The following story originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of our print edition.
Loved. Hated. Feared. Revered. No other type of hold evokes such a wide array of emotional responses as the sloper. While these rounded and relatively featureless holds (usually devoid of any real edges or bumps to grip) may be aesthetically pleasing, they present an interesting conundrum for many climbers. Unlike other holds, such as crimps or edges, where one can usually just pull down harder, slopers require more finesse than brute strength. After all, there’s little to pull down on in the first place. Here’s the secret: It has little to do with actual finger strength; it’s all about body positioning and hand contact. Unfortunately there’s no end-all, be-all solution to every sloper move and hold out there, but with a few tried-and-true techniques, you’ll start to gain a mastery of these rounded, polished bumps with aplomb, whether it’s an angular granite arête or a slam-dunk sandstone basketball.
This is the primary and most crucial component to improving sloper-climbing technique. Analyze the hold and the subsequent movement required to get to the next hold. Consider what direction your hand will pull most effectively against it—down, sideways, out, etc.—and where the rest of your body will be when you make first contact. Imagine a line going from that direction of pull through your hips to one of your lower extremities. Use this line to orient your body so that you’re maximizing opposition against the hold. Keep everything—feet, legs, back, core, shoulders, and arms—as tight as possible, from first contact to moving off, to maintain your position and keep your torso as close to the wall as possible. Heel and toe hooks can be crucial to staying in close, too.
Examine the holds closely to identify the most textured areas (small dimples and edges) and how you want your hand on them to make the most of those features. Try slightly angling your wrist left or right to make it feel more positive; meat hooks can maximize friction and employ larger muscle groups. Often on large, rounded slopers, it’s advantageous to spread your fingers as wide as possible, like you’re palming a basketball. In this case, use your palm and fingertips to press and squeeze the entire hold while maximizing surface contact. On flatter ledges, the best hand position might be fingers together, pressing down by bending at the base of the fingers. Since slopers are generally large features, there can be numerous ways to hold them, so experiment to find the best grip.
Slabs: Think about holding your body in place while moving your feet up. Trust in the friction, move slowly, and step up. Once your weight is even with or above the sloper, use it as a mantel by pushing downward.
Vertical to slightly overhanging: Keep arms straight and hips low and sucked into the wall. Once your core sags, you will lose opposition and be forced to rely on pure finger strength. It might help to limit breathing during these short moves.
Steeps: Bend your arms to engage your shoulders, back, and biceps. This also gets your core more involved. Cup your hands and press with your fingertips. These might require more dynamic movement than lower angles, so focus on contact strength by going in strong and holding on tight once you hit it.
Squeezing the life out of slopers
With Meagan Martin
Know you’re going to exert a lot of big-muscle energy. Move quickly and efficiently by being fluid and static—avoid dynoing and campusing. The same applies to routes: Tackle slopers quickly and utilize rests. Staying calm is important; focus on slow, deliberate breathing. You might feel less comfortable and solid, and knowing the beta might not make the hold feel any better, but it will help your confidence. Relax and don’t get flustered.
Try hard! Squeeze with your hands and maximize opposition between holds by engaging your big muscles: shoulders, back, biceps, and core. If one holding method isn’t working, rethink it and experiment. Every little change in grip could matter. Try fingers together, apart, Spock grip, crimp, and pinch. For bigger slopers, relocate your entire hand. Some are blocky, so use the edge as an open-hand crimp. Others are shallow, so use body tension to stay close to the wall.
Simulate every size, shape, and movement in the gym, focusing on footwork and body tension. The latter is important: It keeps your feet on and maintains that imaginary line. Climbing on overhangs is great for your core; every day spent on steep walls is a day spent improving tension. In addition to just climbing, I like to do core-specific exercises like V-ups, leg lifts, hollow body rocks, and plank variations.
This is key; hesitation opens the door to failure. When I go for a sloper, I do just that—I go for it! I don’t hesitate. I am 100% committed.
Some problems just will not go in hot, humid conditions. Dry hands and cold temps maximize friction and can be the solution. If you’re greasing off in the middle of July, wait and come back in colder months. Read more about the science of friction.