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Let's Go Bouldering!

Aug 17, 2007
Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that's undertaken without a rope and is normally limited in respect to the height the climber ascends the route so that any fall won't risk significant injury.

This variation of climbing is practiced on large boulders, at the base of larger rock faces/climbing routes, in indoor climbing centers found in Dallas, Houston or throughout Texas. Typically, bouldering is a more high-impact sport focusing on individual moves rather than the endurance required in traditional climbing or sport climbing. The sport was introduced by climbers as a way to practice certain "moves" over and over. It has since evolved into a challenging sub-sport of climbing, complete with its own "superstars."

Boulderers have their own little subculture, and their own lingo as well. Believe it or not, some bouldering enthusiasts are climbers that are afraid of heights. Sometimes, the line between bouldering and climbing blurs, but the general rule is that if the rock isn't an intrinsic part of the mountain, or if you can fall without being killed, it counts as a boulder.

Boulder routes are most commonly referred to as "problems," because the nature of the climb is often short, curious, and much like problem solving. Sometimes, these problems are "eliminates", meaning that certain artificial restrictions are imposed.

On smaller boulders without too many "problems," the sport can be reasonably safe for a well-conditioned individual. Most boulderers climb with a spotter, and place a mat where it will hopefully cushion a fall. Not surprisingly, a few boulderers sometimes attempt "problems" well beyond the reach of their spotter, and rely on mats that do very little to protect falling skeletal structures from sudden stops on level portions of the planet.

As in other types of climbing, bouldering has developed its own grading systems for comparing the difficulty of problems. The most commonly used grading systems are the John Sherman V-grade system, beginning at V0 and increasing to V16, and the Fontainebleau system, which ranges from 1 to 8c+. Both scales are open-ended at the top, so the upper grade of these systems always increases as boulderers ascend to more difficult problems.

To reduce the risk of injury after a fall, climbers rarely go higher than nine feet above the ground. Anything over 21 feet is generally considered to be "free soloing," and such climbs are also referred to as highball bouldering problems. It's recommended that boulderers also put a crash pad/bouldering mat on the ground to break their fall. It's also recommended that participants assign a spotter - a person on the ground to prevent the climber from landing badly. The spotter generally directs the climber's body toward the crashpad during a fall, while protecting the climber's head from hazards.

The region around Fontainebleau, near Paris, is particularly famous for its beautiful and concentrated bouldering sites. Other well-known areas include Stanage, in the United Kingdom, Hueco Tanks, in Texas, Castle Hill in New Zealand, Bishop, California, and Horse Pens 40, Alabama.

The sport of bouldering is growing in popularity, partly because of the growth of bouldering areas in indoor climbing gyms, with entire climbing gyms dedicated to bouldering. Children are joining the sport now as well as adults. In fact, studies have found that young climbers develop better skills than adults, from their experience with youthful disadvantages such as height and strength.

Bouldering is just one of many new sports that require participants to be in good physical shape before they make their first attempt. If done with the proper safety precautions, boulderers can enjoy the sport for as long as they are physically able.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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