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Bouldering: Why Climb on Rocks?

“I love the complexity of trying to fit my body around a piece of rock. There are so many different moves and shapes involved that I don’t think it ever gets old.” ― Jamie Emerson, professional climber

What is it?

What’s this fascination with climbing big rocks? According to Peter Beal’s Bouldering Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving, “bouldering is a form of climbing that focuses on relatively short routes, typically unroped and often, with the pursuit of difficulty as its primary goal.” However, the difficulty of the climb isn’t a requirement. The challenge is what makes it fun.

The center of bouldering is “searching for solutions to difficult sections of rock.” That’s where the term “problem” originated. In other words, one is trying to solve a problem for their climb. Think like one big puzzle. Hence this term is used instead of a route. Some people though will interchange the two words.

Where Can I Boulder?

Bouldering is done almost anywhere if there’s something to climb. Such as a big rock, the base of a cliff, or an indoor climbing structure designed for it. In climbing gyms, the boulders or bouldering walls range from 7 to 15 feet tall in accordance to Falcon Guide’s Learning to Climb Indoors author Eric J. Hörst. Thankfully if one falls, it’s not from a high distance.

Why Do It?

Something that I’ve noticed is that I prefer to bouldering to toproping. I like it more because it’s just me and the boulder. I feel stronger when I climb problems. It’s not that I don’t when I toprope because I do. When I boulder, I’m using my strength to move and stay on the wall. This realization makes me feel confident and also gives me an incentive to climb harder.

I do enjoy toproping and won’t say no if someone asks me to belay them. On the flip side, there are days toproping comes easier to me, but it’s my go-to. The one downfall to bouldering is, if I fall off, I must start the whole thing over again. Which sucks, but you just get back up and try it again.

Another thing I like about bouldering is you don’t need a whole lot of equipment to do it. If bouldering indoors, all he/she needs is a pair of good climbing shoes and chalk. However, if outdoors, there are a few additional things needed to make the experience fun and safer. Such as a crash pad and a bristle brush to brush away excess chalk from the rock.

Got to Come Down Somehow

“You should fall because you fail to do the move, not because you fail to try the move.” ― Andy Kirkpatrick, 1000+ Climbing Tips

As the saying goes, “what goes up, must come down.” The same goes for bouldering. One can come down from a boulder or wall by downclimbing or jumping off. Depending on the person’s comfort level, either method works. For me, I do both. However, if I’m on a higher spot on a bouldering wall, I do have the occasional tendency to freeze up. I tell myself “I’m not that high above the mat” then jump.

When getting down, there’s a way to land so that one can avoid injury. Beal states that “the first principle is protecting the important parts of the body.” They are the head and the neck. The second is “safe absorption of energy by finding ways to deflect the impact and disperse the force of the fall.” In other words, the lesser the impact on the body, the better to minimize pain.

How to Fall

To safely fall: try hitting the mat or pad barely with feet flat, bend the knees immediately, then roll onto the side. Let it take most of the impact. Beal mentions that this is the safest way to fall.

Don’t resist rolling. Restraining can injure your feet and ankles. Also, don’t lead the fall with the hands, elbows, or shoulders. It may be an instinct to do so, but it could lead to serious injury. Along with that, they take a long time to heal.

Spot Me!

Even though bouldering is a solo activity, it helps to have another person “spot” to assist the climber coming down. When climbing in or outdoors, Beal provides a few basic rules to follow for good SPOTting:

Bouldering might seem daunting at first because one depends on herself/himself to climb problems. Like any other activity though, it’s something to practice. So, I might fall a lot, but that doesn’t mean I should give up on a problem that’s hard. It’s a test of your ability. That’s why climbers try to solve problems so that they can get better at it.

Until next time, happy bouldering!