The Magic of Bouldering

Sportsmanship in Solitude

4 min read by Dmitri. Published in Essays, Stories.
Climbing shoes and a chalk bag, bouldering essentials. The climbing wall is in the background. Shot with Canon QL25 on Fujicolor 200.

I get my exercise at a small climbing gym in Chiang Mai. Here there are only three: a fairly large one with thirty-foot-high climbs, a small practice wall (a “bonus” built for the regular gym) and CMRCA — my spot.

Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures seems to make most of its profit from guiding climbers to the Crazy Horse Buttress, which features tons of lead lines and is only about an hour drive from the city. There are a few members like myself who come to the gym regularly, though most people I meet are either occasional visitors or passers-by.

I’ve been fascinated with the mountains and the idea of rock climbing ever since seeing Cliffhanger movie back in the ‘90s. Though the first experience of learning and understanding the sport came to be at Joe Rockhead’s gym in Toronto decades later. The above-mentioned movie impressed onto me that climbing is a highly adventurous, dangerous, and romantic sport — though the reasons why I love doing it now are different.

Fingerboard; scary but fun: the idea is to only use one’s fingers to get to the top of this wooden construction, which is about 7 degrees inclined. Shot with Canon QL25 on Fujicolor 200 film.

Rock climbing, for the most part, is a team sport. There needs to be a lead person to hold the rope on the other end. Perhaps not in the same sense as hockey, though scaling anything over fifteen feet high without a partner isn’t safe. Being a sport generally known for ascending tall formations it’s characterized by a pair of people who put safety into each others’ hands. It gets more complicated when done outdoors with transport, gear, and supplies.

Bouldering, as compared to lead-style climbing, may not look as daring, does not require a partner. The safety, in this case, is a soft crash pad and a maximum height of twenty feet. There is also no need for a harness, ropes, and other equipment. Being a fairly busy and relatively introverted person, who prefers sports which can be practised with minimal preparation and on one’s own (like skateboarding) bouldering turned out to be a wonderful personal choice.

A tiny kitten visits the gym once in a while. Shot with Canon QL25 on Kodak UltraMax 400 film.

At the gym I would arrive as early as possible, often getting the entire space to myself. A few quick stretches later I would dip my hands into chalk and approach what I consider easy climbs, gradually increasing my routes in difficulty. There is no set routine besides aiming to ascend new grades, moving around the wall and having fun. Which I certainly do.

There’s something magical in turning an exercise routine into a primal set of goals, all of which are composed of getting to the top via challenging gripping, flexing, and movement techniques. Liberated from preparation and gear. Hanging upside-down, clinging with just fingertips as the core pushes the body closer to the surface, forcing the toes of the rubber-fitted shoes deeper into an inch-sized bump on the wall.

Again and again.