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"I think I just really wanted that last hold really bad"
March 24, 2012 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Bouldering is a climbing sport that requires no rope, only grip strength, chalk, a crash mat, and nerve.

In February, the American Bouldering Series (ABS) 2012 National Championship was held in Colorado Springs, CO, USA.

Highlights from the 2012 ABS Women's National Championship. Highlights from the 2012 ABS Men's National Championship.

Highlights from the 2012 ABS Youth National Championship. More

Glossary of rock climbing terms, in case you get lost in the jargon.

Bouldering originated in Europe, as a training method and sport undertaken by mountaineers. Groups of holds are referred to as 'problems', for obvious reasons.

Of course, you don't have to be in the wilderness or a gym to climb...
posted by the man of twists and turns (25 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or, as climbers like to call it, "pebble wrestling".
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


John Gill, the father of bouldering, is also a mathematician. Of the relation between the two, he says:

“One of the objectives for both is to achieve an interesting result—ideally an unexpected result—in an elegant fashion, with a smooth flow, using some unexpected simplicity. There is the question of style.” But beyond this, he adds, “to be a boulderer or a research mathematician you have to have this natural inclination to dig for something, a strong, completely inner motivation to be on the frontier, to discover things. The reward, in both activities, is almost-continual enlightenment, and that’s a great feeling.”

From a (self-link) article I wrote about the rhetorical relationship between mathematics and mountain-climbing in The Believer many years ago.
posted by escabeche at 8:42 PM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Apart from the actual physical movement involved, for most climbers bouldering isn't much like these competitions. A couple of random examples from my vimeo favourites (there are SO many other great videos out there): it's more like this, at a very high level (Dave Graham is one of the best in the business, and a funny guy too); or like this (the kind of bouldering I was out doing today - a friend of mine made this video).
posted by Flashman at 9:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Those highlight reels could be so much more interesting. It's just random people making moves on wall, i don't know who anyone is or what's going on. All they have to do is be like "ok, were down to x,y,z, this is critical lets see what happens", then follow with some commentary. Why on earth did they make something so unwatchable.

Or maybe i'm just old.
posted by jonclegg at 9:10 PM on March 24, 2012


There's one big difference between bouldering and getting a math result. Bouldering generally you finish in a small number of tries; a problem at the gym may only be up for a few weeks, and generally if you're climbing withing your range you'll get it within the first few days you work on it. I'm a physicist, not a mathematician, but even so- I sure as heck don't finish a project for work in anything like that time scale.

This is why climbing is such a great hobby for math+science researchers- it's such a great feeling to actually *finish* something.
posted by nat at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or, as climbers like to call it, "pebble wrestling".
I prefer "low-altitude siege climbing."
posted by lost_cause at 10:04 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


John Gill, previously. Here's an awesome old video of another bolderding legend, John Sherman, on the World's Best Boulder Problem, the 45-Degree Wall in Hueco Tanks, Texas. I tell people that I would give up any rock climbing experience I've ever had if I could just once dunk a basketball. But that's not true. I wouldn't trade the day I sent the 45-degree wall for anything.
posted by lost_cause at 11:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Bouldering generally you finish in a small number of tries"

Indoors perhaps. I've been working a famous traverse in Joshua Tree called Gunsmoke for over a decade now. I'll probably never get it in one go, though, since bouldering scares the heck out of me. Doesn't really make sense to me. I never feel good until I've got a few pieces of protection between me and bad news and if I go ropeless it's on easy stuff. Doing really hard moves without protection? Well lets just say I know far more climbers who got hurt and quit after getting hurt bouldering than climbing.
posted by Manjusri at 11:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Getting down... not in a James Brown sense.... would be fairly onerous, also. I've had a few goes at climbing and realised I don't have one billionth the nerve, even with ropes attached - but coming down when you can't see your footing and your head's at the other end of your body, I found to be even more difficult.
posted by a non e mouse at 11:40 PM on March 24, 2012


There is nothing wrong with climbing a bolder using a rope!
posted by jeffburdges at 12:19 AM on March 25, 2012


If this post is supposed to be about bouldering and not just this ABS-competion-climbing-on-plastic abomination, then we need more real rock climbing on real rocks: super-badass Lynn Hill stylin' Midnight Lightning in Yosemite, and just for y'all, my man Jut crushing a highball slab here in town.
posted by lost_cause at 1:18 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


real rock climbing on real rocks
Both my brothers are keen climbers and I recall many a Sunday as a youth up on some windswept outcrop in the Pennines (occasionally the craggy bits of Scotland and Wales!) watching them do something impressive while I tooled about on the Fisher Price version. Good days!
posted by Abiezer at 1:46 AM on March 25, 2012


From a (self-link) article I wrote about the rhetorical relationship between mathematics and mountain-climbing in The Believer many years ago.

