Bouldering

I keep reasonably fit, I think. My job in bike retail and repair requires a fair amount of me being on my feet for most of the day and I cycle into work regularly, though not as much as I really should! I’ve tried to do more than that a few times. Gyms don’t really work for me and apart from some recent strength training, we will come back to this, at home, I have never really stuck to any home routines. Last year I got into Bouldering, and I have really taken to it. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to introduce Bouldering to you, and look at why I think it grabbed me so much and why I think it might appeal to those with a boardgaming mindset.

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing. In my case I go to a climbing wall called Eden Rock in Edinburgh, but you can also do this outside. The name comes from the fact that it first evolved as an outside sport where people would climb round large boulders, rather than being attached to a rock wall by a rope. For the purposes of this article I am going to be talking about the activity you will find at climbing walls across the country.

Not all climbing walls will cater to bouldering, but I think most will as the hobby is growing. Those that do all have a fairly similar setup. The wall will have a series of coloured routes and each colour will correspond to a different difficulty of climbing grade, a more universal grading system that is used to describe the difficulties of climbs across the world (there are a couple of different versions of these but you get the idea). This allows new climbers to start off with easier climbs that have very solid hand holds and good surfaces to put your feet on. As you get more confident you will change the colour of climbs you tackle and learn new skills.

Example of 2 different hold difficulties. Purple is the easiest with nice big holds, jugs, to grab onto, green starts to get a bit harder so sometimes has jugs like purple but also starts to get more difficult like the one further down the wall in this picture.

An individual route is made up of several different shapes and sizes of holds and places to put your feet and is essentially a puzzle that you must solve, the aim being to get both your hands on the very last hold of the climb. I think this is where bouldering started to take a hold of me. As I made my way through the harder holds I realised I couldn’t just use my height and throw myself up things. I had to look at the route, have a think about how to use the skills I had to tackle it, consider the different types of holds, and where I might put my feet as I ascended. Sometimes this involved learning a new skill, but once managed that was a new weapon in my arsenal.

Learning new skills and then applying them to different problems, really scratched the part of my brain that games get to as well. There is something very satisfying about learning how to do a particular move, conquering a scary dyno (a move that generally requires leaping from one hold to another) or just learning to trust my feet more. As I progress I have not yet found a skill ceiling, there is always something new to learn and try. You get better at the puzzle each time and that is a really satisfying feeling.

Bouldering really grabbed me, so much so that I found myself doing some strength training at home while Eden Rock was shutdown due to Covid restrictions. This is unprecedented for me and I really stuck at a routine so I didn’t lose as much progress when the centre opened back up. I really felt the itch to make sure I got better at Bouldering, and it felt much like the drive I get when I am playing a game over and over, trying to get better at the strategy each time I play. If you are anything like me, and since you are reading this post you probably are a bit, I think it will appeal to you as well.

The colours at Eden Rock and their associated difficulties

If your local climbing wall is as good as Eden Rock is, you will find that there are loads of routes to be tackled at whatever skill level you are at. Also, at Eden Rock at least, each colour of climb lies over a small range of difficulties, meaning you are learning to tackle the next setup as you make your way through them. To keep things interesting, most walls will have a schedule of changing the routes, called setting. This is taking down old routes and putting up new ones to keep the wall fresh and interesting.

I have no real desire to take my climbing outside, or to try roped climbing. Bouldering requires very little equipment, the most expensive thing you’ll buy being a good pair of climbing shoes. You will need to pay for whatever facility you use of course, but most will take offer a subscription if you really get into it. Any wall offering beginners classes will also likely offer shoe hire, so you can just turn up and get climbing (wear something comfortable!).

I have found Bouldering to be an utterly compelling form of exercise, and I think that is down to the puzzle/game like elements of the activity. It’s so satisfying to finally conquer that route you’ve been working on, then take that knowledge to a harder route and start learning again. If you are looking to get a little fitter, or just wanting an activity to get you out of the house, I thoroughly recommend it.

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Author: Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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