Crack Climbing Tip: Use Your Thumbs

As we near desert season, we asked Kitty Calhoun to give us a bit of beta on an important, but rarely focused on, crack climbing technique.  It’s not just for hitchhiking and texting anymore, Kitty has us considering the thumb as we’re sending splitters at Indian Creek.

Your thumb is the most important digit you’ve got.  Think about it.  Which finger do we automatically use as toddlers to suck on?  The thumb of course.  It gives us security and stability. (See image to left – who hasn’t used their thumb for this?)

Pinching & Crimping

No seriously, your thumb has the most power.  On face climbs, often on cobblestones, it pinches.  On crimpers, it wraps around and sits on top of your index finger to add support and aid in stability.

Thumb Crimping.

Thumb Crimping.


But did you ever think about how you use your thumb when crack climbing?  First off, you can use your thumb to provide opposition when you are laybacking a thin finger crack.

Thumb providing opposition.

Thumb providing opposition.

Offset Finger Cracks

Secondly, your thumb is critical in offset finger cracks (too big for finger locks and too small for hands).  In this case, you place your thumb under your first two fingers and then slide in the wide part of a crack, bring down to the constriction, and cam.  All the while, your thumb is pushing against the other two to provide stability.

Thumb in offset finger crack.

Thumb in offset finger crack.

Hand Cracks

Lastly, you use your thumb in hand cracks – especially when the crack is insecure and you are in thumbs down position.  Exact use depends on whether if is thin hands or cupped hands.

Thumb in hand jam.

Thumb in hand jam.

Suffice it to say, that the thumb is vital for leverage and stability.  To find out more about use of your thumb and other body parts in cracks, please attend our Indian Creek Climbing clinic.

Written by: Kitty Calhoun

Saddle Up – Chicks are Heading to Rifle!

CanyonShotRifle Canyon, Colorado is emerging as one of the best hidden gems of sport climbing in the United States.  This two-mile canyon boasts hundreds of limestone routes, beautiful views and short approaches. Rifle also maintains quite the reputation and is a dream destination for many sport climbers.

The Chicks Rifle Clinic has been added to the Chicks Climbing’s repertoire because the area is creating a buzz in the climbing community and women want the chance to master this tricky limestone.  “Rifle has a technique that is very specific to climbing on this type of limestone.  What makes it great for Chicks is that, once learned, these techniques are extremely transferrable,” explains Dawn Glanc, Girly Guide at Chicks Climbing who developed the Rifle Clinic.

“Spending several days focusing on a few specific techniques means that you are more equipped to efficiently move through problems on routes in your home crag.  For example, at the Rifle Clinic, we will be working on overhanging routes that are not full of jugs.  Clinic participants can then transfer that skill to easily pull overhanging roofs common in a variety of climbing areas,” explains Dawn.  In addition, Chicks participants will be working on the ultimate transferrable skill, mental training – facing intimating routes, breaking them down and ending the day with a feeling of success.

While Rifle has a reputation of being an intimidating climbing area that humbles even your most aggressive sport climbers (see Climbing Magazines blog), there is also a lot of route development happening in the canyon that allows a wider variety of climbers to visit, but beware, that reputation was earned and climbers can’t just waltz in and expect to climb at the same grade as other places.  “Rifle has a technique that is very specific to climbing on this type of greasy limestone.  In the clinic, we will spend hours working on enhancing skills for sidepulls, open handed slopers, tiny crimps, underclings and a variety of other oppositional climbing techniques,” explains Dawn.  “You won’t believe how this clinic will improve your foot technique!  You’ll be climbing a grade harder when you leave and possess the confidence to continue climbing at several areas similar to Rifle and push your lead grade at your favorite crag.”

Join us in Rifle, September 18-21, 2014

For more information:

Check out new routes at the Rifle Climbers Coalition website.

