Slab climbing falls under the rock climbing category. However, the rock face, in this case, is less steep than vertical. Slab climbing is defined by maneuvers on very tiny grips that call for balance and friction.
As usually slabs cannot be led or climbed from the ground up, most slab climbs are top rope or sport climbing. Slab climbing necessitates the use of various techniques like smearing.
However, this should not be confused with crack climbing. Slab climbing is newer, and it involves a horizontal angle of 90 degrees going upwards. If the slab is more off than 5 degrees from 90, you will climb vertically but still count as a slab.
Slabs come in various angles, with the steeper “high angle” ones being the most difficult. However, it’s more of rock features than angles. Therefore, more minor grades ranging from 50-70 degrees can still count as slabs.
History of Slab Climbing
Unlike other types of climbing, slab climbing emerged later. Climbers used cracks within the rocks to anchor their safety gear.
As such, crack climbing was done on vertical and overhanging rock structures. The main difficulty that is still not outdone is climbing for more extended periods without bolts or anchors.
Later in 1927 first rock drill and expansion bolt were patented by Laurent Grivel. It made slab climbing a lot simpler for many sport climbers.
After climbing shoes with sticky rubber were introduced in the 1980s, slab climbing became pronounced, more accessible, and even more straightforward. Today, slab climbing is standard in many US places, including Moab in Utah and Looking Glass Mountain NC. Further, Utah’s city St. George offers some of the best places for rappelling in the region.
Slab Climbing Techniques
Powerful biceps and arms won’t assist you at all if you’re climbing on a ledge at under a 90-degree angle. It will be a lot about your footwork!
Beginners may find slab climbing intimidating since they must stand on an unmarked smooth rock with no apparent footholds. If you practice using your sticky rubber shoes, you will gain confidence and improve your overall climbing technique.
At first, it seems completely odd that you rely heavily on this technique, but you will become more comfortable with it with practice.
If slab climbing is challenging, you have to work on your calves. Your claves will be wholly engaged when climbing the slab. So, the stronger they are, the more balanced you will be. Muscular calves will also give you the energy for the next move.
Balance and Body Position
While slab climbing, it’s critical to maintain your balance and maintain the proper body stance. Ensure the COG is above your feet. This way, you can stay upright by simply smearing and using friction.
Simultaneously, you should avoid leaning too much into the rock, as it lowers the volume of rubber pressing against the rock. Eventually, it can cause you to slip down.
To find a balancing point, relax your muscles, and keep your pelvis from the ledge and over your feet. This ensures that you only rely on your hands and arms for balance. You’ll also put the most force on your ball of the foot in this manner, thus maximizing your shoe friction against the wall.
Become Proficient at Smearing
When slab climbing, smearing is a climbing technique of creating friction using your foot to rub against the rock face.
Unlike traditional footholds, smearing enables you to get attached to the rock by using the soles of your shoes. For you to climb proficiently, you have to master this technique.
Take Long, Sweeping Steps
Slab climbing gets simpler if you move quickly and more confidently. You can achieve this by carrying with larger steps.
Locate a high vantage point to hold your foot, and shift your body into that leg and leap up fast. As you practice more, you’ll gain confidence and become more adept at slab climbing.
For a more secure foothold, you have to push your heel down further so that the rubber attaches firmly to the rock. The low angled slab works well with this.
Use your Palms. If there are no holds on the wall, keep your body steady using your palms. In other climbs, you have to put your palm down, finger-pointing downwards, and rely on the adhesion of your porous hands to push against the rock.
Toes On, Heels Back
By using your toes instead of your feet’s side, you gain more control and the ability to pivot whenever necessary.
Again what’s most important is that using your toes offers you a wider angle to lean against the rock. Consequently, causing a large surface area of contact that results in increased stability and even balance.
Hips Over Toes
The temptation when climbing a slab is to make strong contact with the rock by leaning forwards. When you are on the rock, you notice that the angle pulls your feet apart from the rock.
Hold your hips over your toes rather than pulling back. The weight balance is centered on your hips, so the rock is under more pressure downward than rearward.
How to Fall While Slab Climbing
Slab falls may be extremely dangerous based on the slab’s angle and ledges. While climbing, make sure the rope stays in the correct position relative to your feet, legs, and rock to prevent inverted flips in the event of a fall.
If you’re over a protective bolt, the rope should cross your leg towards the bolt. Should the rope run behind your leg and through your feet, it will force you to flip in the event of a fall, making it much more unsafe and difficult to manage.
It’s so easy to smash your face against the rock. However, you can avoid this by scrambling backward with your hands and feet to keep it off the rocks, which sounds easy but isn’t. It is, nevertheless, preferable to rolling down the rock on either your belly or back.
Avoid tumbling backward or on your sides by keeping moving to reduce friction on your shoes and maintaining your balance by patting the rock with your foot.
Also, keeping your knees bent will absorb the shock and maintain your balance. Alternatively, you can pat your hands along the way as you walk down the rock. For safety reasons, as a climber, you should understand how to execute the drop knee technique properly.
However, this comes with the con of degrading your climbing shoes. This is because the rubber absorbs most of the friction. But if this friction is to be absorbed by the skin, the former becomes more preferable.
You have to keep your center of gravity in check by leaning inward instead of outward. This way, your hip, and legs become aligned hence helping you to balance yourself on the rock.
As a starter, you might contemplate turning and running downhill. Regrettably, it’s quite a feat. For one, you are not in balance, and you want to control your moves. However, if it’s On a smooth slab with a low slope, it can be doable.
The Right Slab Climbing Shoes
When slab climbing, bigger biceps won’t cut it. The strength of your arms is out of the question. You will rely heavily on your feet. You will have to wear the right slab climbing shoes.
That bit of discomfort you feel at the start will intensify exponentially as you keep on climbing. And it gets worse if you can give up slab climbing. Since all the work is going to you, you must get yourself nice slab climbing rubber shoes.
The quality of rubber primarily determines how its friction is going to hold you onto the wall. Apart from the sole, you have to consider stiffness.
A stiffer shoe will give you more support, albeit at the expense of comfort. Lastly, the sole has to be flat to increase the contact area between your foot and the rock’s face and should have a pointed edge for toe clipping.
What Makes Slab Climbing Hard?
As aforementioned, slab climbing requires one to work on their calves and build strength. Apart from this, it requires my techniques. So it won’t matter if you do leg presses ten times a day. With sloppy feet, the slab becomes difficult.
Since you swing out when falling from a slab, you will likely smash your head on the slab than you would on an overhang.
This further complicates the move. Nonetheless, it is a uniquely beautiful climbing method that will undoubtedly help you through other climbing techniques.
Is There any Difference Between Slab and Friction Climbing?
Most friction climbing is slab climbing but not all. The concept of friction climbing is similar to slab climbing in that you use friction instead of a distinct edge or hold to grab onto while climbing.
It may also refer to when the holds are solely based on friction when it comes to friction climbing. Several of the world’s most difficult rocks have no true grips. There are only “compression” routes, which have friction regions on each side of the rock pushed in by the arms.
Friction climbing, therefore, comprises “stemming” or “bridging,” in which you push outwardly mostly through friction. It is particularly common to find this on “dihedrals” and “chimneys” (two walls within reach).
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