Jun 04 2012

Slabtastico!

I love slab climbing. I feel like I’m in an anonymous group, and that should have been spoken in a hushed voice. But, it’s true. I’m one of the few people left in this world who actually loves slab climbing. With the onslaught of huge climbing gyms, massive sport crags, and desperate boulder problems, it seems that slab climbing has become something of the past.

 

I grew up in a climbing gym with 90% vertical or less than vertical terrain. It was one of the first gyms in the country, and also in an era where most of the climbing in the country barely went past vertical. By default, I learned to stand on my feet well before I learned to climb a roof, and it’s arguable that I still don’t even know how to do that.

 

I constantly read about the latest V15 or 5.15, and am left speechless and impressed beyond belief. People are pushing the boundaries sooner and further than I ever expected. With fingers of steel and arm power to burn, people are climbing up improbable routes. Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear of the latest and greatest being on a slab. It seems that feet have merely become

third and fourth hands clenching on to steep terrain.

 

I’ve been climbing in Yosemite quite a bit in between my travels this spring, and I always come back to my slab circuits as some of my favorite climbing days. A few days ago returned with a friend to do a big 30 boulder problem slab circuit (“big” is relative when Alex and Tommy just did the Triple link up). My triceps are still sore, but my smile hasn’t faded. Most of the terrain we

covered was moderate, leaving much of the climbing time available for chatter and laughter. But, there are numerous slabs around the Valley that can challenge even the best technical masters.

 
I got my first dose of difficult Yosemite Slab climbing on Lurking Fear (5.13). I was barely out of high school and climbing El Cap was the only thing on my mind. Knowing I was several years away from attempting to free climb the Nose, I teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to try and free climb the slabilicious route on the left side of El Cap. Steve Schneider had freed all but a pitch or two of Lurking Fear a few years before, leading the way for us psyched kids to get lucky and free climb a new route. Tommy is the modern technical master of Yosemite granite. From offwidths to finger cracks to slabs, if it is possible to free climb, he’ll find a way. Lurking Fear’s cruxes are slabby, edging nightmares. Dime sized finger nail crimps spatter the leaving a head

scratching puzzle to solve. I watched Tommy delicately balance from crimp to crimp, his body pressed so close to the wall that his cheeks became pink from grazing the granite. I watched and learned how to trust my feet on improbable edges and conserve as much skin and energy on the barely visible hand holds. Eventually after a month of work, our slab climbing technique became refined enough and we free climbed a new route on El Cap.

 

Ever since Lurking Fear, I’ve gravitated towards routes with slabs, and shied away from offwidths or overhanging routes. Throughout Yosemite, there are reminders of pioneers that came before the current generation. The legendary Ron Kauk established many of the hardest technical masterpieces throughout the Valley. Last fall I was fortunate enough to be able to repeat the Kauk Slab in Camp 4. You can read a little about my ascent here and watch the video below.

 

If you love slab climbing, or even have the slightest interest in slab climbing, I encourage you to go out and give it a try. There’s something to be said for the intricate nature of the climbing. Subtle movement, finding balance over the footholds, and working your way delicately up a face. Here are some tips to help you stay psyched on slab climbing and some reasons to love slab climbing!

 
Tips:

– Practice just standing on two footholds on a slab. Find the balance between the two holds. Rock back and forth on your feet, transferring your weight from one foot to the other. This will teach you where to aim for with each foot movement.

 

– Keep your hips away from the wall. You want to put as much downward pressure on your feet as possible, keeping your balance over the powerpoint of your toes.

 

– Use your hands as balance points, don’t try and “pull down” on the slab. If you try and pull from hold to hold, it will impact the balance you have found on your feet, that’s where you want to stay.

 

Reasons to love slab climbing:

– You can slab climb when your tips are trashed from the “real” climbing you’ve done the day before

 

– If you want to climb anything in Yosemite, chances are there is going to be some slab climbing involved.

 

– You can carry on a conversation with your friends while slab climbing! No ab muscles required (unlike that silly roof climbing), so you can laugh and climb at the same time!

 

– You can cover tons of terrain without wearing out your arms: peaks, domes, and walls!

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  • Hi Beth,
    great post! I also love slab climbing:)

    I wanted to take advantage of this topic to ask you a question.
    I recently got a pair of TC pro's – since I wanted a stiffer shoe for long routes. They work perfectly on friction slabs, but I am not so comfortable when I get on more tecnical slabs, where you have to stand on small holds..

