Gentleman's Climbing

Last time I promised to talk about how retro-cool accoutrements and moderate substance abuse could enhance one's ability to climb slabs. Also known as 'gentleman's climbing', this style requires little of the one-arm lock-off power, extreme contact strength or even fitness needed to conquer the steeps; rather, it requires poise, balance, period correct footwear (board-lasted shoes) and nerves of steel (nerves that are numbed in some fashion are an appropriate substitute). Slab climbing is at its root a pure mental game, where bolts are often between 15 and 50 feet apart and where positive handholds that can be vice-gripped for psychological relief are rare or nonexistent. The old adage of the mountaineer, that 'the leader must never fall', often becomes truth when one is relying on pure frictional force for purchase, strung out 25 feet above a bolt placed in the 1970's by someone who was likely higher than a cheerleader at the homecoming game...or something. Needless to say, a 70-foot fall on a less-than-vertical meat-grinding section of rock, not to mention the dubious structural integrity of the 1/4" x 1 1/4" piece of oxidized steel 'holding' the fall, are reasons enough to warrant some sort of special preparations. For some, these may involve certain substances of dubious legality. For others (including me, of course), it's all about the kit and there really is a simple logic that governs this whole situation:

People who look like this...

...who wear shoes that look like this...

...climb slabs. They just do. They might also climb roof cracks, wrestle ten foot pebbles and prance around on steep sport climbs but rest assured: they will eventually return to their roots, kick the angle down to a steady 65-75 degrees and pad away into the runout unknown. Occasionally, they might enjoy a fermented beverage, in moderation of course...

This is the only beer-related photo I could find on the interweb; also, the beer is non-alcoholic

Which brings me seamlessly to another topic! Slab climbing used to be the absolute zenith of badassery. Just look at the brave Yosemite pioneer who would cast off on unknown expanses of granite with nothing but a swami-belt harness, a joint, a hand drill, and a fucking WILL OF IRON. Fame, fortune and female companionship are mere suggestions of the bounteous rewards showered upon the conquerors of the anti-steeps at a time when the world understood the true value of their deeds. How times change. Now a small number of us must thanklessly and inadequately carry their torch into the cold, dark reality of today, when, as in so many other realms, a former counter-culture has been transmuted to pop-culture, becoming ever more marketable. Trade the headbands for 59/50 caps and the Kaukulators for...well...something else...and bring on the hype!

These are 59/50 caps that are actually cool because they are all, like, retrogaming and stuff

The true rewards of slab climbing are made of decidedly less material stuff. The wind in your hair, the pain in your toes, the tunnel vision brought on by staring intently at any ripple that might be a foothold, the weightlessness and calm of being poised on the brink of annihilation continuously for hours on end: all speak to a greater purpose, a higher learning found only in a forgotten pursuit, riddled with mystery and requiring the most esoteric techniques imaginable. The era of mustaches, pipes and hemp ropes is just a costume store away. Nose over toes!

I couldn't find a picture of old school slab climbing so here is this picture of a knit smore that I stole from someone else's blog


  1. I could climb so much better if I were covered with sand trouts...

  2. I'm going to add the disclaimer that the above comment is in reference to the DUNE series. I really, really think it needs that context especially on the internet