Slab climbing

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Slab climbing is a type of rock climbing where the rock face is at an angle less steep than vertical. [1] It is characterized by balance- and friction-dependent moves on very small holds. [2] It is often not leadable, or climbable from the ground up, unless it has pre-drilled bolts to protect the climb, making most slab climbs either top rope climbing or sport climbing. Special techniques such as smearing are necessary to climb slab. It is a type of face climbing and is distinctly different from crack climbing. Slab climbing is a relatively new area of climbing, having become more popular in the last 30 years, and some of the highest graded routes are currently being realized.



The first routes put up on new cliffs almost always follow cracks, due to the ease of placing protection, or pieces of equipment which arrest a fall, while on lead. Slab climbs rarely have cracks or other features that can be protected. Therefore, slab climbs are usually discovered well after the cracks are all climbed, since easier routes to the summit exist. Slab climbs can be dangerous to lead climb using traditional protection, or removable gear that fits into rock features, since the scarcity of natural features where protection can be placed results in long sections where the climber is exposed to long falls—over 150 feet (46 m) on some routes. As a result, it was not until the introduction of bolting routes that hard slab lines could be climbed. In 1927, Laurent Grivel designed the first rock drill and expansion bolt, which paved the way for protecting climbs such as slab. [3] The next advancement for slab climbing did not come until 1980 when Boreal marketed the first "sticky rubber" shoe, making friction climbing more feasible. Before this, most climbing was done in boots or thick-soled shoes, which prevents the climber from making the balance dependent moves required on slab walls. Slab climbing saw a dramatic increase in the number of new routes with the introduction of lightweight, electric drills in the 1980s, but slowed as criticism of permanent bolting grew, and electric drills became illegal in many National Parks and Wilderness Areas. A new generation of climbers has begun to revive slab climbing, putting up some of the hardest routes in the world.


Slab climbing is one of the most technically demanding styles of climbing. Unlike overhanging or vertical routes, where strong muscles are very important, slab climbing demands intense concentration and precise foot placement.


A central technique used on slab walls is smearing: placing a foot directly on smooth rock where no feature exists. Pressure is applied and the friction between the shoe and the rock allows the climber to move on the wall. Smearing performance depends on a climber's shoe and the type of rock. Sticky rubber shoes increase friction. Smooth rock, such as quartzite, is difficult to smear on, while sandstone or granite is much easier. The angle of the slab also plays a large part in the difficulty of the move. A 60 degree slab is easier to smear on than an 80 degree slab. A good smear also puts as much shoe in contact with the rock as possible. The foot should be kept flat, instead of using just the points of the toes to smear. [4]

A climber smearing on the rock, near Moab, Utah. SlabClimbingUtah.JPG
A climber smearing on the rock, near Moab, Utah.

Body placement

Climbers must keep their center of gravity directly above their feet in slab climbing. A climber that keeps their weight too close to the wall risks pushing their feet off the wall. This means a climber will often have their hips away from the rock, which is the opposite of traditional climbing technique. [5] A climber’s hands are often used to assist in this positioning by pushing out against the wall.


Slab climbing requires smooth movement over the rock, instead of long, jerky moves. Short steps should be taken to maintain balance, and the arms should be kept in contact with the rock. Slab climbing almost never has dynamic moves. [6]


Falling is usually dangerous on slab because of poor protection and the nature of the rock. The climber will often slide or tumble down the rock, instead of dropping through the air. This can cause serious skin injuries. When falling, climbers try to stay upright and slide instead of tumbling.

Types of rock

Rough rock is excellent for slab climbing. Sandstone and granite are both excellent for slab climbing, because the rock provides much friction, making smearing easier. Limestone slab climbs are more difficult, due to the smoothness of the rock, and quartzite slab climbs are even rarer due to the polished nature of the rock.

See also

Related Research Articles

Climbing Activity to ascend a steep object

Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.

Climbing wall Artificially constructed wall with grips for hands

A climbing wall is an artificially constructed wall with grips for hands and feet, usually used for indoor climbing, but sometimes located outdoors. Some are brick or wooden constructions, but on most modern walls, the material most often used is a thick multiplex board with holes drilled into it. Recently, manufactured steel and aluminum have also been used. The wall may have places to attach belay ropes, but may also be used to practice lead climbing or bouldering.

Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.