    My question is, how did you size your tc pros, compared to katanas and/or miuras? My walking shoe number is 46, at the crag I wear miuras nr 43, and my old long-route shoes were the katanas nr 45. Since also the TCP were meant for long routes, I sized them like the katanas (didn't want to go smaller). But maybe I should have gotten them a bit smaller?

    mumble:)

    THanks a lot!

    cheers
    andrea

    June 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm
  • Hi Andrea –
    Thank you so much for your message. Great to hear from a fellow slab climbing lover! I love my TC Pros, they are amazing. My Miura size is around a 34.5 (depending on the terrain) and my TC Pro size is a 36. One of the amazing things about TC Pros is that I feel that I can size them pretty big and comfy and still have them perform at a high level. Is there much wiggle room in your TC Pros? Are your toes flat? My toes are flat, but there isn't any extra room past that (ie space for socks, etc). Can you head to a store to try on a different size of shoe?
    It did take me a couple days to get used to being able to stand on such small holds with the bigger shoes, but once I started trusting my feet, I was amazed!
    Let me know if this helps, or if you have any other questions, I'm more than happy to help 🙂
    Best,
    Beth

    June 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm
  • Hey Beth, nice article. I really enjoy slab and, as a guy, I get some flack for it. It doesn't bother me in the least though because I like the puzzles that are the nature of slab climbing. Under your 'Tips' section you suggest keeping your hips away from the wall. I feel like keeping your hips closer to the wall would position your center of gravity over your feet better. Thoughts? – Jim

    Hi Jim –
    Not sure how your comment got deleted, so I just pasted it back in, hopefully you can see it!
    I think that climbing with your hips extremely close to the wall doesn't give you enough balance over your your feet. If you look at the picture on this post (http://blog.bethrodden.com/2011/11/kauk-slab.html) that's about the right distance. I've seen some people climbing with their hips scraping the wall as they climb, essentially "laying" against the rock. For me, if I climb like that, my feet will skid out from underneath me. I agree with you that if they are too far out, say a foot or two, and create a big bend in your body, that would also throw your center of balance off.
    I hope this clarifies it a bit. So great to hear from all the slab lovers of the world! 🙂
    Beth

    June 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm
  • Another slab climber here! Thanks for making a post about it Beth. From Yosemite to Hammer Dome to various Tahoe or southern Sierra crags, slab climbing is to be found everywhere and is not so popular. Definitely an outdoor climbing flavor, hard to replicate in the gym. I am happy that there a no lines for those climbs, but sad when I can't get partners to go to Tollhouse or other slab crags with me. Oh well… I enjoy it whenever I can find it.

    August 31, 2012 at 4:06 am
  • Beth,
    The link re-directing to the OR site is broken right now. Google helped me find your article (great article btw!), but I thought you might want to know. Thanks much, and happy sending!
    -Perry

    September 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm
  • Thanks Perry! I pasted the article in to this blog, hopefully that helps 🙂

    September 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm
  • Fabulous post and thanks for the tips. I love slab climbing as well!

    November 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm
  • Thanks Christina! Hopefully run into you on the slab circuit at some point!

    November 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm
  • I'm with you, Beth … always enjoyed slabs over cracks … it just seems like magic to watch someone ascend a slab from afar, plus we all know the technique is king here. I'm a man so my center of gravity is a little different than yours, but I worked very hard on my balance and posture to be able to be comfortable on those tiny edges.
    Excellent post! Cheers.

    December 19, 2013 at 1:54 am
  • Hi Beth, thank you for this article, I was happy to see it. I have a few questions, please:) Slab climbing is my biggest weakness, not due to technique, but largely due to the consequences of falling while trying to practice something I'm not best at. I guess you could argue that if I have slab technique, then falling shouldn't come into play, so I would say my technique is ok but not tops:) With that said, how do you practice when often bolts are far apart, I start sweat, and start seeing the inevitable slip and slide of death flash through my mind?
    Any insights you have would be most helpful. Thank you for your wonderful blog! Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 25, 2014 at 5:02 pm
  • Thanks Ronald! Love the slabs 🙂

    November 28, 2014 at 6:22 pm
  • Hi Laura! Thanks so much for your comment and question. I'm a big fan of practicing things on top rope – it helps eliminate the fear aspect and just lets you focus on the technique. Slabs are usually good candidates for top ropes unless they are super traversing, so that helps a lot (as opposed to steep overhangs).
    If that doesn't work, try at first climbing just to the bolt and then taking a fall, then climbing six inches above the bolt and taking a fall, then a foot, and so on….this helps you get used to the fall in increments 🙂
    I hope that helps, thanks again for reaching out!

    November 28, 2014 at 6:24 pm