Thursday, October 08, 2009

Department of Weenieness: Slab Division

Is it just me, or does it seem crazy that slabs—the routes that feel least secure to climb, where you might grease off at any moment, and where it's nearly guaranteed that you won't fall cleanly into empty space—are almost always protected with widely spaced bolts? Why aren't slabs better protected?

Of course there are historical reasons for this. In the old days, climbs were established on the lead, and the leader could only stop moving and hand-drill a bolt if he could find a ledge or a minuscule foothold to stand on. No wonder the bolts were far apart. Today, almost every bolted climb is established on rappel, and the only limit to the number of bolts the first ascensionist places is stinginess. Or is it? There's also a weird foreshortening effect that somehow makes bolts look closer together (from the ground) on low-angle terrain than they do on overhangs, and this works against adequate bolting on slabs. A line of bolts that would look perfectly natural on a steep limestone sport climb might look obscene on a granite slab. And it's a kinesthetic too: You tend to cover ground much quicker on slabs (once you stop quaking and start moving), and so you come up on the bolts quicker.

Still, grade for grade, most climbers are much more likely to fall from a slab climb than a vertical climb, and for historic, aesthetic, and kinesthetic reasons, they're going to fall a lot farther. It just doesn't seem right.

[Photo: Jason Kaplan/]


Community Member said...

A true granite slab is not Space Boyz nor is it the Third Flatiron, and as such it should be treated differently. The falls on true slabs, in my opinion, are much more gentle, and as such a 30' whipper is not going to be the end of the world, so long as you are wearing long pants, do not have your leg behind the rope, etc. I should know as I keep falling off the damn things myself. Please climbers, adapt to your environment and not not vice versa.

Scott said...

What's that sound? Could it be? Yes, I think it is. Whining.

Get over it. Slabs are traditional climbing, not (rap-bolted) sport climbing. Falls on slab are generally mild affairs, skids not whips. Hell, you're likely to fall and never weight the rope if you keep your head about you. Hard on shoe rubber? Yes. Hard on the ego? Yes. Hard on gym climbers? Yes.

Dougald MacDonald said...

Oh yeah, I am definitely whining. I'm also a pretty fair slab climber. But they still scare the hell out of me.

Steve Bohrer said...

I'd say a problem is that slabs tend to be a lower grade than say more gymnastic overhanging limestone. Which makes them more inviting to climbers who can't climb overhanging 5.12, and are possibly less experienced. The the effect of those runouts is magnified if the person takes an awkward fall. And you end up with people dying on "only" 5.8 slabs such as "Delay of Game" at City of Rocks. And they scare me too so I appreciate an extra bolt or two.

Scott said...

Since we're putting all the cards on the table.... Oh yeah. They scare the ever living hell out of me. It is fun when the magic happens, or perhaps afterward, but, reagrdless, it is important not confuse sport climbing with traditional, bolted climbing.