Traditional climbing Style of rock climbing

Traditionalclimbing, is a style of rock climbing in which a climber or group of climbers place all gear required to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete. Traditional bolted face climbing means the bolts were placed on lead and/or with hand drills. The bolts tend to be much farther apart than sport climbs. For example, a trad bolted route may have bolts from 15–75 feet apart. A sport route may have bolts from 3–10 feet apart, similar to a rock climbing gym. The term seems to have been coined by Tom Higgins in the piece "Tricksters and Traditionalists" in 1984. A trad climber is called a traditionalist.

Glossary of climbing terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Rock-climbing equipment

A wide range of equipment is used during rock or any other type of climbing that includes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.

Free climbing

Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. Free climbing more specifically may include traditional climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and most forms of solo climbing. Free climbing a multi-pitch route means free-climbing each of its pitches in a single session. At the end of each pitch, climbers are allowed to anchor themselves to belay stations and rest. If they fail climbing a pitch, they are allowed to use the rope to return to the beginning of that pitch and try it again.

Aid climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

Sport climbing Form of rock climbing

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that may rely on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall, or that involves climbing short distances with a crash pad underneath as protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Sport climbing usually involves lead climbing and toproping techniques, but free solo and deep-water solo climbing on sport routes is also sometimes possible.

Belaying Rock climbing safety technique using ropes

Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers used to create friction within a climbing system, in particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.

Lead climbing Competitive discipline of sports climbing

Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest.

Clean climbing

Clean climbing is rock climbing techniques and equipment which climbers use in order to avoid damage to the rock. These techniques date at least in part from the 1920s and earlier in England, but the term itself may have emerged in about 1970 during the widespread and rapid adoption in the United States and Canada of nuts, and the very similar but often larger hexes, in preference to pitons, which damage rock and are more difficult and time-consuming to install. Pitons were thus eliminated in North America as a primary means of climbing protection in a period of less than three years.

Rock climbing Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

Retro-bolting is a term used within the rock climbing community to refer to the addition of new bolts to an existing climb. Retro-bolting can be contrasted with re-bolting, which is the replacement of existing bolts on a climb with new bolts.

History of rock climbing

Although the practice of rock climbing was an important component of Victorian mountaineering in the Alps, it is generally thought that the sport of rock climbing began in the last quarter of the 19th century in at least three areas: Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony near Dresden, the north of England including the Peak district and Lake District, and the Dolomites in Italy. Rock climbing evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to an athletic sport in its own right, making it imprudent to cite a primogenitor of the latter in each of these three locales. Nevertheless, there is some general agreement on the following:

Manchester Wall

Manchester Wall, located in downtown Richmond, Virginia, U.S., is one of central Virginia's premier rock climbing areas, offering multiple routes for trad climbing, sport climbing, and top roping. The sixty-foot granite wall is a remnant of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad Bridge which spanned the James River for much of the nineteenth century. The climbing area is located on the south side of the James River and is accessible by foot from the north via Brown's Island and the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial bridge, also known as the Brown's Island Dam Walk. There are also two parking lots that allow walk-up access from the south; one on W 7th Street and Semmes Avenue, and the Floodwall parking lot located at the south end of the Mayo Bridge. The routes offered at Manchester Wall, and its 3 adjacent pillars, are superb for recreational and experienced climbers alike.

Dalkey Quarry Dublins largest rock climbing venue

Dalkey Quarry is a long disused 19th century granite quarry located on Dalkey Hill in the Dublin suburb of Dalkey, which has become one of the most popular rock climbing locations in Ireland, with over 350 routes, some of which are amongst the hardest single-pitch rock climbs in Ireland.

Climbing hold shaped grip attached to a climbing wall

A climbing hold is a shaped grip that is usually attached to a climbing wall so climbers can grab or step on it. On most walls, climbing holds are arranged in paths, called routes, by specially trained route setters. Climbing holds come in a large array of sizes and shapes to provide different levels of challenge to a climber. Climbing holds are either bolted to a wall via hex-head bolts and existing t-nuts or they are screwed on with several small screws. In extreme cases, concrete anchors may be used.

Crack climbing

Crack climbing is a type of rock climbing in which the climber follows a crack in the rock and uses specialized climbing techniques. The sizes of cracks vary from those that are just barely wide enough for the fingers to fit inside, to those that are so wide that the entire body can fit inside with all limbs outstretched. Many traditional climbing routes follow crack systems, as they provide natural opportunities for placing protective equipment.


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