Rock climbing is a sport that numerous people flock to every year, drawn by the beauty of the mountain, the allure of the climb, and the sheer adrenaline rush of scaling rock. For a select few, simple rock climbing is not enough. For those individuals, there is an entirely different sport derivative of climbing, known as bouldering that pits an individual without any equipment against a much shorter climb. Knowing the difference between bouldering and rock climbing and how to choose your first boulders is the first step in getting into this exciting climbing alternative.
Bouldering was originally developed as practice for rock climbers so as to offer themselves an opportunity to work on their moves on a smaller scale without the effort and time involved in a full climb. Over time however the sport has evolved into its own sub-sport in which numerous techniques have been developed and stars have been born.
Bouldering itself is defined by the size of the boulder being climbed. Without equipment, it is generally held that if you can climb a rock without falling to your death, it is bouldering. Another requirement is that the boulder is not an important part of the mountain. Unlike climbing, bouldering is a short and quick endeavor, involving no equipment and the quick problem solving approach of a skilled climber.
Another fun aspect of bouldering is that almost anyone can try it if they are in decent shape. Some boulders are relatively safe and small and the average individual could easily attempt a climb without incident. However, there are other boulders well beyond the scope of some people that could cause bodily harm. Often, a boulder climber will have a spotter who sets and watches a mat to catch the climber in case of a fall. If a boulder is too big or unpredictable a mat and spotter will do no good.
For those looking for new boulders to climb, the grading scales used are often open ended, meaning that larger boulders are always being found and added to the scale. The John Sherman scale consists of ratings from V0 to V16 with room for growth above V16 and the Fontainebleau system ranges from 1 to 8c+, also open to grow.
As for safety measures, climbers are often held to nine foot maximum climbs. Once beyond the twenty-one foot marker, a boulder climber is no longer bouldering but free soloing – a derivative of mountain climbing largely considered dangerous. The above mentioned mat is always placed below a boulder climber as well to ensure any falls are cushioned. Any bouldering enthusiast should bring along a spotter to watch over their mat. If a climber falls, the spotter’s job is to try and ensure the climber hits that mat properly.
Because of the physical demands of the sport, bouldering should only be attempted by those in relatively decent shape. You don’t need to be a world class athlete, but the proper strength training and acumen are vital to ensuring you have a safe climb.
Bouldering is a great new sporting option for climbers to practice and those afraid of heights to try climbing. Without the ample gear, hours long training sessions, or expensive process of rock climbing, bouldering is quickly growing into a popular high-impact alternative for quick and thrilling climbs.