An Ode to Slab Climbing.
This morning while I was farting around putting off my work, I noticed a forum post on mountainproject: “Slab Climbing is the Offwidth of Face Climbing.” I didn’t click on it, gathering the gist of what the typical commentary might be, but if you want to go down that rabbit hole, you can do it here.
I did go down another rabbit hole of sorts though, thinking back to this old climbing video (view it below) I saw a year or two ago that I intended to share on Fringe’s Folly one day, and then never did.
It’s a bit longer, and has a bit less “action” so to speak, than your typical climbing film. But it enumerates one climber’s (Stéphanie Bodet’s) obsession… no, fascination… with slab in a way that I could appreciate. For I, too, am a slab aficionado. There you have it – the truth comes out.
I just returned from a trip to Cochamo, a place notorious for slabs, and was pleasantly surprised to be climbing as well as ever there, in spite of a growing beer belly and what I would maintain is only a modicum of fitness. How could I be onsighting (or almost onsighting) at the hardest grades I have ever climber down there, even though I was mostly out of shape?
I have often extolled my preference for granite face over splitter sandstone cracks, and it is largely due to my sloth. I don’t train, I don’t know if I ever will. Climbing for me is a beautiful escape from the rigors of the world I live in. Why pollute that escape with schedules and scales and calendars and calorie counts and wrist watches and the like? But that’s an aside, and a tangent.
The point is, on vertical cracks on featureless stone, you are always on your arms to some degree or other. On slabs, you are almost always on your feet (legs). It’s easier to stand up than do a pull up. Our leg muscles are bigger than our arm muscles. Hence, slab climbing requires less physical fitness. At least, that’s the argument I would make. It certainly requires less endurance (I know that per route this may vary, but speaking in generalizations).
I told a friend down there that I used to have the singular climbing goal of being able to onsight any 5.12 anywhere in the world (not because of the grade, just because of the the way 5.12 tends to feel for me). But I have since realized that to do so would require a level of fitness and endurance I don’t have the patience or discipline to maintain. So I’ve changed my goal to be more in accordance with my likely future: I want to be the least fit person to ever climb 5.12. And I think I can do it with slab. Although I admittedly need to get a lot fatter first.
The truth is, I was climbing so “well-for-me” down there this year because my mental game was strong. I was feeling in a particularly communal state with the stone, imagining my feet into stickiness, believe-sending, you know? I was manifesting upward progress through my simple confidence in the absurd notion that the stone and I were connected, on the same page, working together somehow for no good reason at all. Well, that sounds like a loud of malarky to me, but there it is. That’s how I felt, and in the end, I was climbing at a fairly pretty ok level.
So, I guess if slab is the offwidth of face climbing, I need to get more psyched on the slab of crack climbing. Luckily, I live close to Vedauwoo. As a matter of fact, I did feel Vedauwoo seeping in through my pores last summer as I decided it was the best crag in my immediate vicinity, as a recent Fort Collins transplant. I wonder if you can be a fat 5.12 OW climber, too…
Anyway, without further ado, here’s that video. Slab climbing aside, it appeals to the writer in me, the artist (if I can call myself that), and also the feminist (if I can call myself that, too). I’m not sure how to describe why I think of this as a feminist film. But I do. Maybe you can help me understand why I think so? Or explain to me why it isn’t. Feel free to drop your comments below, or email me here… BUT WATCH THE VIDEO FIRST!