Try This: Go Bouldering at a Local Climbing Gym
Even absolute beginners can channel their inner Spider-Man and try this activity. Test your upper body strength and conquer your fear of heights (but without getting too high) at a local climbing gym.
Bouldering at the Calgary Climbing Centre Stronghold location on 15th Avenue N.W.
Photograph by Karin Olafson
What bouldering is all about:
You’ve likely heard of rock climbing. Bouldering is not the same thing.
When rock climbing, you wear a harness, there are ropes for safety and you have a second person belay you as you climb up a really high wall. When bouldering, there is no harness, no belay and not even another person, necessarily.
But that’s okay because you’re not climbing to the same heights. Bouldering walls are different from rock climbing walls. Bouldering walls are usually no more than 20 feet high, so you stay closer to the ground. If you try this outside in the summer, you’d be climbing on boulders or other small rock formations as opposed to steep, rock faces.
Also, when you boulder, the goal isn’t to climb as high as you can. It’s about finishing a route. Each wall will have bouldering problems that climbers will try to tackle. Climbing a problem means that the climber can only use handholds and footholds marked by one colour. That might mean one colour of tape, or some climbing gyms create routes using only one colour of hold.
That’s where things get tricky. Regardless of your height or your age, everyone finishes the set problem by using the same holds. That will force your body to move in a certain way and even force you to take certain risks. And that’s where the thrill of the sport comes from. The difficulty of problems range from easy and suitable for absolute beginners, to the level of surely-only-some-kind-of-mountain-monkey-could-finish-this. You’ll know the difficulty level by the number written on the tape at the beginning of the problem: the lower the number, the easier the problem. (The University of Calgary uses letters — A is the easiest.) What this all means is that bouldering is not just a physical sport. It's a mental workout too.
If you don’t know where to start, consider registering for a bouldering course at one of the local gyms. But, unlike rock climbing, a course isn’t necessary to get started.
While you can come try it out without any previous experience, keep safety in mind. Let the facility staff know you’re new and you’ll get the run-down on how the facility works and things you should keep in mind.
Where to try bouldering:
Adult day pass: $17
There is 5,300 square feet of bouldering here, as well as a cafe, a training wall and a mezzanine. Let them know ahead of time when you are coming for the first time and they'll schedule a Bold Workshop which includes a walkthrough of the basics of boldering. There are also special programs offered here, including summer camps for kids, personalized training programs and advanced training clinics. From 4 to 11 p.m., you can hang out and have a Citizen Brewing Company beer.
5508 1 St. S.E., 403-998-8140, bolderclimbing.com
Adult day pass: $17
The Calgary Climbing Centre (CCC) is the big one: it has four locations across the city including its newest in Rocky Mountain. At each location, the bouldering walls are designed slightly differently and you’ll be able to try out different climbing problems. If you want to take your skills outside, sign up for one of the centre's outdoor courses.
The Rocky Mountain and Stronghold locations both have Climbpark's which include challenges like maze walls and freefall slides. Book a party at one of the Climbpark's or drop in for an hour session ($20).
Hanger, 106, 588 Aero Dr. N.E., 587-230-0189; Stronghold, 140 15 Ave. N.W., 403-276-6484; Chinook, 6, 7130 Fisher Rd. S.E., 403-252-6778; Rocky Mountain, 10721 West Valley Rd. S.W., 587-231-9116, calgaryclimbing.com
Adult day pass: $16
While Crux Climbing and Bouldering is known as being one of the tallest gyms in North America, you don’t need to rope climb to 72-feet to appreciate this venue. Crux has more than 3,000 square feet of bouldering as well as a Bouldering League that runs from mid-January to mid-March. (Remember that if you get really into the sport and want to make things a little more competitive next year.)
1415 28 St. N.E., 403-235-2789, thecruxclimbing.com
Adult day pass: $16
The climbing gym in Canmore’s Elevation Place was designed to make you feel as though you’re climbing outside. There’s lots of natural light and the facility isn’t cramped or crowded. As well as rope climbing, you’ll find a bouldering wall with three distinct sections.
700 Railway Ave., 403-678-8920, canmore.ca
Adult day pass: $10.25
You won’t find the university’s bouldering facility in the same area as its rock climbing wall — bouldering is down the hall from the gymnastics centre. This small space has three different kinds of wall to climb on and is a good place to visit if you’re new to the sport, as the Outdoor Centre offers a beginner bouldering course. If you already know the basics, you can drop-in to try bouldering here, too.
2500 University Dr. N.W., 403-220-5038, ucalgary.ca/outdoorcentre
As well as the cost of admission into a climbing gym, you might need to pay to rent some gear. You’ll need to borrow special climbing shoes if you don’t already have a pair. They’re tight-fitting, rubber-soled shoes that will give you better grip on the wall. Renting a pair of shoes will usually cost you between $5 and $7, depending on the facility.
Depending on how sweaty your palms get, you might also want to rent a chalk bag. This will cost you between $2 and $3, depending on the facility.
Make a note:
Bouldering will dash your dreams of ever becoming a hand model. Your hands will get ripped and calloused, but the more you do it, the tougher your hands will become.
Bouldering can be done solo, but if you’re pretty new to it all, it’s a good idea to climb with a friend. Having a spotter is always a good idea for safety, but as well as that, having someone on the ground means you can get hints if you’re not sure about your next move.
And, on that note, keep in mind that bouldering is a risky sport. Be smart about it and be safe.