Slopers and Pinches are Inevitable.
When we break into the higher grades, we will inevitably encounter more pinches and slopers, which are frequently the bane of newer climbers.
Both types of hold are, by nature, more slippery than crimps and their larger cousins, and as such are far less forgiving of poor footwork and weight shifting. As with any hold type, proper orientation of the arms and grip are essential for mastery.
Pinches and Your Thumb
Pinches graphically illustrate the value of an often underused part of the hand for climbers–the thumb. By definition, pinches require the use of the thumb in order to grip the hold and generate extra force, therefore, extra friction. This is obvious to most climbers. What isn’t as obvious are two facts:
1) Indoors, nearly every hold is a pinch. What this means is that almost every hold (which sticks out from the wall) has a place where you can put your thumb to increase the pressure on the hold. As a result, becoming comfortable with pinching, even on crimps, slopers, or jugs, will give a climber an advantage.
2) Pinches are frequently also sloping. Therefore, the angle of attack on a pinch is nearly as important as on a sloper.
How to use your thumb to pinch is a fairly obvious thing for even beginner climbers–once they are made aware they should do it. How to properly load a sloping pinch is not as obvious. But as it is essentially the same as for a sloper, we will cover that next.
Slopers and Angles
No other type of hold illustrates the importance of angle of attack quite like slopers. So much so that it is the ideal hold type to introduce one of the more specialized and interesting major features of climbing walls–the arete.
An arete is an outside corner. Picture an exterior corner of a house. If we bolted holds on either side of that corner, we would have a 90-degree arete climb. These climbs are often considered highly technical because they tend to require a good understanding of hold use in order to be climbed. In this section, we will use slopers to illustrate the point.
Visualize It This Way - Pancakes
Take a terrible sloper–one with almost too flat edges and nothing incut, like a thick pancake with tapered edges.
If I put this hold onto the right side of an arete and try and pull straight down on it, it’s highly unlikely I would even be able to hold onto it, much less pull off of it.
But something cool happens if I approach the hold in a different way. Specifically, stand on the left side of the arete and reach around to the right side to grab the hold, then lean back hard to the left, pressing your body close to the left wall–viola, the hold almost feels like a jug!
Change the Angle, Change the Hold. Well, Sort Of.
It feels like a jug because, in this case, the major axis of this sloper is, in fact, its face (as opposed to an edge of the hold).
When going at the hold from the right side of the arete, our only option is to pull straight down on it, which is essentially pulling along its major axis, as opposed to at right angles to it.
But, the nature of the arete allows us, if standing by the opposite face, to pull at a right angle to the face of the sloper, by reaching around the arete and leaning against the face of the hold.
This approaches a pull at 90 degrees to the best surface of the hold, generating a great deal more friction and turning an otherwise unusable hold into something that feels almost like a jug.
This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the basic approach to using slopers and the full three-dimensional nature of the angle of attack.
To effectively use slopers climbers must be aware of the best way to load the hold (i.e. perpendicular in all possible ways to the best surface), and to get into the best body position possible to allow them to approach that ideal.
A Word of Caution
As pinches, and especially slopers, are regarded as hard to hold onto, climbers have a tendency to bend their arms when grabbing them.
This enlists the biceps and puts extra force on the holds, temporarily increasing the friction. Unfortunately, it also results in a locked-off position which uses a great deal of energy.
As with any other hold, the best habit to develop is to grip each hold with just enough force to avoid slipping off.
All material is reprinted with the permission of the author. Copyright 2022 David H. Rowland. All rights reserved.