Bouldering 101

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A week after Chris Sharma sent his legendary 25-foot-long boulder sensation Mandala, I stood speechless beneath the 45-degree, overhanging, featureless slab of golden Buttermilk, California, granite. I caressed the smooth igneous creation like a blind man, partly in effort and partly in awe. I couldn't even hold my weight off the ground. The line had a certain beauty and elegance, like its namesake, that impressed me, and I was content that day just to look. Chances are you or I will never join the ranks of the six or ten superhuman athletes in the world who can climb a problem like that. But the thing about bouldering is that it really doesn't matter.

Bouldering is the simplest form of rock climbing, where you ascend or traverse a chunk of rock without a rope or any sort of protection. The moves are the same, but the feeling and risk are different. It's the most natural, low-impact way to climb a rock, and an it's an art form in itself.

Bouldering is an exercise in simplicity, in contentment with small achievements, and in intense concentration, power, and balance. The personal reward is the same whether it's your first scramble or a world-class test-piece. You can boulder with partners, but when it comes down to it, it's a solo activity—just you and the rock. Take the physical and mental demands of your typical climbing experience and amplify them a thousand times. Then concentrate them in just a few exciting feet. But leave the pounds of gear, the guidebook, the stick-clip, the planning, and the hassles of your daily grind at home. Just clip your shoes to your belt and wander off into the boulders. When you see a line that catches your eye, study it, then climb it.Article © Abrahm Lustgarten, 2001.

Abrahm Lustgarten is an award-winning, internationally published photojournalist and writer who has worked professionally as a photographer for more than ten years. He has photographed the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharmsala, India, dangled from a rope shooting Thai rock climbers, followed ski mountaineering descents in the British Columbian Rockies, and documented the underground drug trade in central Colorado.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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