“It’s a little slabby…” Hearing those words from a climbing partner or reading them in a guidebook strikes dread in my heart.
I love climbing. I hate climbing slab. Give me a pumpy overhang or ask me to pull a roof any day, but don’t tell me to trust my feet on slab unless you want to see me cry.
Yet, I still do it (at least sometimes!), and here are the reasons why:
To make myself think more—and improve technique
There’s no denying it, climbing slab makes you a better climber. It forces you to focus on technique, footwork, and balance—all things which I would prefer to avoid, but which make me better. On an overhanging climb, when I make a move, my tendency is to power through or dynamically launch myself at the next hold ... which rarely works the way I hope. Slab climbing makes me think through each move before I commit to it. Every hand and foot placement needs to be more precise so I don’t peel off the wall. Moving statically usually makes more sense than a big dynamic throw. And all of this can be applied to non-slab climbs, which makes me a better climber overall.
It gives me a chance to learn from others and be inspired by them
It’s definitely a stereotype that women tend to favor crimpy, technical, slabby climbing and men prefer overhanging, steep, dynamic climbs. I am an example of the opposite. But lots of my climber friends, both male and female, love slab climbing, and when I climb slabby routes with them (even though it might be a bit of a blow to my ego), I get inspired and learn from their technique.
When I boulder with my friend who is a yoga instructor, I usually crush it in the cave, while she kills it on the slab wall. Watching her gracefully balance her way to the top gives me new goals, and then I can show her how to make it through a pumpy route. Together, we teach each other new things and both end up stronger for it.
Training myself on something un-fun prepares me for when things are truly tough
In climbing and many other outdoor pursuits, perseverance is key to accomplishing goals. Continuing to work at what you're worst at it, even when you hate it the entire time, is a great way to prepare for Type 2 fun. Getting to a summit or the finish line of a race requires persistence through the parts that suck. And slab definitely sucks—in my opinion. But continuing to climb slab gives me lots of experience working through that suckiness, which will become part of my reserve of willpower when I need it most.
It makes me deal with fear
Full confession: Slab climbing scares the shit out of me! Part of it is the thought of cheese-grating down the rock face when a foot slips. And that thought is reinforced by my lack of confidence and ability on slab. But a big part of why I climb is the feeling of accomplishment I feel when I push past fear. You can’t downclimb slab—well, maybe YOU can, but I certainly can’t—so once you’re up on the wall, you’re committed. It's a great way to force yourself to face your fears.
When we first start climbing, progress is usually pretty easy to see—but eventually, most of us hit a plateau where our advances become more incremental. For me, since I’m much worse at slab climbing than most other styles of climbing, my progress is much more noticeable. Sometimes I see it in grades and sometimes it’s in my confidence—read: lack of whimpering—in climbing those grades Either way, improvement is definitely visible. Since sucking at slab climbing gives me so much more room to get better, that’s an incentive to keep at it.
So while I may still cringe when you tell me a climb is slabby, I will try my best to only complain a little before I give it a good, if shaky, go.