Rifle Mountain Park Guidebook by Dave Pegg

Author of Women Who Dare to Present Jan 27

WomenWhoDareWe recently caught up with Chris Noble, author of Women Who Dare: North America’s Most Inspiring Women Climbers.  Of course, you can see just from the title why Chicks loves this book, but it also happens to feature some of our Girly Guides.  In addition, Chris will be presenting in Ouray during our Sampler clinic.  The presentation is Monday, Jan 27 at the Ouray Community Center and is open to the public so please join us!

Why did you write Women Who Dare?

The short answer is because I love women and I love climbing.  Together, the two make an irresistible combination.

The broader answer is that I’ve been working with women athletes for years and I feel that too often women do not receive the same level of media attention their male counterparts do.  Case in point, no one had produced a book that examines the climbing lifestyle from a woman’s perspective.

Why climbing?  What’s the appeal?

My work is all about re-connecting people with nature. I believe the earth is literally dying due to our lack of connection.

I also believe that a fully realized human life (whether one is male or female), requires not only a strong, regular dose of nature—but liberal injections of adventure, challenge, courage, commitment, and community as well— and climbing is one of the few activities remaining that offer us all those benefits combined.

I love the realm of adventure and the people who make their homes there.  I want to help those individuals share their stories, their struggles, their passions, and what they’ve learned.

And I want to inspire readers to find their own personal connection with the wild, to follow their own hearts, and become the hero of their own stories.  In fact, I would say modern Americans are starved for heroism and meaning in their lives, a need pop culture does little to satisfy.  Instead, our culture tells us the opposite, that rather than heroes, we are at most needy little consumers, and that if we feel something lacking, the best we can do— is to go shopping.

What did you learn from writing Women Who Dare?

The biggest thing I learned was to fully embrace my own inner climber.  By spending time with the women profiled in the book I realized I was still partially operating under an outdated point of view inherited from my parents— that climbing and similar activities are something we eventually grow out of.

But the women profiled in Women Who Dare clearly demonstrate the power of embracing one’s passions, and what can be accomplished when we do.  In fact, as Britanny Griffith points out in her chapter, if one orients all the different aspects of life around a central axis such as climbing, then all the other spokes of the wheel— relationship, career, community— are much more likely to properly align.  Most of us do the opposite. We push our passions off to the side, then wonder why nothing else is working.

The second big lesson I learned was how open and unguarded women are when it comes to climbing.  Unlike men, they are not continually trying to shield their egos.

Why don’t men ask questions?  Because they don’t want anyone to know that they don’t know… everything!

But again and again, the women I interviewed talked about how they are continually asking questions, how they are endlessly striving to learn more, about climbing, and about life.  These are some of the most accomplished climbers in the world, but they are not resting on their laurels, not hiding behind their reputations or accomplishments.  They are not afraid to admit their fears and weaknesses.  In fact, these women demonstrate that the best way to overcome a weakness is to first acknowledge what it is, and second to address it directly.  In that way, women are far more courageous than men.

What was the biggest challenge in producing the book?

By far the biggest challenge was scheduling.  Herding cats is a cinch compared to trying to get full time climbers (who will jet off on a new adventure at a moment’s notice), to commit to a date then stick with it.  The flipside however, was that once they did commit, everyone profiled in the book was a consummate professional, and gave 100% if their time, attention, and talent to making the project a success.

Last Ascents – Ted Talk with Kitty Calhoun

Below is excerpt from Kitty Calhoun’s recent Ted Talk entitled Last Ascents.  Watch the video to see all of her amazing presentation.

I’m morphing, changing from one role to another.  But I needed something in my life that didn’t change.  Something that was permanent.  Until I found God, I found that in the mountains.  The mountains have been used as my techer for over 30 years and it’s hard to admit that mountains are changing but they are.  I’m here to tell a story about a Last Ascent.  A route that I climbed that may not get a repeat because of climate change.  It’s hard to admit that the mountains are changing but they are.  We may or may not be able to affect climate change, but I think we should at least try and I have a new approach.

Initially I wasn’t interested in climbing at all, because I was afraid of heights.  But I went to Outward Bound and rock climbing was part of the course.  I learned my fear would dissipate if I would just focus on the next move that I needed to make to move upward.

