Breaking Into Bouldering

The last time I wore a pair of climbing shoes I was in college. Twenty years ago. I think I thought I was going to do a lot of climbing because I bought a pair of climbing shoes. Sometime within the last few years I ended up donating them to Goodwill. They were in near perfect condition.

Now let’s flash forward to this year, where I found myself taking an introduction to bouldering class at a local indoor climbing wall.

Heh, yeah, I had zip-zero-no gear to bring to class. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue. More on that in a bit…

Did you know that Tuesdays and Thursdays can be the busiest days at indoor climbing gyms? Neither did I. But the place was PACKED. On a Thursday at 7pm?!

Since most gym-gyms (Anytime Fitness, L.A. Fitness, those types of gyms) are typically super busy on Mondays and Wednesdays I was surprised by the offset in behavior. I wondered if that translates into any core personality differences too? Maybe if I hang out with more climbers I’ll learn the answer to my question.

Sidebar: I did a camping gear purge where I donated my three season tent, sleeping bag and a huge pile of other hiking, ice climbing (yeah, did that once in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, it was AMAZING!), snowboarding (ok, technically that wasn’t camping gear, but sometimes I shared a lot of the polyurethane base layers between my outdoor sports, so it was all stored in the same place under the stairs) and rock climbing (shoes, belts, etc.) equipment.

In the pile went rarely used cycling accessories, swimming stuff (floaties I’d purchased for lap training during my triathlon training phase, ’cause don’t we all go through that phase at some point?) and any other athletic gear I hadn’t dusted off for several years.

I’m still glad I donated that gear. It deserved to be out exploring the world with someone(s) who loved having it as much as I did. Plus, it would be a great reason to buy the latest upgrade in gear if I ever got back into a particular sport.

The intro class lasted an hour and included a knowledgeable and affable instructor, a handful of other participants and a pair of rental climbing shoes.

We started out practicing how to fall safely. I’m not sure I would have led with that, but it did get us into a more comfortable space.

The act of purposefully jumping off a wall and crashing onto a super cushion-y padded floor (with every step you sink a few inches down) felt like I was going against my basic self-preservation instincts.

It was awkward. But also useful. Knowing how to fall properly can definitely prevent larger injuries.

Boulder Problems + 3 Beginner Tips For Conquering Them

To understand the level of difficulty for a particular boulder route, we were instructed to look for the boulder grades. The lower the number, the easier the route.

Then follow the colored ‘rocks’ from bottom to top. It’s pretty simple, in theory. In practice, that’s where all the fun starts!

A few tips we all learned along the way included:

  • Try to keep your arms straight
    • It helps you remember to use your legs for the majority of the force to get you up, up, up the wall
  • Push off your legs
    • Don’t try dragging yourself up the wall with just the muscles in your forearms, you’ll tire out much more quickly that way
  • Explore climbing sideways
    • My instinct was to attack the wall head on, but a lot of moves are easier if you give the wall a side hug. This requires using the inner and outer edges of your feet for holds.

The routesetters switch up the boulder problems every couple of weeks at the indoor climbing gym I went to, so there will always be a new challenge in your not too distant future.

What I enjoyed most about bouldering is that feeling of accomplishment when you reach the top. Conquering a boulder problem, while there are often countless ways to get there, feels good.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch other people attack the wall. There is a lot that can be learned from watching other people’s form and approach.

The other thing I liked about indoor bouldering was the lack of gear. Shoes, chalk for your hands and a wall is all that is needed. No ropes, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, climbing partner, etc. are necessary.

By the end of the night I was cashed. And eager to return.

Interested in bouldering? Got questions? Hit me up on my contact form.