Er, and also from "Eiger Dreams", published ~7 years prior? In fact, what is original writing in that article? Your dot notation?
posted by alex_skazat at 2:21 AM on March 25, 2012


When I was a teenager I was a competitive climber for a while, and then one day while I was setting an anchor for a n00b top-rope trip, someone walked by down below and stole my entire rack, and it so deflated me that I never got back into it. In my defense, I'd poured every cent I had into that rack for about 2-3 years, which wasn't a LOT as a 14-17 year old, but it meant a lot at the time. Especially because I had just, just, just purchased my first high-end seat harness.

I think I'll start my son when he's about 5 or so, though.

And yes, as a wilderness first responder, I helped a lot more boulder-ers than climbers after they'd hurt themselves.
posted by TomMelee at 6:45 AM on March 25, 2012


And yes, as a wilderness first responder, I helped a lot more boulder-ers than climbers after they'd hurt themselves.

That doesn't surprise me. It's so easy to be playing around, and all of a sudden realize that you are a lot further off the ground than you want to be falling, or that you are all of a sudden hanging out over jagged rocks below. A few feet makes a big difference.
posted by Forktine at 7:06 AM on March 25, 2012


I wrote an article for the International Herald Tribune about bouldering in the Foret de Fontainebleu, so long ago that it's not on the net.

Lots of different terrain, all strewn with big-ass rocks marked with color-coded easy/medium/hard routes like a ski mountain.

The guide said there was no such thing as falling, just a "retraite dynamique." Some of the guys celebrated the ascent of a particularly large boulder with a bowl of hash.

Vive la France.
posted by Buckley at 7:32 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a very big range in bouldering, from obscenely high should-very-much-be-on-a-rope highballs, to many not-that-far-off-the-ground-but-even-more-difficult routes. Highball climbing is more of a mental challenge; it's about overcoming fear more than tackling the most technically challenging problems.
posted by ThusSpakeZarathustra at 8:06 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some of the guys celebrated the ascent of a particularly large boulder with a bowl of hash.

American or Canadian climbers would never do this.
posted by Flashman at 8:53 AM on March 25, 2012


You know you're a climber if by the end of the video your hands were covered in sweat.
posted by JimmyJames at 11:55 AM on March 25, 2012


I just got back in to bouldering after a three year hiatus and I have to say it is some of the most grueling exercise I've ever done. Seeing people tackle V9's like they're nothing is so inspiring, so thanks for the video links people.
posted by tmt at 4:37 PM on March 25, 2012


super-badass Lynn Hill stylin' Midnight Lightning in Yosemite

Lynn Hill. Siiiiigh (´_`♡ )
posted by krilli at 8:57 PM on March 25, 2012



Some of the guys celebrated the ascent of a particularly large boulder with a bowl of hash.

American or Canadian climbers would never do this.


We generally smoke the hash before the high-ball stuff. Really puts you on point.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 10:58 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


We generally smoke the hash before the high-ball stuff. Really puts you on point.

^ Having lived under the Chief for an entire season, and bouldered there in Squamish for an entire year (2003-2004), I can vouch for this. British Columbia is pure sweet hardcore.
posted by Mike Mongo at 5:13 AM on March 26, 2012


We generally smoke the hash before the high-ball stuff. Really puts you on point.

I was part of a group of people that would do a lot of indoor climbing / bouldering about 10 years ago. It was about four of us - one of who was chronically high beyond high. He wouldn't climb often -- he would watch us struggle with the more difficult routes. After we all failed multiple times, he would get up, and proceed through whatever route tripped is up flawlessly and gracefully. If we asked him how he was doing something, or did anything that made him think about the route, he would inevitably fail.

We called him Zen Climber - He could climb anything as long as he wasn't actively thinking about it.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2012


American or Canadian climbers would never do this.

I was setting this up for somebody else to deliver the punchline, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.
posted by Flashman at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2012


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