Climbing was totally engaging.  At a certain point I wanted to as Thoreau would say, “suck the marrow out of life.”  To live each day as if it were my last day on Earth.  I went to the University of Vermont and I learned to ice climb, afterward, I lived to climb.

Learn how Kitty’s ascents all over the world shaped her views on climate change, minimalism, micro-goals vs. micro-possessions and our relationship with the mountains in her Ted Talk – Last Ascents.

This Week’s Gossip – Oct. 7

The Summit PosterEddie Bauer Scholarship for Red Rocks Clinic UPDATE: we have received all of the wonderful applications and will be announcing winner this week.

Making the transition outdoors – great article by Kitty Calhoun on what to think about as you move from the climbing gym to outdoors.

Jenn Fleming shows appreciation to the National Parks, check out her video on Devil’s Tower.

Fred Beckey has a legacy of first ascents greater than that of any other climber – let’s see what he’s doing at age 89.  True inspiration.

The Summit – a film about the deadliest day on K2 opens all over the US this week, check out showtimes.

Ashima Shiraishi Makes First Female Ascent of 24 Karats (5.14c) in the Red  – view the full article at


Red Rocks, NV – Oct 24-27

ICE IS ON ITS WAY (all activities in Ouray, CO):
The Graduate Jan. 4-7

The Complete Jan. 15-19

The Sampler Jan. 25-28

The Quickie Jan. 31-Feb. 2

Fem Fest, Women’s Ice Climbing Festival, Feb 21-23

Oct. 19 – 5:30pm – Front Range Chicks – Climbing for Life is hosting a screening of REEL ROCK 8 at an IMAX south of Denver.  Proceeds go to a great cause and there will be a great silent auction as well as a cash bar.  Buy tickets here.

Considerations in Making the Transition From Indoor to Outdoor Climbing

Kitty Calhoun placing solid protection

Kitty Calhoun reaching to place a great piece of pro.

Recent beautiful weather calls a lot of climbers outdoors.  Kitty Calhoun offers great insight into making the transition from gym climbing to outdoor climbing.

Times have changed. Rock and ice climbing are growing exponentially. This wave of new climbers outdoors is primarily due to the ease of getting into climbing in a rock gym – there is  relatively little expense, instruction is readily available, and all peripheral concerns are taken away indoors so you can just focus on the movement and basic mechanics of belaying, top-roping, and leading.

In making the transition to climbing outside, there are safety, ethics, and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles which should be observed so that you have fun and others around you have fun as well.

Safety issues include the following:

*Be aware that some rock is loose.  Test suspicious rock before pulling on it.  Yell “rock” if you pull off a rock, or drop a carabiner or any other hard object.  If belaying, do not be anchored in the fall-line. Consider a helmet.

*Do not climb below other parties or too close to other parties so that if you do pull off a rock or drop an object, it will not hit the other party.  Do not pass another party unless you ask and they give permission.

*Do not lower your partner off the end of the rope.  Either tie in, tie a knot in the end, or pay attention.

*If you are trad climbing, learn how to place gear from someone experienced first.

*Do not automatically trust someone else’s anchors without inspecting them first, unless you know the experience level of the person who built the anchor.

*Do not assume that a climbing partner you do not know is a good belayer or a safe outdoor climber.

*Inspect your equipment, especially ropes and webbing.  There are stories of accidents in which ropes or webbing were weakened as a result of exposure to chemicals and an accident in which a draw failed because a biner was clipped into the rubber gasket rather than the webbing.

*Learn how to back off a route (you can’t lower off webbing without the rope first going through a biner).  Learn basic self-rescue skills in the back country.

Ethics issues include the following:

*Do not chip or modify any routes.  Do not add bolts unless you have permission from the first-ascent party.

*Observe local ethics and management policies as pertains to putting up new routes.

*Do not take others gear off a route.

*Avoid top-roping directly off the chains so as to prolong the life of the chains.

*Do not project a route if there are parties waiting for your route.

*Limit the size of your party.  Spread out.  Go to different cliffs if you have to.  Social engagement can take place bouldering or in the evening.

