If you read part 1 last month you will have a good understanding that, while I’m pretty outdoorsy and active, I was completely unaware of the point of bouldering and how it fits with my ambitions of climbing mountains. I set myself the challenge to give it a go – here’s how I got on. If you want to find out the challenge I set, and why, you can read my previous blog post Why Should I go Bouldering. I have no illusions about doing anything as advanced as this:
People do keep saying that bouldering will help me with my climbing, so I wanted to find out what all the fuss is about.
Getting started bouldering – easy?
Well, I was lucky enough to meet a member of Leeds Mountaineering Club, Sarah Sharps, who offered to give me a tour of The Depot in Leeds and introduce me to some other people. Friday nights, I discovered, are pretty busy, especially when there is a competition going on! It was lucky that Sarah agreed to meet me, because I did feel completely overwhelmed as I walked in. Had Sarah not popped out of nowhere to say ‘hi’, I might have found a corner to hide in, had a quick go and then escaped. Sarah was climbing with her friend Clare. Clearly they are both far more proficient climbers than me as they were attempting routes that I couldn’t even imagine how to climb. However, I got started on some easy ‘problems’.
What is the point?
I have to admit for the first 5 or 6 problems I couldn’t see the point – the easy routes were too easy. While this was great for getting me off the ground with no rope, it wasn’t challenging enough for me to feel like I was actually learning anything.
Encouraged by Sarah, I stepped up a grade and then discovered what the fuss is all about. Climbing something just outside your comfort zone (and potentially skill level!) with no rope is really scary!! But it also encouraged me to get my feet higher and not rely on my arm strength. And when I gave up half way and climbed down, the routes are short enough to want to try again. I was pleased to have done some routes that challenged me, and I even managed the first 4 of the competition routes (I clearly have a long way to go before I’m any good at bouldering).
I definitely had a few moments of panic when I thought I was going to fall, but being able to tell yourself you’re only a couple of metres off the ground is a great way to shake off the fear.
Clare also encouraged me to try some really difficult routes and while I knew I had no chance of completing them, it was a useful exercise to learn foot techniques, shifting my weight and balance. Techniques that I’ve learnt I need to get better at! We even had a go at a really hard (v6/7) traverse which even Clare hadn’t completed before, and while I couldn’t do much of it, the lack of handholds certainly taught me how to use my weight to balance.
What did I discover?
Firstly, bouldering isn’t like roped climbing at all.
This isn’t just for the obvious lack of a rope. It requires more technique to make the moves, a lot less fear too to be off the ground without a rope. It feels more committing. There’s moves you make bouldering that I don’t think you’d ever make on a roped climb, which is much more about just climbing ever upwards.
Secondly, people who boulder aren’t always climbers.
There’s plenty of people at a bouldering wall who have no ambitions of climbing mountains, nor necessarily climbing outdoors at all. For them it is an alternative to the gym, something slightly more fun than lifting weights. But there are also a lot of people who climb trad outdoors and use bouldering as a way of improving their technique, so there’s a fantastic mix of people and abilities.
Thirdly, it helps to find a buddy
Some people have a natural confidence to walk into a climbing centre on their own. I wasn’t that confident and felt a bit overwhelmed, so having a buddy really helped me to stick with my challenge and see it through.
Lastly, they’re friendlier than I imagined!!
Perhaps because bouldering walls are usually full of men lying around on the crash mats watching one another climb and girls in tight lycra looking amazing, I imagined it to be an intimidating place, with everyone watching you. Don’t get me wrong, they are watching you, but surprisingly they’re also willing to show you how to do the moves, and are incredibly supportive when you start to get jelly legs half way up. I have to say I’ve not had that in the climbing walls I go to, perhaps because everyone is concentrating on belaying.
Will I boulder again?
Yes, I probably will. I had a great evening. Even though I didn’t do anything difficult compared to other people, I did challenge myself and learnt loads. Everyone was incredibly friendly, so despite there being well over 50 people in there, it didn’t feel intimidating.
I also realise that if I ever want to get good at climbing and conquer my fears and improve my technique I need to climb more than once a week. Bouldering is a good way to do that, as I’m not reliant on having someone to go with.
Will I ever love bouldering?
Honestly? No, I don’t think so. I love the outdoors too much and frankly I didn’t start climbing for a love of being on a crag. I started climbing to improve my overall mountaineering skills and broaden the range of routes and peaks I can climb. So for me bouldering will always be that thing I need to do to be a better climber and mountaineer.
I’m not sure I’ll ever chose a crag over a mountain, let alone a boulder over a crag! And I’m still not convinced I would ever boulder outdoors (I mean, how the hell do you get down?!).