What is bouldering?
Bouldering is climbing shorter routes on lower walls, called ‘problems’, without the use of ropes or a harness. This makes it a very easy way to get into climbing without the necessity to purchase lots of equipment. Bouldering problems can be looked at as a combination of moves, requiring a mixture of technique, strength, balance and a whole lot of problem solving. What makes it really interesting is that every problem will stress a different aspect of your climbing. Often you will have a different solution from other climbers depending on your strengths.
Since no ropes or harnesses are involved, it’s very much a battle between you, the wall and gravity. Thankfully, problems aren’t high enough to be scary, but are high enough to be challenging and stimulating. We take safety in our bouldering area as seriously as we do with our roped areas. The boulder mats are meticulously maintained and replaced in accordance to the guidelines laid out by the ABC.
It’s easy to get into bouldering, which is why it has become so popular. All you need to do is turn up, watch the boulder induction video, answer a few questions and then get climbing! Of course, there are options to book onto an induction session if you want to get off on the right foot, and specific boulder socials to meet new climbers and improve your skills!
It can be a little daunting at first, the idea of climbing without ropes and a harness. However, since the walls are significantly lower and the matting significantly softer, there really is no reason to be intimidated. Of course, any form of climbing has its risks, but everyone who boulders at Red Spider is required to watch our safety induction video before bouldering for the first time, and answer questions to prove their comprehension of the material. This ensures that everyone climbing can do so in the safest manner possible.
The Social & Competition Aspect
One of the major attractions of bouldering is the social aspect. Due to the lower barriers-to-entry in terms of equipment, and the fact you’re not limited to one climber and one belayer per line, people have flocked to bouldering as a more social alternative to the gym. This, coupled with the quick turnaround times between watching and climbing make it an ideal form for larger groups of climbers.
At Red Spider, we run several social sessions, starting from 7pm. Monday is the Mixed Circuit Breakers, Tuesday is Ladies Circuit Breakers, and Fridays is the Youth Social. This is a great opportunity to meet new climbers, which in turn is a fantastic way to develop your skills by learning from others. What’s more, these sessions are free to join (standard entry fee applies), and all socials attendees get a free hot drink at our cafe!
In addition to the socials, on the middle Thursday of each month, we run our monthly boulder competition, starting at 6.30pm and ending at 9.30pm. This is a self-scored competition where you try to ‘top out’ as many problems as possible, scoring according to how many attempts you make before succeeding. Although this is a fun competition, there are prizes to be won, including a cash prize for the winner, and a raffle of competitors to win some great gear!
Route Setting & Grading
The key to a great bouldering location (and climbing in general) is great route setting, done at regular intervals. At Red Spider, we reset on average one boulder area a week. This way, our members are assured of something new every time they visit. What’s more, our route setting team is an enviable collection of the very best setters in the UK.
Grading boulder routes can seem a little arbitrary at times, when you struggle with a problem well below your ‘personal best’. However, with the best setters setting and then rigorously testing new routes, you can be assured grading at Red Spider is as fair and accurate as possible. If a problem is lower grade but sloper-heavy and you’re more of a crimp person, clearly you’re going to find you have to drop a grade or two. The message in essence is, don’t get disheartened!
The grading system at Red Spider is largely based around the V-scale (or Hueco Scale), with some longer routes adopting the French scale. The V or Hueco Scale runs from VB (beginners) through V1-V9, getting harder as the number rises. All routes are clearly labelled, so it’s easy for you to find the routes suitable for your abilities, and maybe try a couple just above.