What we mainly see in climbing these days are dynamic moves on indoor walls, one arm pull-ups on campus boards, bouldering sequences that come closer to parkour than to the original forms of climbing. Scrolling through posts on Instagram leaves the impression that modern climbers seem to be more obsessed with training than actual climbing!
That inspired me to invite Magnus Midtbø, described on Instagram as “Climber and aspiring YouTuber with a fetish for training”, to climb some classic slab-routes in Arco, Italy. I had met Magnus a year ago at the “Oslo Klatresenter” and was impressed by his powerful climbing style. He seemed to have endless power on everything beyond vertical and I was wondering how he would move on slabs where it’s mainly about precise footwork, and where big muscles seem to be more in the way instead of useful.
At least, as dedicated slab-climbers, we liked to put it that way, although we never really believed in that theory. From my own experiences I had a vague recollection that power is always an advantage, even on slabs. Power and core strength give you more time for precise footwork. Still, I’ve known athletic and powerful climbers who sucked on technical face climbs.
Magnus seemed the perfect “test animal” to get a definitive answer to this open question. I was curious to find out how a modern “power climber” would move on historic Arco slabs, like Superswing and Tom & Jerry, both from the early eighties and comparable to Viol du corbeau and Autoroute du soleil in Buoux. After accomplishing these first harder climbs in the Arco area I used to travel to Verdon and Buoux to get a better idea about my actual climbing skills. It was the times when Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger were the superstars of sportclimbing and at top of sport climbing’s evolution. It was the times when checking out routes on toprope was considered as cowardice and scary runouts made up for part of the difficulty of a route. For our small group of “pushing-the-limits-Arco-pioneers” (Roberto Bassi, Manolo, Luisa Iovane and myself) climbing was still more a psychological game than an athletic performance.
With the development of sport climbing to steeper and more athletic climbs I soon realized that pushing the grades on slabs was much harder than on overhangs. So, in the end I lost my love for tiny crimps on just-off vertical rock and preferred to push my limits at steeper crags with bigger holds. Also interesting to mention, there were no indoor climbing gyms at the time, which means training and preparation was very different (more limited) compared to nowadays.
But back to Magnus’ time travel experience: as I expected he adapted immediately to the style and with his extra-power he managed to climb up and down to find the hidden pockets and figure out how to make the moves. On Superswing he fell on the last move, committing to a possible but more difficult sequence than the original way. Onsighting slab-routes often depends on luck!
Tom & Jerry 1984
In 1984 we discovered unclimbed blank sections at Spiaggia delle Lucertole above Lake Garda, with beautiful white rock that was even smoother and steeper than Swing Area, perfect to push slab-climbing to the next level. It was not only a challenge for our finger strength on small crimpers, but even more for the grip of our rubber soles. It was before Charles Cole invented Stealth rubber, and back then the best rubber we had was way worse than the modern compounds. From what I recall Tom & Jerry was one of the best routes of that period and I chose it as another nice test piece for Magnus! Tom & Jerry was even more forgotten about and abandoned than Superswing and hadn’t seen chalk for a long time, which made it really hard to find the small crimps and hidden pockets. After a first exploration round Magnus solidly redpointed this fantastic route and it looked like he had fun. It was certainly inspiring to watch him.
There are climbs that have a soul and there are climbs that only have a number.