Bouldering 101

"I've Got Your Spot"
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Don't be fooled. Bouldering is not without risk. Sure, if you stay near the ground with a nice flat landing you're probably in the clear, but many classic problems are as much about dealing with heady exposure as they are about the physical moves. Even if you're close to the ground, landings are typically rock-strewn, sloping ankle-breakers. Use a bouldering pad—a portable mattress-like foam gizmo—to lay out beneath your target landing zone, and find a spotter.

A spotter is a person who hangs around for the sole purpose of guarding your fall and keeping your head from hitting the ground. This person is not going to catch you, but they'll support your controlled fall, catching your shoulders, and keeping your body upright until you regain your footing on solid earth. If you don't feel confident about your moves, don't be shy, ask anyone nearby for a quick spot and they'll oblige. On the flip side, keep an eye out for needy climbers when you're wandering the local bouldering area. If you see someone working a dangerous problem, ask if they want a spot, or just walk over quietly and offer your support.

And don't forget that what goes up must come down. There's no rapelling off a boulder problem, and many a boulderer has found their way to the top of a lone rock only to find that they have to descend the same way they came up. Before you work a problem take a look around and scout your exit. Easier problems are typically the down-climb for harder routes on a boulder, and you should be comfortable reversing your moves back to the ground.

Practice Makes Perfect (We Wish)

Because bouldering often requires intense power and refined technique, and established bouldering areas offer little in the way of easy problems, it's tough to jump off the couch and expect to climb well. Luckily most climbing gyms have good bouldering caves where you can build your finger strength and even practice creatively designing routes, all with the assurance of a foot-thick gymnastics pad to land on. Take advantage; just two days a week will have you fit for the real rock when the time comes.


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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