In an odd way, friction slabs are like wide cracks: Hate ’em all you want, but you can’t climb some of the most classic trad routes without working through them. It’s common to find slab sections leading into and out of perfect cracks in places like Yosemite and Lumpy Ridge, Colorado. They’re characterized by a low angle (between roughly 65° and 80°) and a dearth of holds (think: micro-divots, bumps, edges, dishes, and nubbins ). There’s nothing to pull down on, so you must employ a set of techniques unique to these features (or lack thereof).
Don’t pull downKeep arms soft, elbows slightly bent, fingers out to the sides, and thumbs up, using your digits to press against the rock.
Butt out! This puts your weight over your feet, which increases pressure (and thus friction) on the rock. This will make you feel more secure.
Believe in your feetTrust your foot and put more weight on it. This will make invisible holds usable.
SmearWith heels down and toes bending upward, paste the balls of your feet and as much rubber on the rock as possible. Don’t edge—this decreases the amount of rubber on rock, thereby reducing grip.
Don’t get fancyReaching way up, high-steps, mantels, and crimping those barely there holds pulls your body into the rock and reduces the weight on your feet.
Breathe deeplyMove deliberately and continuously.
Biggest Dangers—and How to Avoid Them
Pumped CalvesLegs are the only things moving you up, so they’ll pump out just like your arms do. Sink your heels way down to rest. This stretches overworked muscles and increases rubber-rock contact. If a single hold is good, switch your feet and rest each in turn
Limited ProWelcome to runout country: No cracks or fissures means you won’t get gear in, and bolts are usually well-spaced. Prepare mentally and place solid gear whenever you can. If there’s a traverse, place pro to catch your direction of fall.
Heinous FallsThis is where the term “cheese grating” comes from. If you do fall, maintain your body position and slide down with your feet still touching the rock. Gently pat the wall every few seconds to stay upright, but don’t let your hands slide down the rock.
Losing MomentumOne secret is just to keep moving. This prevents getting stuck in a position that feels impossible to move from, and it keeps your mind calm and focused.
Get PSYCHED on Slabs (with Hazel Findlay)
Positive self-talk“Before climbing, I tell myself that I’m good at slab climbing and that I most likely won’t fall. I follow that with saying that I’m quite experienced at falling down slabs, so should I take a big fall, I will be OK. Once I start climbing, I often tell myself that my shoes work and that my feet won’t slip. I say over and over in my mind: It will stick. It will stick.”
Don’t think, just move“I try really hard not to overthink what I’m doing. One of the best things about slab climbing is the fluidity of the movement; success is usually found from being relaxed and simply climbing instead of over-analyzing every move. If you get stuck in a particular position, you’ll have to get out of it at some point. Embrace this, decide what to do, and move with confidence into the next position. Don’t doubt yourself or second-guess.”
Shoes make a difference“Two important things are body position (the foot is weighted in the right direction) and confidence (the foot is weighted enough). If you believe your foot will stick, then it most likely will. The opposite is also true. Probably the most important thing when slab climbing are the rock shoes you wear and how they fit. (Flat, flexible, and comfortable shoes are best.)”
Gain confidence through experience“If you aren’t an experienced slab climber and the route is dangerous—don’t even try it. Gain experience on safer territory; it might still be a bit scary, but at least you’ll be safe. Confidence is an integral part of slab climbing, and if you don’t have any, then you’re in trouble. Gain confidence through experience, and you’ll start to love slab climbing.”