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Bouldering: bruises and solutions

July 5, 2019

Indoor bouldering is harness-free rock climbing, where the boulders are arranged into ‘problems’ or routes that are rated in levels of difficulty. The problems are usually marked with coloured tape. The walls are less than 6 meters in height, and are meant to increase grip strength, and challenge the climber to think their way to the top. Coulee Climbing in Lethbridge opened almost a year ago and is one such place where you can try your chalk-covered hands at bouldering. 

Best climbing practices include the use of climbing shoes and chalk to improve balance and grip. There are also large mats beneath the walls to prevent injury. On your first visit to a bouldering location, you will be instructed on how to properly ‘fall’ to avoid injury, and by your fifth or sixth visit, you’ll be scaling the walls like Spider-Man.

Bouldering teaches you grit. Once you evaluate your path, you will place your hands and feet in the marked areas and start climbing. At the top, you can let go and fall back into the mat and give your arms and hands a much-needed rest. Randy Prete, owner of Coulee Climbing, says bouldering is great for kids as well. “Most kids expect it to just be easy, and so there’s this try and fail, and a step back to look at it and try again… and after a time, they start to look at everything else in a new perspective… and try something different.”

The sport gives you a sense of accomplishment and confidence. You might start on the easiest sections, but pretty soon you’ll be working your way to the overhangs, horizontals and even upside-down problems. They call them problems, but working your way to a solution is one of the most satisfying things about bouldering. They change the routes often, usually rearranging a fifth of the gym every week, so you’ll never run out of climbs. You may find a couple extra bruises and sore muscles when you’re done, but the effort is well worth the result. 

“We’ve had people, especially kids, who have a mortal fear of heights and won’t go more than a few inches off the ground,” Randy says. “It’s a sense of not being in control [but] by the end of a six week class, they’re at the top of the wall. After another round of classes, it’s like they never had a problem with heights. You can see the change in their personality as well, where they’re timid and shy around the instructors and other people, and they come alive while they’re here. It’s really fun to see.” 

You can drop in to free climb, or join a class. There are also bi-annual competitions held for competitive climbers. The next competition hosted by Coulee Climbing will be held October 19th with the Alberta Climbing Association (ACA). Randy expects there will be approximately 100 competitive athletes and another 75 to 100 recreational climbers.

Coulee Climbing: Indoor Bouldering and Fitness