Bouldering Techniques for Beginners
Bouldering, or climbing short, difficult routes without a rope to stop your fall, reduces climbing to nothing but you, the rock, and the moves -- plus a crash pad below you, and hopefully a buddy or two to help guide you into the crash pad if you fall. Although expert climbers push their limits on hard, overhanging boulder problems, bouldering is also an excellent way for beginners to master the most basic of climbing techniques.
Climbers often boulder in groups, cheering each other on as they tackle hard problems. You can make a useful contribution, even as a beginner, by learning how to spot well. As a spotter -- or sometimes one of several spotters -- you stand near but not directly underneath the climber, around the edges of the crash pad or landing area. Don't try to actually catch him if he falls; you'd both get hurt. Instead keep both hands up, ready to make contact just above his hips, and guide him toward a safe landing on the crash pad.
Some fundamental techniques apply to any climbing style, whether you're bouldering or climbing with a rope. Always place your big toe -- or either side of your climbing shoe near the big toe -- on holds instead of your instep. Keep your arms straight whenever possible, and use them for balance and to support the bulk of your body weight on your feet and legs. Finally, keep your hips as close to the wall as possible. This makes it easier to support yourself with your lower body, which in turn conserves your upper-body strength for more difficult moves.
Sidepulls and Underclings
Even on beginner boulder problems, you'll encounter a few holds you can't hang straight down from. With sidepulls -- where the opening you'd normally hold onto is on the side of the hold, pointing to the side -- keep your arm straight as you wrap your fingers around the side of the hold, leaning your hips in the opposite direction and close against the wall. For underclings -- where the opening is on the bottom of the hold, facing down -- bring your feet up high, grasp the hold underhand, and keep your arms straight as you push up with your feet, keeping your hips close against the wall.
Footwork and Body Movement
Quiet, precise footwork is the hallmark of an experienced climber in any style. Practice placing your feet quietly and deliberately as you work each problem. Also, practice shifting your weight between your feet, and shifting your body weight as fluidly as possible as you hold onto the wall. Smooth movements make it easier to maintain your balance, and making them a habit now will serve you well if you continue on to harder bouldering problems. Above all, remember to relax and breathe -- that alone can bump your bouldering abilities up a grade or two.
Lisa Maloney is a travel and outdoors writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. She's written four outdoors and travel guidebooks, including the award-winning "Moon Alaska," and regularly contributes to local and national publications. She also has a background in personal training, with more than 6,000 hours of hands-on experience.