Rock climbers call any climbing route ascending less-than-vertical rock a slab climb. However, a route requiring true slab climbing technique offers few or no features for the climber's hands or feet. Balance, body position, and smart, well thought out hand and foot placements enable a climber to ascend a slab climb without falling. Slab climbing requires less brute strength and more finesse and patience than other rock-climbing techniques.
Climbing slabs successfully depends more on quality footwork and balance on your feet than anything else. To start, choose the right shoes for climbing slabs. Softer, more supple or worn climbing shoes with substantial flexibility tend to give the rock climber better purchase and stability on a slab climb. Climb facing the rock head-on. Search for tiny features that might lend extra purchase for stepping up or standing on, such as a crystal, indentation or bump. If no features exist, smear. Maximize the shoe surface area contacting the rock, using all your toes and even the balls of your feet for stability and leverage. Keep your heels down, your feet low and your legs comfortably spread to evenly distribute your weight. Step up in small increments, smearing with your foot and testing to see how much weight you can put into it without slipping. You might need several tries to find the right foot placement and figure out how to weight it properly.
Use your hands for balance if you can't find any handholds to hang on to or pull on. Use your fingertips, your thumbs or even your entire hand against the rock to help push and propel yourself up, in conjunction with your foot movements. For a helpful visual, picture yourself padding up the slab the way a lizard would climb it, using your hands and feet like sticky paws.
Maintain a low center of gravity, with legs and arms bent, letting your feet take as much weight as possible. The less steep the angle, the more you should keep your rear end away from the rock, according to Fitz Cahall in the "Climbing" magazine article, "Heels of Steel." If you fall, push away from the rock face with your hands and feet to avoid getting scraped or injured from sliding down the slab.
Article Written By Alli Rainey
A professional writer since 1997, Harvard graduate Alli Rainey has written several books, including "Wyoming: An Explorer's Guide." Her articles have appeared in "Climbing Magazine," "Rock & Ice," and "Men's Fitness," among many others.