When the average person thinks of rock climbing they imagine dangling off the side of a massive mountain. Bouldering takes the same movements used on a massive mountain and compresses them into 10ft. Similar to how a sprint takes the same movements as a marathon and compress them into 100 m.
Because bouldering is done on smaller rock faces a rope is not used. Most people think smaller heights in bouldering mean smaller consequences. This is not the case! Ropes do an excellent job of slowing down your descent before hitting something hard like the ground. If you fall while bouldering you are guaranteed to hit the ground. If you have tried bouldering indoors and have taken the correct safety precessions bouldering is a great way to spend time outside with friends or family.
Discovering Outdoor Bouldering
I took a week vacation to Acadia National Park located in the Northeast Coast of the United States. During this time I went bouldering outside for the first time. The following post is what I learned while going outside to boulder for the first time.
Why Boulder in the First Place?
I have been consistently climbing in the gym for 2 years. Most of the time I can be found in the bouldering section of the gym. I find it convenient to drop in the gym without organizing a time with a belaying partner. Bouldering is a social activity for a group of people to enjoy. Each person can take times alternating attempts on a bouldering problem. A problem is what boulders call a route.
While on my climbing journey I have begun to dabble in the world of outdoor climbing. Like a kid with a cup at a soda fountain my mentality is to try a bit of every flavor of climbing. If I were to describe bouldering with a type of soda I would classify it as soda water. Technically soda but with a few ingredients missing. Because of the short routes in bouldering the moves are much more difficult. It’s similar to climbing the crux of longer climbs. Bouldering can help increase your strength for other climbing disciplines.
Who were the 1st boulderers
Bouldering is believed to have started south of Paris in the Forest of Fontainebleau. It originally begun as training for longer alpine climbs in the Alps. Today Bouldering is a full fledge discipline of climbing. With gyms dedicated to bouldering and professional climbers who spend their time perfecting to the art of bouldering. It will even be an important part of climbing in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
My First Time Outdoor Bouldering
My first time bouldering was at the first place the sun touches the United States, Acadia National Park. The park is home to stunning coastal views, rustic lighthouses and solid climbing. Most climbers elect to top rope at Otter Cliffs or place gear at South Wall. I elected to spend a day by the water bouldering.
I have never bouldered before and posted on Mountain Project hoping to find a partner with experience. The members of mountain project had a hard time understanding why I wanted to boulder in Accadia. Despite their attempts to convince me not to boulder I did receive excellent recommendations on where to go. I was determined to have my first bouldering experience and some internet strangers were not going to stop me.
Whenever engaging in an outdoor activity such as climbing its best to go with a partner. My sister agreed to come bouldering with me in place of an internet stranger. Although we were both new to bouldering we were excited to check out a new place and new activity.
As we walked into the climbing shop to rent equipment we thought we had made a mistake. When I asked for bouldering recommendations the person we talked could not comprehend why someone would subject themselves to falling onto hard granite 10 feet off the ground. There is so much excellent climbing in the park accessible by rope it didn’t make sense to him. At this point I was 100% committed to understanding why everyone was trying to convince me not to boulder. Turns out, I am glad I went. It was a great opportunity to spend time quality time with my sister. And explore a new place.
Bouldering at Monument Cove Acadia
Love outdoor climbing in the US? Why not consider visiting Yosemite National Park
You Can Get Hurt
Relative to other forms of climbing Bouldering doesn’t bring you high off the ground but the risk of injury remains. If you fall while bouldering you are guaranteed to hit the ground. Hitting the ground can lead to bumps, bruises, broken bones, and head injuries. Before sending my first problem I talked to the experienced climber to understand the best practices. Here is what I learned.
What to pack for a bouldering trip
- Chalk – This keeps your fingers dry to increase friction. In addition to helping you climb you are guaranteed to look badass while putting chalk on your hands.
- Bouldering Shoes – Cramming your foot into a snug fit climbing shoe is key to any climbing experience including bouldering. Always remember to bring the right bouldering shoes that are good for bouldering as ell as outdoor use.
- Bouldering Crash Pads- A crash pad is a collapsible pad which provides a layer of protection from the rocks, roots and sticks under the route. This type of crash pad is not to be confused with the old couch your visiting friends sleep on.
- Bouldering Friends– Are great for capturing action photos. Friends are also helpful to spot you while climbing.
Link to a great overview of bouldering practices
How to Find equipment
If you don’t own have access some climbing shops have gear available for rent. Other options are to befriend someone who owns the equipment. Pro tip if you offer to carry the crashpad for them they may be more inclined to bring you along. Another option is to purchase your own starter set of climbing equipment. It might cost and add up to quite a bit initially, but it will be worth it if you are going to use it regularly for the next few years.
Who to go with?
One place to get to know new friends or bouldering buddy is on mountain project. Mountain Project is an online forum to find climbs, post about climbing and meet other climbers. There is a section dedicated to finding partners. Make sure to be upfront about your skill level and experience. I believe there are plenty of other climbers looking for like-minded individuals to work on projects with although I couldn’t find any. Another option is to bring a friend from your gym. I promise there are plenty of people you know who would enjoy spending quality time outside
Safety Precautions while bouldering outdoors
At the gym you might have learned the dramatic tuck and roll. While climbing outside you want to do your best to land on your feet. There is not the luxury of an endless floor of pads and it is likely that you might roll of the pad. If the route makes landing on your feet difficult it is okay to land on your back. Do your best to let the pad absorb the fall and try not to catch yourself with your arms.
Spotting is important technique to protect against injuries and keep yourself safe while climbing. The job of the spotter is to ensure the climber has a safe landing. While spotting it is important to actively manage the crash pad. As a climber follows the route they might move away from the crash pad. As a spotter be cognizant of this fact and adjust the pad accordingly. If the climber does fall a spotter can guide the climber fall onto the crash pad. It is not the job of the spotter to catch the fall. Only to guide them onto the pad.
Unlike bouldering in a gym you are not officially done with a project until you are standing on top of the rock. Before you get there have a path to get off of the top. You don’t want to call search and rescue because you are stuck on a 10 ft rock and running out of water. Also don’t underestimate the last couple moves to get on top of the rock. These can get spicy.
If you are not quite into bouldering but still love the outdoors, what about learning lead climbing or multi-pitch instead.
Take out Your Trash
While climbing outside it is important to respect the environment. No one wants to walk around the great outdoors and see a pile of potato chips and cigarette butts. Do your part and take out any trash you might have made. For extra super bonus points pick up any other trash you might see!
Bouldering Grades and Levels
Climbs are graded on the V scale. V16 is the world’s most difficult climb. V0 is really easy. Like you might be able to climb in tennis shoes easy. Without clearly plastic holds to put your hands and feet on bouldering outside might seem more difficult then bouldering indoors. If you boulder inside you might climb at a couple levels lowering than your usually level.
Have Fun Climbing
The best tip for last. Why would you subject yourself to walking through the woods with a giant pad strapped to your back if it wasn’t fun. Not being able to get up a climb might be frustrating but remember you are doing this to have fun and enjoy the great outdoors in the US!
Commit to a weekend to go bouldering.
Grab a friend who is interested in exploring the outdoors, find yourself a crash pad and head to one of these classic bouldering locations!