Tech Tip - Trad - Friction slabs
Sending friction slabs — do more with less
Do you wrinkle your nose at friction slabs like you would a steaming plate of brussels sprouts? Do you disdain these low-angle inclines as the playground of bumbling neophytes? Or does the thought of long runouts and meager holds leave you trembling like a child beset by nightmares? These tips will help you master slabby routes, which can be every bit as challenging and rewarding as the steepest pumpfests.
Relax, damnit! Don’t let panic take over when the jugs disappear and the next bolt seems a mile away. Stay focused, regulate your breathing, and don’t let your doubting mind make the rock appear steeper than it actually is. Secured by a toprope, the second will often cruise a pitch which the leader — drenched in sweat and legs a-jiggle — has just barely scrapped up.
Footwork is everything. Keep your center of gravity over your feet. Friction is your friend, and distributing the weight of your hips and shoulders over your sticky rubber will help your feet adhere to even the smallest dimple. Choose your footholds more deliberately than your handholds, scanning for the lowest-angle features, which are often found in shallow dishes or atop sloping bulges. Avoid the temptation to edge, even on small pimples — edging decreases the amount of shoe rubber in contact with the stone. Rather, point your foot straight into the rock, allowing your toes to bend upward as you smear with the entire ball of your foot. Your heels should drop slightly, which will relax your calves, increase your rock-to-rubber ratio, and ward off the much-feared “Elvis leg.”
Don’t overreach. An upright posture with your head away from the rock allows you to scan for subtle flaws. On blanker slabs, your hands are used primarily for balance and, like your feet, can be smeared against the stone. If you find an actual handhold, focus on keeping your elbow close to your side and your chest out from the rock, so you can see your feet. Use holds that are at or below shoulder height. If a good hold tempts from above, keep your composure and use intermediates until you reach it. This avoids the inefficient stretch maneuver, which can draw your upper body too close to the rock and cause your feet to skate. Similarly, avoid high-stepping, which can throw off your balance. Instead, take baby steps on intermediate holds to link together the good feet.
Plan your fall. To minimize the risk of entangling yourself in the rope in a fall, always keep it on the side closest to your belayer, and never between your legs. If you do come off, push away from the rock to minimize the dreaded “cheese grater” effect (the rock abrading your skin when you slide down).
Practice in safety. These techniques are best tested at the safety of your local boulders, not 80 feet out on some Tuolumne Meadows horror show. Find a low-angle slab with good footholds and practice climbing it sans hands, both up and down.