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Slab Climbing is the Offwidth of Face Climbing


Original Post
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Let's face it: it's true. Notoriously hard to protect or poorly protected (bolts every 20' = beer can). Highly technical and terrain specific. Almost always feels sandbagged and hard for the grade. Almost universally hated except for a small group of people who REALLY love them. Pretty much obligatory to get up many of the world's classics...

While some people have sworn off slabs (and offwidths for that matter), they can be pretty hard to avoid and fun if you know what you're doing, so I thought it might be nice to get a discussion going about slab techniques. Although I enjoy slab climbing, I wouldn't say I'm great at it. What really gets me is clipping; the lack of a nice solid jug to clip from (or even, $&@), a HOLD) has caused me to take many a nasty whipper from the bolt or, *gasp* grab the draws if I manage to hang one before peeling off. I got shut down on an old 9+ (the dreaded + grade...+what?!) at the Red when I reached a section where there were literally no holds and not great friction (to be fair, it was like 90 degrees out). I could stay on with all 4 points of contact, but just couldn't find a stable enough position to release either of my hands to clip.

So...what is the chicken-wing or heel-toe equivalent for slab climbing?

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Ted Pinson wrote:Let's face it: it's true. Notoriously hard to protect or poorly protected (bolts every 20' = beer can). Highly technical and terrain specific. Almost always feels sandbagged and hard for the grade. Almost universally hated except for a small group of people who REALLY love them. Pretty much obligatory to get up many of the world's classics... While some people have sworn off slabs (and offwidths for that matter), they can be pretty hard to avoid and fun if you know what you're doing, so I thought it might be nice to get a discussion going about slab techniques. Although I enjoy slab climbing, I wouldn't say I'm great at it. What really gets me is clipping; the lack of a nice solid jug to clip from (or even, $&@), a HOLD) has caused me to take many a nasty whipper from the bolt or, *gasp* grab the draws if I manage to hang one before peeling off. I got shut down on an old 9+ (the dreaded + grade...+what?!) at the Red when I reached a section where there were literally no holds and not great friction (to be fair, it was like 90 degrees out). I could stay on with all 4 points of contact, but just couldn't find a stable enough position to release either of my hands to clip. So...what is the chicken-wing or heel-toe equivalent for slab climbing?
Climbing can be hard. Are you the exception to slab climbing being "almost universally hated"? Climbing can be hard.
Fan Zhang · · Washington, DC · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 658

Slabs are my Achilles' heel also. Last summer, on the rightward traverse at the end of the first pitch of Skywalker at Squamish, I was led astray by sucker chalk marks and felt sketched out enough that I stepped on one of the bolts as a foothold as I down climbed back on route. Of course, the rock was also wet and slick.

Basic soundness of technique is obviously important for slabs, but beyond that, mental fortitude and having faith your feet will stick is also important when close to one's limit on slab.

Finally, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to re-post one of my favorite climbing videos.

youtube.com/watch?v=FgjoFv3…

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Ha, yikes...that's on my ticklist for this summer. Something to look forward to/dread!

FrankPS wrote: Climbing can be hard. Are you the exception to slab climbing being "almost universally hated"? Climbing can be hard.
I guess...?
Clayton Knudson · · Moab, UT · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 35

I would guess the high-step is the heel-hook of slab climbing. That just feels weird to write. Anyway, I don't think there is a single technique that is utilized more on slab routes than an old fashion foot to chest and pray. I've been trying a very hard (for me) slab lately and my groin, hips, and calves are more sore the next day than anything else.

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053

Ahhh.....Slabbbbbb......

Slab is like riding a bicycle, once you get good at it. You never forget your technique. Pretty soon your feeling of "panic" at clips or even tough spots on routes are replaced by "this is cool!" or "I can stand here all day."

You become relaxed and those 20' run-outs melt away behind you.

As you get older and fatter you will find that slab is also the "lowest impact" form of climbing at or below 5.9 due to being all footwork and almost no hanging or pulling required.

Ever hear anyone say they tore a tendon in their hand or destroyed a shoulder doing slab routes? No.

Awesome thread topic Ted, JB

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 602
Have you tried this?

But really though.

