As the name might suggest, it is not a type of masonry. It is a sport, not a trade. Bouldering is a style of rock climbing. For some, the sport is about strength, muscle and sheer determination whereas for others it’s more about finesse, detailed care and balance.

Risk Factors

In most cases the sport might seem daring and life risking. Truth be told, it is. Serious climbers can climb thousands of meters high. They are secured in a harness, hopefully wearing a helmet, and likely have someone below or above them working as a belayer.

These factors separate what is known as sport climbing (where metal bolts are secured into the rock for climbers to clip into) and traditional (trad) climbing, (where climbers must secure their own specialized equipment) from bouldering.

A boulderer does not wear a harness, won’t wear a helmet and has little security other that the strength in his or her own fingertips. Though it might seem only an insane human being would climb a rock face without being attached to a rope, a boulderer would generally never climb higher than 12 feet. He wouldn’t need to.

Problem Solving

While in trad and sport climbing, the rush mostly comes from the height a person is able to climb (along with the level of difficulty of course), in bouldering it’s all about the “problem.” In rock climbing gyms the problems (routes) will be marked out with some kind of colour scheme while outside people refer to guidebooks, memory, or chalk marks that someone has left behind. While problems determine which holds a climber is supposed to use for his feet and hands, they also often determine which holds he is not allowed to use. These are called eliminates.

Like a math equation (and there seem to be a curious amount of math students at bouldering sites) problems are figured out through trial and error…. And more trial.

Again, unlike the excitement of multi-pitch climbing a monolith like Yosemite’s El Captain or Squamish’s Stawamus Chief thousands of meters up, when bouldering a person could be chuffed to bits after “sending” a problem that only got him a meter off the ground. Especially if it was a really difficult sit-start—It doesn’t matter how light you are, lifting your entire body weight off the ground is always a challenge.

A Sense of Community

It is not uncommon whether in a rock gym or outside in a bouldering field to see a group of people, perhaps they know each other, perhaps they don’t, sitting at the bottom of the rock quietly mapping out in their minds how to go about conquering the problem. They could also be conversing, trying to figure out the best way together.

Bouldering areas (again whether in the gym or outside) tend to be incredibly social places. Like any sport, climbing has room for elitism, but bouldering folk tend to be very helpful. You may here people shouting:

“Stick it! C’mon, stick it!” or “Allez, allez!”, “match it! Yes! Now, bump up with your right. That’s it, heel hook, now dyno to the top!”

Others will shout instructions and general words of encouragement. It just depends on what part of the world you find yourself bouldering. And there are many sites all over the globe. For example, Tonsai Beach in Thailand, Squamish in BC, Canada, Stanage Edge in the Peak District, UK, and of course Fontainebleau which is south of Paris.