Thumbs up for Crack School

How much can you learn about crack climbing in 90 minutes? A lot – if you go to Crack School with Wide Boyz Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker.


Climbers enjoying the crack at the Castle during the last of the recent Wide Boyz Crack School Masterclasses.

We recently attended the last in the current series of the Wide Boyz Crack School Masterclasses run by Wild Country. The three of us booked our places back in February when we first heard about it and there is a good reason why these sessions sold out so quickly across the UK. They are very, very good.

Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker trained obsessively in Tom’s cellar for two years, then climbed the hardest off-widths in the USA, including “Century Crack” E/10 8c. This extraordinary feat was captured in the film “Wide Boyz”.

We booked ourselves on one of three sessions held at the Castle Climbing Centre in North London on Saturday. The first stage involved making tape gloves to avoid leaving too much skin at the Castle. It quickly became apparent that time spent making a decent job of taping up is definitely time well spent. It takes much longer to grow more skin than it does to tape up properly.


Doug Johnson getting stuck in to an off-width with a well established knee lock, a solid hand/fist stack and a foot on the outside of the crack helping him make upward progress.

We split into two small groups, one with Pete and one with Tom. We then progressed around a series of cunningly devised “cracks” that had been fitted around the Castle to simulate challenges ranging from finger cracks to off-widths, culminating with the fiendish Crack Machine.


Thumbs up or thumbs down? Doug looks on as brother Rob sorts out fingers and thumbs before setting off up the overhanging finger crack.

The different techniques needed to master each challenge were clearly explained and demonstrated. Each of us then gave it a go and the Wide Boyz patiently coached us through the bits we struggled with. This worked really well and Tom and Pete’s relaxed approach put us all at ease very quickly.


Rob Johnson feeding a leg into the vertically inclined “letterbox” off-width of the Wild Country Crack Machine. His right leg soon followed it and with both feet firmly jammed in the crack he traversed across, whilst inverted with a combination of stacked fist/hand jams and the little crimp on the front face. Hard work but all good clean fun.

Once the coaching session was over we were able to practice what we’d been shown and experiment with the techniques. It really was extraordinary just how much progress we had all made in such a short space of time. It helps if you accept that there will be some pain. As Pete said to us, whilst demonstrating the technique for placing a foot jam “If you’re doing it right, it should hurt a bit.”


Pete Whittaker coaching a climber as she locks off a solid knee jam in the off-width crack and the outside foot moves her steadily upwards towards her hand stack.

Crack climbing becomes strangely appealing the more you do it and Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker are good at spreading the word. If you want to fast-track your crack climbing skills, look out for the next series of Wide Boyz Crack School Masterclasses – it will be time and money well spent – and it could save you a lot of skin!

Profits from these masterclasses are going towards the BMC Paraclimbing team to provide support for the team to attend the 2014 World Cup. Tom and Pete are also donating a day’s Crack School coaching to the BMC Paraclimbing Team as part of their involvement.

KragRags is a family run business dedicated to making ethically produced clothes for climbers. When we’re not out climbing, we’re busy creating comfortable, high quality, eco-friendly clothing, from 100% organic cotton, using green renewable energy, ethical Fair Wear employment and ecologically friendly farming and manufacturing practices. Click these links to see our unique designs for men and women.


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