The benefits of bouldering
How bouldering strengthens your body and your confidence, plus four steps to help you get climbing
Rock climbing found me in the spring of 2001. I was drawn to the sense of accomplishment from finishing a route, and got hooked on learning how to balance my way up a rock face. Eventually, I switched from scaling cliffs to “bouldering”—climbing without a rope on large rocks that average 4.5 metres in height.
After saving up for a few years, I left my job as a business analyst in Toronto four years ago to camp and climb boulders for six months by myself in 15 locations throughout the United States. (Sounds crazy, but my dream was to live only to climb.) While travelling, I learned that it’s not about where you climb, or the weather that day—it’s about the company you keep while climbing.
It’s also when I discovered the positive energy of bouldering with a group of women. On the road I met Meghan Beriault. Since then, she’s introduced me to the boulders in Squamish, B.C., near where I now live. She and I joke that we’re each other’s stunt doubles: We’re the same height and reach. If I see Meg complete a move, I know I’m physically capable of doing it, too. And we use that to egg each other on: “C’mon, if I can do it, you can do it!”
When I’m climbing at my limit—almost falling off with each move—bouldering is scary, despite the high-density foam pads we lay out to cushion us if we fall. But Meg always supports me, not only by giving me advice on how to climb, but also by truly believing in me. I’ve completed some of my most challenging ascents with her.
Bouldering requires strength, balance and flexibility, as the climbs are often short but steep. Each route to the top is called a “problem,” and we “solve” the problem by pushing our limits until we can’t hold on. Each person carries a pad, so the more people in the group, the softer the landing.
Every bouldering move is so powerful, it’s important to rest between attempts. During these rests, I’ve learned to truly relax—chatting and laughing with my girlfriends. It feels like we’re out for coffee, though we’re sitting on the ground. We share ways to solve the problem and commiserate about the changes we’ve made in our lives to make time for bouldering. I feel understood by women who are also balancing careers with a love of falling off rocks.
Jessica Evans is an information technology project manager in Vancouver.
4 ways to start bouldering
Bouldering is a great way to get into rock climbing because you only need climbing shoes and a chalk bag.
1. First time? Visit your local bouldering (or climbing) gym and rent gear.
2. Enrol in basic lessons to learn motion and balance.
3. Talk with other climbers as you rest between tries. At first you may feel comfortable only with other beginners, but many experienced climbers are eager to share their passion.
4. Purchase a guidebook for the closest outdoor bouldering area (or go to rockclimbing.com and click on Routes). Look for beginner-grade climbs.
This article was originally titled "These gals really rock!" in the September 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.