*Do not leave your barking dog tied up at the base of a cliff while you go do a multi-pitch climb.

*Leave the ghetto blaster at home.  If you need music, plug into your iPod.

Leave No Trace issues particularly pertinent to outdoor climbing include:

*Do not leave micro-trash such as bits of climbing tape.

*Do not build new trails without permission of land managers.

*When taking a dump, dig a 6-8” hole at least 200 yards from the climbing site, trail, or water.

*If you bring a dog, bring a bag and pick up after your dog.

If we all observe appropriate safety, ethical, and LNT principles, then the exploding numbers of climbers transitioning into the outdoors will ultimately be a good thing.  After all, I think climbing brings meaning and happiness to our lives and a world full of happy people would be a good thing.

By Kitty Calhoun

This Week’s Gossip – Sept 18

Leslie Timms completed the first ascent of an incredible-looking new route at Lion’s Head, Canada. Check it out!

Osprey has updated their famous Ariel women’s pack.  Get details.

REEL ROCK 8 has its world premiere tomorrow! This year’s movies include The Sensei, with Daniel Woods and Yuji Hirayama; High Tension, with Ueli Steck and the clashes on Mt. Everest; Spice Girl, with Hazel Findlay and Emily Harrington; and The Stonemasters.

Say what??  A climber was shot September 16 at Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming.  Rock and Ice Magazine spoke with Juliana Garcia, a friend of the climber, who reported that he is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.

Beyond Costal offers 20% off all sunscreen for Chicks fans.  Use code Chicks13 on their website.  (PS – if you haven’t heard of this awesome company based out of SLC, check ’em out.  They use only clean, healthy ingredients)


New River Gorge, This weekend!  Stay tuned for amazing pics
Keene Valley, NY (Dacks) – Oct 4-7Sterling Rope sponsors Chicks Girly Gatherings
NRG and Keene Valley are sponsored by our amazing friends at Sterling Rope.  They also support Leslie Timms – it’s been an amazing fall for them!

Red Rocks, NV – Oct 24-27 (Now accepting applications for scholarship)

ICE IS ON ITS WAY (all activities in Ouray, CO):
The Graduate Jan. 4-7

The Complete Jan. 15-19

The Sampler Jan. 25-28

The Quickie Jan. 31-Feb. 2

Fem Fest, Women’s Ice Climbing Festival, Feb 21-23

Colorado Weather


Ouray this fall.  Photo taken by our friends at the Victorian Inn.

Ouray this fall. Photo taken by our friends at the Victorian Inn.

Over the last few days, we have received e-mails from friends all over the world checking in on us in Colorado.  Thank you for all of your concern and the thoughts you are sending to our friends along the Front Range who are battling extreme flood conditions.  We have many Chicks alum in that area and ask you keep them in your thoughts as it will be a long recovery for the region.  You can find updates on Boulder and the surrounding area in their local news, The Daily Camera (this site also has info for volunteering).  For other areas in Colorado, there are a variety of choices including

The next question we receive is what this weather means for the ice climbing season in Ouray, Colorado.  Ouray and the Western Slope are not getting the amount of precipitation that the Front Range is seeing, but they have been getting a moderate amount.  I checked in with Dawn Glanc, Girly Guide and Ouray resident with a close eye on the weather for climbing conditions, to get an update on our upcoming ice season.  “Ouray is now reporting that water/precipitation levels are up to normal for the year.  The wet summer has helped make up for a below average winter and spring.  The continued moisture they are forecasting will only help raise water levels,” explains Dawn.  “This moisture will definitely help with the winter ice season in this region.  If this amount of moisture keeps up, we could see a banner ice year.  A continued wet autumn will mean that the seeps and waterfalls will flow when the temperature starts to freeze.  Then, let it be frigid so everything freezes.” 

Again, thank you all for your concern and please continue to keep Colorado in your thoughts.



