big Set p. 316, Morning Thunder p. 316, Perpetual Motion p. 414, Rubicon p. 462.

Tom Brogan's Additions

LEVEL 5 (5.10c-.11c)

Butterfly Crack .p 32, Psychokenesis p. 63, The Lemon Slicer p 70, Papaya Creek .p 124, Pat Adams Dihedral p. 131, Coarse and Buggy p. 136, Left Ski Track p. 183, Jumping Jack Crack p. 212, Hot Rocks p. 223, Swept Away p. 245, Heart of Darkness p. 373, Grit Root p. 382.

LEVEL 6 (5.11a-.11d)

Erotic City p. 41, Hyperion p. 73, Scary Monsters p.104, Right Banana Crack p. 124, Where Eagles Dare p. 168, Hidden Arch p. 178, Spider Line p. 188, Wangerbanger p. 229, More Monkey than Funky p. 257, Zen and the art of Placement p. 406, Human Sacrifice p. 413, The Woodshed p. 461.

© Copyright, 2001 Alois Smrz, Southern California Mountaineers Association.
All Rights Reserved.


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Viewing: 1-2 of 2

Michele - Apr 25, 2007 12:19 am - Hasn't voted

Thank you!

I was just about to write up a tick list when I came upon this, a perfect selection of routes to climb in the upcoming weeks. Thank you for posting this and I look forward to climbing these cracks!


asmrz - May 2, 2007 2:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re Thank you!

Hi Michele, I hope you take the time and climb them all. They are really worth it!

Viewing: 1-2 of 2