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Slab Climbing is Fun and Teaches Footwork

How to Slab Climb


Bill Springer smears up a slab route at Vedauwoo in southern Wyoming.

Read the rock and watch where you place your feet when you climb smooth granite slabs.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Slabs are rock faces that are angled less than vertical or 90 degrees. Slabs usually are angled between 45 and 75 degrees. Many cliffs offer slab routes and these are ideal for beginner and novice climbers to learn the basics of climbing movement, like keeping your weight over your feet.

Slabs are Fun to Climb

Slabs, besides being fun to climb, are great for improving your climbing footwork, for learning how to read the rock while you move, and for using balance rather than strength to move upward. Slab routes often have small handholds and footholds, making balance and footwork important. To be a successful slab climber, you don't have to be thin, wiry, and strong-armed. Instead, balance and grace are most important, which allows women as well as weaker climbers the opportunity to crank hard routes.

Slab Climbing Teaches Great Footwork

Climbing a slab requires a good sense of your feet and how to use them, as well as balance and rock shoes with good sticky rubber. When you climb a slab, the general rule is that you keep your weight on your feet. You usually smear your feet on tiny holds on the rock or simply rely on the shoe rubber to grip against smooth rock. This foot technique is called smearing and the holds you use are called friction holds or smears. Usually your hands and arms are used for balance rather than pulling because it's your feet that keep you on the rock and moving upward. Climb slabs and you'll learn to trust your feet.

Learn to Read the Rock and Stay Calm

Besides exact footwork, slabs also require precision of movement, a bold attitude, cool nerves, calmness under pressure, focus, and concentration. Most slab routes, except the easiest ones, can offer difficult routefinding since the climbs often wander around and use micro-holds. To be successful on slab routes, you need to learn to read the rock, to find features and weaknesses that can be used as holds. Many slab routes, especially old-style climbs established in the 1970s and 1980s, have widely spaced bolts for protection. A calm mind is needed to stay in control when leading a runout slab climb.

America Best Slab Climbing Areas

Here are some of the best slab climbing areas and cliffs in the United States:

  • Tuolumne Meadows, California
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Suicide Rock, California
  • South Platte Area, Colorado
  • Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
  • City of Rocks, Idaho
  • Enchanted Rock State Park, Texas
  • Whitehorse Ledge, New Hampshire
  • Looking Glass Mountain, North Carolina
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