This Week’s Gossip

Sasha giving thumbs up after competition win

Sasha DiGiulian at Competition. Photo from

The Gossip:

Sasha DiGiulian and Jimmy Webb crowned winners at the Psicobloc Masters Series in Park City, Utah—the first Deep Water Soloing Competition in the U.S.  50-foot falls into 10-feet of water. Check out Rock and Ice for video.

American Alpine Institute announces the 2013 Guide’s Choice Award Winners at the Outdoor Retailer Show.

Fun video that doesn’t just inspire climbing moms.  Question:  If their climbing apparel is only a bikini, where are they storing the chalk?  Desert Flight: A Climbing Mom’s Vacation 

Mark your calendars:

Chicks Girly Gathering at New River Gorge, West Virginia, September 20-22.  Thank you Sterling Ropes for sponsoring this event!

Dates have been set for the 2014 Fem Fest, a women’s ice climbing festival. We will see all the lady ice climbers February 22- 24 in Ouray Colorado. Gather your friends and come on down, it will be a PARTY!!  Like Fem Fest on Facebook for updates.

Reflections of a Jack of All – Kitty Calhoun

Diverse Movement Skills Needed For Diverse Rock
by Girly Guide and master mountaineer Kitty Calhoun

Kitty Calhoun on crack at Indian Creek

Kitty exploring the rock at Indian Creek. Photo by Kelsey McMaster

I was leaning back off a hanging belay 200 feet up the North Face of Castleton and watching as my partner, Jen Olsen, maneuvered her way up a steep, wide sandstone crack with all the precision of a Swiss watch.  As the jam gave way to an undercling, she placed a cam and then reached around the overhang and moved into a layback.  Nice!  It would soon be my lead and I would have a pitch that required some route finding on the face above to find the easiest, most protectable line, and then the next set of fixed anchors.  Neither of us had done this multi-pitch trad route before, so it was an adventure that required multiple skills that I had not been using much recently.  Sure, I had been rock climbing all spring, but it had been single-pitch sport climbing – which is different.

You might think that with all the single-pitch rock climbing I had done in the two weeks prior, that I would be sending some hard routes.  But no.  The fact is I had been climbing in a different area, on a different type of rock, almost every time I went out.  It had become obvious to me that each type of rock has different features that are predominant and these features require a different type of movement skill.  So, if you think you are going to walk to a cliff and climb at the same level you do on your home turf, think again.  The brain engrams need time to remember the body positions most effective given the arrangement of the rock features.  For example, we have a secret area near my home that is face climbing on vertical sandstone.  Many of the moves require you to reach high with both hands, run your feet up vertical, smooth rock until you can turn one hand into a mantel.  The other hand searches for a layback hold so you can bring a foot up onto the ledge and pull your weight over it.

Manteling, however, does not work so well on overhanging limestone.  Limestone tends to have solution pockets and often times you work your feet up high and reach into an undercling.  Once you have the hold and stand up on your high feet, the hold becomes useful – and you get to use different muscles (pulling up rather than pulling down).

movement skills on quartzite

Kitty showing movement skills on quartzite at Devil’s Lake.

Then there is quartzite.  Often quartzite is smooth with downward sloping holds and sharp vertical edges.  So what engrams to use for this?  You guessed it – lots of body tension.  You use a lot of side-pulls and turn sideways so you can lay-away.  At the same time, if you do not keep pressure on your foot that you are pushing with, it will skate off the rock.

Have any of you tried cobblestone?  These holds tend to be more open-grip.  Most people are used to crimpers and the thought of grasping tennis-ball holds feels insecure.  I

try to remember not to rush the moves and that subtle shifts in balance will make the tennis ball feel good enough if I stay focused and trust.

Alas, all I was missing that couple of weeks was a jaunt on granite.  I still remember the run-outs on low-angle slabs.  You have to trust your feet, but the rock usually has really good texture.  The problem is… you have to trust your feet.  Maybe that’s why the saying, “friends don’t let friends climb slabs”.  Fortunately, not all granite is slabbish.

Then I hear Jen yell, “off belay”.  That was quick.  Now there is a girl who is truly a Master of All.  You go girl.