Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Rocks without Ropes: Bouldering Is Gaining a Foot-Hold in the Rock-Climbing World

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Rocks without Ropes: Bouldering Is Gaining a Foot-Hold in the Rock-Climbing World

Article excerpt

Across the country, people are grabbing rock climbing shoes and chalk bags to go bouldering, leaving their ropes and harnesses at home. Bouldering, which is climbing at a height where ropes are not necessary for safety, is becoming a new favorite activity among climbers.

"Bouldering has definitely gained a lot of popularity in the past few years," says Brian Ricketts, a climbing instructor and assistant coordinator of Adventure Programs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. "You can see it in the sense that more companies are getting involved, making bouldering equipment like crash pads, and it is getting more coverage in climbing magazines." Magazines that used to be filled with pictures of people hanging off cliffs now have as many pictures of climbers on rocks only as high as a basketball hoop.

But the low height doesn't take away the challenge of the sport. A bouldering "problem"--a series of hand holds and foot placements used to climb the rock--can be extremely difficult. Although a bouldering problem does not take as many "moves" as a long climbing route would take to complete, each move is often a gymnastic feat of strength, skill and balance. Climbers with abilities ranging from beginner to professional can find bouldering problems that appropriately challenge their skills.

No Ropes Required

One of the reasons bouldering is becoming so popular is that little equipment is required. Since bouldering routes keep the climber close to the ground, often no safety equipment is needed beyond a friend to "spot" the climber in case of a fall. Some boulderers prefer extra support when they fall and use a thick mattress-like cushion called a "crash pad." A spotter and a crash pad provide protection to allow the boulderer to try routes and moves that grow ability.

"It's an acceptable amount of equipment. Pretty much all you need is shoes and a chalk bag," says Anthony Veltri, founder of, an online store that sells bouldering equipment. Add in the optional crash pad, which is often shared among a group of friends, and the cost still doesn't break the bank.

Compared to the cost of traditional climbing equipment, including various ropes, webbing, harnesses, carabiners (metal ring with a spring clip) and anchoring devices, the equipment needed for bouldering is a small investment. The relatively low cost allows people to learn the sport who may not be able to afford the safety equipment required for traditional climbing or just are not ready to commit to buying that extensive amount of gear.

The reduced amount of equipment required for bouldering has further benefits. Learning to tie the proper knots and effectively use the protective equipment for climbing takes a lot of time. On the other hand, someone looking to begin bouldering can skip knot tying and put their hands right on the rock. "Bouldering is easy to get into. You don't need much experience. You just have to go out," says Ryan Fawley, an avid boulderer and employee of Wilderness Voyagers, an outdoor sport equipment shop in Harrisonburg.

All of those ropes and harnesses can be a drag for climbers who are impatient to get off the ground. Traditional climbers have to lug their ropes, harnesses and other protective equipment to the rock. Since many of the best rock climbing areas are far from where climbers' gear-toting vehicles are parked, this can be a lot of trouble. More importantly, setting up all of the traditional climbing gear at the site takes time away from climbing. With no ropes and harnesses to worry about, bouldering gives instant gratification. Bouldering is easy to begin and naturally segues into learning everything necessary to practice traditional climbing safely for those who are looking for an additional challenge.

Bouldering as Training for Climbers

In addition to its appeal to new climbers, bouldering has become a common training tool for traditional climbers looking to improve their strength and balance for the challenging moves they may encounter on a climb. …

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