Source: North Wales Bouldering, Simon Panton while they look the same, they are very different. Sometimes they might have Fb, Font or bloc (French for boulder) in front of them, but not always. There is also the American V system, which is much simpler as it runs from V0, V1, V2 to V15. There is also the B system, which is much like the V system. Like sport grades, boulder grades account for technicality, pumpiness or power, although problems that are very high up sometimes have slightly higher grades.

These are the three most basic types of grades that you will meet as a novice to the outdoors. Try not to be too daunted or guided by them. While they seem complicated and easily confused to begin with, experience will soon begin to make sense of them, and before you know it, you will easily tell your sport 6as from your Font 6as from your technical 6as.

At every stage in your climbing career you will benefit from bouldering. Your body learns a broadening repertoire of muscular adjustments and the mind adjusts to noticing opportunities for movement and recovery.

Bouldering outside requires no extra equipment to that used in a wall, but bouldering pads are becoming increasingly popular. They absorb some of the impact force when landed on, and so can reduce both ground erosion and the likelihood of sustaining an injury when falling off.


A lot of vegetation on boulders is heather and grass, but some venues are home to less common species. There is always a chance that a site with protected plants may be developed, and for this reason you should not do any gardening. Vegetation gets eroded by climbers wandering between boulders and falling off problems, and many popular venues have suffered greatly. Pads can prevent further

Using a bouldering pad Photo - Alex Messenger



Conservation issues

use a nylon brush if cleaning holds

• Use bouldering pads to reduce ground erosion and vegetation damage

• Clean and dry your footwear to reduce rock damage

brush away any excessive build up

• Dry wet holds with a towel or wait until a windy day - no blowtorching please

• Remove carpet patches or towels -they kill off vegetation and create a mess

• Take all litter home and follow the Countryside Code

• Leave vegetation in place - no gardening please

If a particular venue is becoming damaged, some well thought out management techniques can maintain access and prevent further erosion. The landowner will need consulting; this could be an individual or organisation such as the National Trust. If the welfare of rare plants or animals is an issue then the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature or Scottish Natural Heritage may be involved. Finally, many of our popular climbing venues are in National Parks, whose authorities oversee the recreational management of these scenic areas. When there is an access issue the BMC actively negotiate to protect the interests of climbers.

Happy landings

Landing safely from a boulder problem is quite an art. Try to anticipate the likely flight path resultant from failure, not always easy, but with growing experience you should be able to work out suitable padding arrangements. It is worth remembering that whilst a high fall onto

Spotten Bouldern
Attentive spotting Photo - Alex Messenger

a flat padded surface can be fine, a low level slip onto uneven ground could result in serious injuries.

The main area where even well seasoned boulderers tend to fail is in the basic act of spotting - guiding a falling climber to a landing zone by supporting their back. Spotting is not catching! Consider a problem where a fall may result in your partner tumbling backwards. With your hands close to their back they will hardly accelerate before you can guide them. Conversely, even if only a metre or so above you, they will accelerate a great deal, possibly injuring you. This does not mean that on high problems you can simply stand around with hands in pockets; a spectator as your partner lands in a crumpled heap! You can still do a great deal to guide them into the padded area, keeping them in an upright position if possible, but be careful not to get injured yourself. Remember that just as boulderers fall off without warning, so holds can break unexpectedly - pay attention all the time.

You should not underestimate the potential violence of a fall, even from a low position. A strong climber exploding backwards from a bunched up position will do so with a terrific amount of force, and as a responsible spotter you must ensure that you are best prepared to deal with this eventuality. A pad will absorb some of the impact force in these situations and so can reduce the likelihood of injury -but only if landed on. As pads protect vegetation you should try to stand on one when spotting.

Bouldering is a great group activity. You can learn from watching others, experimenting with new techniques as you go. With more pads and people, the safety margins increase, useful when spotting those high scary problems.

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