Even though I've just followed and sport led only a few 10- slabs, climbed the "hard slabs" in the gym, and being just a beginner, my favorite technique is stacking my middle finger on my index finger and pressing down with it below my chest, near waist level, on an edge. Usually pointing away from my body. Palming fingers down on crystals and pebbles below chest height sometimes helps too. Good for intermediate moves, but sucks if you have to stop for clipping- especially if you need to place gear!

Hope some people post some good recommendations here.
Tim Lutz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 5

5.10 slab - no big deal

5.11 - pretty big deal, esp with runouts

5.12 - yuge deal, and somehow the 'ethical' 70s bolts get a lot closer together!

Carla R · · San Jose, CA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 110

I'm one of those in the "love slabs!" camp and can tell you that it is definitely a lot of this:

FanZ wrote:mental fortitude and having faith your feet will stick
A friend once described slab climbing as both exhilarating and terrifying and I think this is very true. A lot of it for me is learning to relax and plan out a few moves at a time and not think too much about just making it to the bolts (which I guess is most climbing). I do some high steps at the chest, and steps out to the side while climbing, and every time the key is to commit to the foot, put all the pressure you can on it (pushing your heels down to get more purchase) and standing up. I can tell that I use my core also when slab climbing because I have to be solid on the move and try to keep my hands and feet communicating with each other while feeling out the sequence.

Honestly I'm not sure why I'm more comfortable leading 5.10+ slabs with runouts but get sick to my stomach thinking of leading a 5.8 crack. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Haha yes, I've tried smearing. My first experience with slabs was on desert sandstone at Red Rock and I thought I loved slabs...then I tried edgy slabs at the Red and slick granite slabs and realized how tough they can be. On good friction, you can basically walk up them.

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053
Ted Pinson wrote:Haha yes, I've tried smearing. My first experience with slabs was on dessert sandstone at Red Rock and I thought I loved slabs...then I tried edgy slabs at the Red and slick granite slabs and realized how tough they can be. On good friction, you can basically walk up them.
Cole Barritt climbing the face right of Tiny Right face Boy, yore pappy was a slab climber, an so wuz yore granpappy! Now get up there and show me some smearin'!!!!
SethG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 237

Thank you for posting the link to that amazing video.

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125

Not. Even. Close.

Slab climbing has a small subset of techniques of general climbing, and many strong (or just technically proficient) climbers are really good at it.

OW has a fairly large set of specialized techniques, which is one reason why most climbers suck at it.

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053
SethG wrote:Thank you for posting the link to that amazing video.
+1 The "on route" shoe maintenance made me smile. JB
Daniel T · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 35

At the 7:40 mark in the video is she using a shoe leash to hold her shoes That so smart, why haven't I thought of that?

SRB25 · · Woodside, ca · Joined Nov 2014 · Points: 5

I really enjoy slab also and climb in tuolumne and Yosemite which can be quite scary and runout. To me it's quiet, methodical and precision climbing if that makes sense. Slow and delicate. Find a pair of shoes that you trust. Also, some people are just wired to excel at if and enjoy it.

John Barritt · · OKC · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 1,053
Daniel T wrote:At the 7:40 mark in the video is she using a shoe leash to hold her shoes That so smart, why haven't I thought of that?
https://www.mountainproject.com/v/do-you-know-someone-who-has-dropped-their-shoes-on-a-wall-/112541693
T.J. Esposito · · San Diego, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 85

Slab is amazing! Once you hit like 10c/d (old school granite ratings not fluffy ones) the falls are usually not cheese-gratery too.

As someone said earlier, mental fortitude!!

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

It pays to work at all types of climbing...even some aid if you want to do any walling.

hard slab rules..I mean hard, none of this "5.11+) BS either

Jplotz · · Wenatchee, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 1,020

I met a couple older guys in Yosemite a few years ago who do nothing but climb the more obscure slab routes. Their rationale is that they know they will have the routes to themselves. He had the old soft cover guide with all the forgotten slab routes nicely detailed. One of them swore by the Evolv Defy as the best slab climbing shoe he's worn.

In Leavenworth, icicle canyon especially is very slab intensive. The slab tech tip I've learned to be very useful is maintaining momentum as you're smearing upwards. Once you've started into a crux, keep moving the feet until the next edge rest.

Aleks Zebastian · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 175

climbing friend,

slab in the gym - the laughing it is out loud! ho ho!

"Being scared on a slab is like drowning in a bathtub - just stand up."
- Unknown

-Aleks Zebastian

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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