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Climbing Fever: Why Bouldering Might Become Your New Favourite Hobby

DAN ROBERTS shares his love for all things bouldering and climbing

You may have noticed that in the last few years more and more people seem to be taking up bouldering. Your climbing friends may have told you about the thrill of reaching the height of a 2nd story window, using only their chalky fingertips and uncomfortably tight rubber pumps. Indeed, they give up their time, money, finger skin, sensation in their toes and any semi-rational fear of heights. So, why exactly is the world going crazy for climbing?

Making its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics certainly helped to boost the awareness and popularity of climbing, following on from the widely acclaimed (and frankly terrifying) Oscar winning documentary ‘Free Solo’ in 2018. This helped to turn what was always a bit of a niche hobby for people who love ‘the great outdoors’ into a mainstream phenomenon.

The confused newbies reading this may be wondering what the difference between ‘climbing’ and ‘bouldering’ is, while some veteran climbers erratically scroll their calloused fingers down the page, waiting for me to stop using the terms interchangeably. As you may have seen in the Olympics, bouldering is a type of climbing, in which you climb without ropes or a harness on walls up to 4.5 metres tall with ultra-padded crash mats below. You can go bouldering outside on actual boulders (hence the name), but by far the most popular option is at indoor artificial walls. The simplistic nature of bouldering in terms of required equipment and prior knowledge makes it the obvious choice for newcomers.

I first started bouldering in 2018, before the release of ‘Free Solo’ and even back then I noticed a growing buzz. I’d mention in casual conversation to friends, work colleagues etc that I’d been climbing, occasionally getting replies like “ah cool, I know a guy who knows a guy that does that”. Fast forward to 2021, 3 years into my life as a budding boulderer (more like 18 months, thanks a lot covid) and every single person I speak to seems to have tried it at least once!

For the remaining 4 people left in the country who haven’t tried it yet and have some reservations, I’ll attempt to clear up a few things.

“Oh I hate the gym, I definitely won’t be strong enough for bouldering.”

I spent my late teens and early twenties as a self-confessed iron pumping gym monkey. Last week alone, I was outclimbed on more than one route by both a 73-year-old man and an 11-year-old child. Technique reigns supreme over strength when it comes to bouldering. Think of it less like Sylvester Stallone leaping off a rooftop for a helicopter and more like a graceful, chalk covered dance a few feet off the floor.

“I’m way too busy to start a new hobby.”

Bouldering really is a fantastic ‘cover all’ when it comes to ticking off things to improve your life. Not only will it help you to build functional strength and flexibility, climbing in general is an excellent method for entering a meditative ‘flow’ state. Anybody who has tried meditation knows how rewarding- yet bloody difficult(!)- it can be. I challenge anybody to try and think about stressful work emails or having to cook dinner tonight while you’re concentrating on both physical and mental gymnastics to figure out how to contort your body to the top of the wall. Along with its benefits on the body and the mind, bouldering is a great opportunity to catch up with friends. The communal aspect to solving problems, "ooo I put my left foot up first, then switch my hands, got it!" can help you to interact with friends in a whole new way- that thankfully doesn’t require anybody to stare at a screen for a few hours. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed juggling gym, yoga, meditation and maintaining friendships, bouldering could be your saving grace!

“I’m self-conscious when it comes to exercising.”

This is a common problem that sadly a lot of people face. Bouldering offers a friendly, laid-back environment to help boost your fitness and get your body moving- often in ways it hasn’t moved since you were a kid! Some routes will have you panting and sweating, others have a surprisingly ‘nice’ and ‘flowy’ feel to them that are kinder on the fingers and lungs. Route setters are experts at setting bouldering challenges for all conceivable height, ability, and fitness levels. Every climbing centre I’ve ever been to has had warm, supportive staff that often ask things like “which problem are you working on today?... Ah yeah that’s a fiddly one isn’t it! Best of luck, I’m here if you need any advice.” If the classic gym, spin class or running doesn’t really do it for you, hopefully solving problems on the wall with friends, listening to funky background music and sipping a coffee might be a more enjoyable way to get your exercise in.

Hopefully this has inspired you to try bouldering for the first time, or even dust off your shoes and get back into it. Either way, from the eager beginners to the steely veterans and everybody in between, I’ll see you all on the wall!

For those of you in the Chester area:

The Boulder Hut (where I climb):

Written by Dan Roberts

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