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BOULDERING INFO
Posted: 09/07/06 Bouldering - International
 
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Bouldering

A climber with a crash pad on the ground.(Saint Just, Cantal, France)
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A climber with a crash pad on the ground.(Saint Just, Cantal, France)

Bouldering is a type of climbing undertaken without a rope and is normally limited in respect to the height the climber ascends the route so that any fall will not risk significant injury. This variation of climbing can be practiced on large boulders, at the base of larger rock faces/climbing routes, in indoor climbing centres, or even on manmade structures (see buildering). Its documented origins may be found in the United Kingdom and France in the last quarter of the 19th century, according to John Gill's website. The British coined the word bouldering at that time. For many years, bouldering was usually practiced as training for climbers, although, in the 1930s and late 1940s, Pierre Allain and his companions enjoyed bouldering for its own sake in Fontainebleau . However, the first climber to actually make bouldering his primary specialty and to advocate its acceptance as a legitimate sport not restricted to a particular area (1950s) was Mr. Gill, an amateur gymnast who found the challenge & movement of bouldering enjoyable. (See his article, The Art of Bouldering, in The Journal of the American Alpine Club, 1969)

Typically bouldering is a more high impact sport focusing on individual moves rather than the endurance required in traditional climbing or sport climbing. Boulder routes are most commonly referred to as problems (another British appellation), because the nature of the climb is often short, curious, and much like problem solving. Sometimes these problems are "eliminates", meaning certain artificial restrictions are imposed. As in other types of climbing there are entire grading systems for bouldering alone. The most commonly used grading systems are the John Sherman V-grade system, beginning at V0 and increasing by integers to a current achievement of V16 (The Wheel of Life by Dai Koyamada in the Grampians, Australia), and the Fontainebleau system which ranges from 1 to 8c+. Both scales are open-ended at the top, and thus the upper grade of these systems increases as boulderers ascend more difficult problems.

To reduce the risk of injury after a fall, climbers rarely go higher than a few meters above the ground (anything over 7 meters is generally considered to be free-soloing although such climbs might also be termed high-ball bouldering problems). They may also put a crash pad/bouldering mat on the ground to break their fall and/or assign a spotter, a person standing on the ground to prevent the climber from landing badly. The spotter generally works to direct 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. Well known areas include Stanage (UK), Dover Island (Canada), Hueco Tanks (Texas), Castle Hill (New Zealand), and Bishop (California) amongst others.

Bouldering is continually gaining in popularity, partly as evidenced by the growth of bouldering areas in indoor climbing gyms and even 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 as adults from their experience with youthful disadvantages such as height and strength.

 

Gear

Chalk
Boulderers use loose, powdered chalk on their hands as a drying agent while climbing. The chalk is stored in a small hand-sized pouch worn on the climber's lower back called a chalk bag. Climbers may, on occasion, mix their chalk with cleaning alcohol, benzine etc. This is to ensure that the climbers hands are not only dry, but that any grease or other impediments to good grip will dissolve in the alcohol and evaporate. However, continued use of this mixture can have adverse effects on the climber's skin. It is therefore not a recommended technique and should only be applied before extremely difficult climbs if at all. John Gill introduced the use of chalk into climbing in the 1950s, in America.
Pads
Boulderers commonly carry a mattress-like object called a crash pad. These are generally 50" x 40" x 3" foam pads with a heavy-duty fabric shell. Crash pads are made to be either rolled or folded in half and worn like a backpack. They are opened and placed at the based of a boulder to cover irregularities in the landing and provide some cushion if the climber falls. Often a group of climbers will boulder together, each carrying his or her own crash pad. When using many crash pads together, the landing zones are larger and safer. A crash pad is not a substitute for a human spotter to protect a climber in a fall, and crash pads cannot eliminate all risk of injury. The first commercial pads, designed by John Sherman and others, appeared in the early 1990s.
Ropes
Ropes are generally not used in bouldering these days. However, top-ropes were used prior to the introduction of bouldering pads on particularly high or dangerous boulder problems, and are still occasionally used to practice such moves; however, many boulderers now consider this to be poor form.
Shoes
While shoes designed for technical climbing are not required to participate in bouldering, they can offer the climber a distinct advantage. A large variety of climbing shoes are now available from climbing shops and online. All such shoes incorporate "sticky" rubber soles - first produced by Boreal in the 1970s. Prior to that time, normal black rubber had been used for many years.
Accessories
Often, a toothbrush is carried while bouldering. This can be used to "dust" off any grime that is on the rock. The toothbrush comes in handy on very crimpy small holds. Wet holds can be easily dried up with the use of chalk and a toothbrush. However, in many regions, boulderers have come into conflict with other climbers and with conservationists due to problems with over-use of chalk, which leaves white marks and changes the acidity of the rock; and with over-brushing, which can lead to serious erosion of certain rock types in particular.
White sports tape is useful for covering cuts or blisters, as repeated attempts on a particularly sharp problem can injure the climber's hands in the same places.
Climbing Walls
Climbers often build small climbing walls to practice their technique. Bouldering can also be practiced at the base of full scale climbing walls; and short structures designed specifically for bouldering can be found in many commercial climbing gyms.
 
   
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