There’s an important factor that beginning boulder climbers should remember as they are learning the ropes of the sport: They have no ropes.
As a result, the mental aspect is as crucial as the physical.
“You’re doing a lot of problem solving, actually,” said Chris Curry, operations manager at the Chambers Purely Boulders Climbing Gym, 1165 Chambers Road in Columbus, north of Grandview Heights. “Without a rope or harness, you’re relying on the grip you’ve got on the handhold and the strength of your legs to keep you up there.
“You have to manage your time, because the more time you’re taking going up the wall, the more physical straining you’re doing. Even the strongest people can only stay up so long.”
Boulder climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the participant does not use a rope.
The activity usually is practiced on large natural boulders or artificial boulder walls in gyms and at outdoor facilities.
Chambers Purely Boulders is Vertical Adventures’ third indoor climbing facility in central Ohio. The company’s first location is off Busch Boulevard in Northland and opened in 1994; a larger “training center” opened in 2015 just down the road from the original location.
But the third facility is the company’s first to focus on boulder climbing.
“The climbs are typically fairly short because you’re propelling yourself up the side of the wall yourself,” Curry said. “It depends on the route you’re taking, but most climbs up our (40-foot) wall can take a minute to a minute and a half.”
Rock climbing in general and boulder climbing in particular are becoming increasingly popular, he said.
“People see spectacular rock climbs on TV and it’s something they would love to try,” Curry said. “Boulder climbing makes it more accessible for the average person.”
Given the short duration of most indoor boulder climbs, participants complete numerous routes during each session, Curry said.
“We have more than 100 routes you can take,” he said. “The difficulty is determined by several factors, including the movements you’re required to make and how the positioning and size of the holds and steps in the route you’ve chosen. The smaller the hold or the step, the harder a climb.”
Experienced boulder climbers usually start with an easy route as a warmup and make the route increasingly difficult each time they ascend the wall, Curry said.
“For someone coming into the gym for the first time, I would definitely advise doing an easy route first,” he said. “It’s important to get that feeling of success first to help build your confidence.”
Falls happen often, which is why the surfaces below the walls at Chambers are padded.
“The mental aspect of it includes a sense of risk,” Curry said. “As you’re approaching the top of the wall, if you look down, you realize you’re up pretty high.
“You have to face your limiting self-beliefs and break some personal boundaries in rock climbing. There’s definitely some stuff you learn about yourself.”
Bradley Lawrence serves as the head coach for Vertical Adventures’ competitive team, composed of about 35 boys and girls ages 8-18. Participants in a competition are scored based on the difficulty of a route they take to the top of a wall and the time it takes them to finish the climb, Lawrence said.
“The students are learning about themselves and what they can accomplish,” he said. “What I enjoy most is watching them build up their prowess and accomplish things they didn’t think they could. It builds their self-confidence they can apply to any challenge they face in life.”
Brian Douglas, 38, has been boulder climbing for about four years.
“I used to do a lot of mud runs and obstacle courses and there was a lot of climbing involved with that,” said Douglas, a Worthington resident. “The first time I climbed a boulder wall, I was hooked. What I liked about it was that you get to choose the route you’re taking. It’s not a proscribed course. You can make it as easy or hard as you want.
“Boulder climbing is like a physical puzzle you try to master. It’s like a maze.”
That maze offers almost endless ways to challenge oneself, he said.
“It’s fun to come up with a different route up the wall that you haven’t tried before,” Douglas said. “As you keep getting more proficient, you’re always able to find a way to test your limits.”
Granville resident Krista Kramer began rock climbing about 11 years ago when she lived in Canada.
“I enjoy climbing both natural rocks and the indoor climbing walls,” she said. “I like the balance of the physical and mental aspects of climbing. The satisfaction for me comes not only from physically doing it, but from overcoming that fear of the height and route you’re taking.
“I’m testing myself and there’s a mental as well as physical gain to it.”