By Jim Zitting
Part one:The Feel
Slab is scary. That’s the first thing to say, and it’s true forever. I often jump on that 8 that I’ve danced a dozen times, just to find that my head isn’t on. The act of palming the wall and trusting a smear takes commitment. It’s just hard.
Not only is this move sketch, but the whole route is littered with moves like this. If only it were lower angle, it would be a staircase. But it isn’t. It’s not that you don’t have the strength. You’ve done your pistol squats. The problem is finding the balance to trust that pistol squat on that tiny sloper, sans hands. Mustering the strength of will for this move is doable, but how many pitches of that do you have in you?
Strength takes a back seat to emotional calm on slab. It’s a form of climbing that doesn’t depend on strength at all until the 10 range. All it takes is a legs and a loving acceptance of the small holds the wall offers you. This is the main skill to train for slab, and it’s a very real form of fatigue. Your brain chemistry will only tolerate so much adrenaline before you’d prefer to be done climbing, thank you very much.
If you can keep your weight back over your heels, and accept that your holds will possess the aesthetic notes of a sheet of blank paper, slab climbing will take you up sensational structures. There’s something so undeniably big about a shear slab face stretching in every direction. It’s much easier to forget the size of the rock when you’re shoved into a chimney. This unavoidable exposure adds to the emotional toil of slab, but also to your reward at the top.
Jim showing us bad form on slab
To me there’s something much sweeter about releasing control of my emotions after successfully controlling them through a route. It feels like mastery. Slab has been my avenue to consistently experience this scenario. My goal is to hop on something terrifying and experience no jump in heart rate. The physical challenge of climbing is usually secondary to the emotional challenge, and slab is a full gym for training emotional hardiness.
Tune in over the course of the quarantine for more specific slab articles. We’ll touch on form, smearing, and hand placement. I’ll make it worth your while.