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Why should I go bouldering?

If you don’t understand bouldering, or are unsure about what it’s all about, then follow our contributor Emily Thompson on her journey of discovery, starting this week, with her thoughts on feeling like a fraud, having never been bouldering and having piles of insecurities about giving it a go.  This is a live activity – Emily is reporting on her journey as she does it, so we have no idea how it will turn out or what she will discover.  To learn more as her journey unfolds, sign up now to our newsletter and we will let you know when the next instalment is out. 

Feeling like a fake climber

Being part of Womenclimb I sometimes feel like a fraud. While I’ve been climbing on and off for over 10 years I’ve only been climbing weekly for the past year, mostly because I’ve struggled to have a consistent partner and then I only really go indoors at my local climbing centres. While Cath and I climb well together, we are both at about the same grade and neither of us consider ourselves to have good technique, though Cath is stronger and braver than me, so will often push herself harder.

Emily on the GR20 long distanceg trail in Corsica.

Emily on the GR20 long distance walking trail in Corsica.

I’ve never bouldered

I also feel like a fraud in that I’ve never bouldered. Worse than that, I don’t get it.  Yes, that thing that Shauna Coxey is awesome at – I just don’t understand it. Why should I pay entry to a climbing wall to fart about on a small wall when I can get on a rope and climb high? Why would I consider climbing without a rope either? I can still freak out on a top rope half way up a wall when it gets hard, and I still have to shut my eyes sometimes to let go at the top.

Bouldering in a park

This is the closest Emily has come to bouldering. Will she try it? Will she love it? We will find out over the coming weeks.

I’ve been in the climbing centre and stared at the boulder walls and, while I can see and understand the routes, they either look too easy to bother with, or they’re tiny little crimps and footholds. Or worse, overhangs that I have no chance on – certainly not when I’m not attached to a rope for safety.

Could I be the only one who climbs but doesn’t boulder?  

Am I the only person who doesn’t get it?

These thoughts made me start to think other things: What on earth would convince me that climbing up (and down!) a hard problem is worth the effort and jelly legs? If I’m ever going to get over my fear, perhaps I just need to eat, climb, sleep, repeat until I’m not scared anymore.

Considering trying out bouldering

It wasn’t until I met Sarah from the Leeds Mountaineering Club that I started to seriously consider giving bouldering a go. She’s a strong climber, way stronger than me and fearless too.  She reckons her climbing improved by going bouldering once a week to build her technique.

Susie Bannister at the 2015 Paraclimbing championships at Manchester Climbing Centre

Susie Bannister at the 2015 Paraclimbing championships at Manchester Climbing Centre

I definitely want to climb harder and not freak out anymore.  I can’t keep relying on my ability to pull myself up the wall as the only way to climb. The things that I might learn are:

  • Foot techniques – to not end up totally pumped half way up the wall
  • How to hang on tiny holds and hold my weight
  • To be able to climb without a partner being around

Going to the climbing wall when my partner Cath isn’t free would be great. It would give me more freedom, for all the reasons above and to no longer feel like a fraud, I am going to give bouldering a go.

Preparation for bouldering: Going alone to the climbing wall

Many women and girls participate in bouldering at all levels.

Many women and girls participate in bouldering at all levels. Sometimes going alone can feel daunting. Be confident and practice going it alone!

Thanks to Sarah I’ve already got over my fear of going into a climbing wall alone.  She’s invited me to go bouldering with her and her son. So, before I allow myself to use the excuses that ‘I don’t see the point’, or ‘I’d rather do some ‘proper’ climbing’, I’m going to take her up on her offer and see what happens.  Watch this space and find out how it goes.

What do you think? Will she do it?  What are your tips and tricks for someone in Emily’s position?  Leave her a comment. 

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2 Comments
  • Rae
    July 3, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Hey Emily, you’ll be fine. I did a beginners roped indoor climbing course in the hope someone would be taking it too who needed a climbing partner. That didn’t work out, which I’m gutted about (if anyone reading happens to be in the Gloucestershire area, I’m still looking!).

    In the mean time I ended up going totally, totally alone to the bouldering wall. I won’t lie; I was and still am nervous about going on my own and I’m older than the average beginner (33), so I feel extra self-conscious. The first time, it took me at least half an hour to even muster the courage to go in and I had butterflies.

    I can’t do much beyond the most basic, but I guess that’s more than I’d been doing before! I play about as a warm up by traversing at a low level across the wall on all the colours. Also, this means I use holds I might not otherwise even try out as I’d assume I couldn’t and would fear falling. I do some dynamic stretches too – maybe you do this before roped climbing already though?

    You’re probably more climb-ready than me but if you were a total newby I’d say take lots of breaks and don’t push too hard or you will be unable to move properly for the next few days! Oh, and downclimb sometimes if possible because I think it helps in “getting” the route and is a different kind of technique. There’s probably merit in practising jumping off safely too. I have been watching YouTube videos on bouldering techniques. Not that I can do any of them!

    I chose a really quiet time to go (ask the staff) in an attempt to feel less self conscious, but then the downside of that is fewer people to watch and learn from. Pros and cons.

    Good luck – I suspect you’ll really enjoy it! x

    • Emily Thompson
      July 6, 2016 at 9:42 am

      Hi Rae, I guess I’ve been lucky climbing for the last few years as I’ve always had a partner to go with. But being the same ability we never learn new techniques from one another. I had to laugh at you saying you’re older than the average beginner as you’re the same age as me and despite climbing for a while my skills are a bit limited!
      I agree about downclimbing, I’ve found that very difficult to do and mentally more stressful than climbing upwards. I remember having jelly legs on a lead climbing course when I had to down climb a route (even though I was also on a top rope so I wasn’t going to hit the deck!)
      I’ve found joining clubs a great way of meeting people – you’ll be surprised at the massive range of skills in the groups and most people are willing to show you how to do it. I managed to master lead climbing from a club member in the end, rather than on a course.
      Part two is on its way – so you can see how I got on bouldering.
      Emily T

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