IDAHO FALLS — About 60 years ago, a climber was someone who climbed most any kind of rock or mountain — outside. In today’s world of climbing, specialization has taken hold and someone can legitimately claim to be a climber and never scale anything higher than a one-story house — inside.
Boulderers are sometimes called pebble pinchers. With little more than a pair of sticky-rubber shoes, a chalk bag and a crash pad, they spend hours working a few uber-hard moves on a rock wall — in or out of doors — no taller than your ceiling, falling over and over again, until they reach the top. Their forearms are big, their grip is like pliers and chalk dust is on everything.
The popularity of bouldering is evident, with some new climbing gyms devoted only to the sport, ignoring ropes and tall walls.
In 2020, bouldering will be one of the disciplines to win a medal at the Summer Olympics. We asked three local boulderers about the sport:
Cami Nicoll, 18, Rexburg
When did you start bouldering? I have been climbing my whole life, but I didn’t really get into bouldering until about 2 years ago.
What attracted you to it? I really liked the idea of not being connected to anything while I’m climbing and it was a great way to become a stronger climber.
Where is your favorite place to boulder? I think my favorite place to boulder would have to be The Edge (Climbing and Fitness in Idaho Falls). They always have cool new routes, and the setters do a great job.
Do you have a favorite place to boulder outside? Not really. If there are climbable rocks, it’s a new favorite place.
What kinds of injuries have you had because of bouldering? How did it happen? Luckily, I haven’t had any bad injuries, just a bunch of flappers (torn skin) and a few sprung ankles from falling.
Bouldering is often tied to competitions. What competitions have you done? I’ve competed in the Cutting Edge Boulder Comp, Edge Boulder Bash, Rexburg Rock Rally, Boulder League and few others I don’t remember the names of.
What do you like about competitive climbing? I have always been a very competitive person, so I love competitions. Climbing competitions are always different from other competitions because everyone is friendly and willing to offer beta (route information) and help you with problems you are struggling with, even if you are competing against them.
Bouldering is one of the three disciplines of the upcoming 2020 Olympics along with lead climbing and speed climbing. How do you think the Olympics will affect rock climbing in general and bouldering specifically? The climbing community will grow greatly. I think bouldering will become a much more popular sport and the world will be opened to how impressive and amazing this sport is to watch and do.
What advice would you give a beginning boulderer? Don’t be afraid to fail or fall. Not everything is going to work so just keep trying and don’t be afraid to try new beta.
Gregor Peirce, 27, Rexburg
When did you start bouldering? I believe it was around 2002 when I first went to the climbing gym with my dad and brothers.
What attracted you to it? Oddly, I didn’t like climbing at first. I literally cried my way up a 5.6 top rope. It was only after a few years and with the examples of my older brothers that I began to like bouldering.
Where is your favorite place to boulder? My favorite places to boulder in the gym are the Momentum gyms in Salt Lake City and of course The Edge Climbing Gym.
Do you have a favorite place to boulder outside? Outside, my three favorite places are Joe’s Valley, Yosemite and the Buttermilks in Bishop, Calif.
What kinds of injuries have you had because of bouldering? Where do I even start? I’ve injured both middle fingers and both ring fingers multiple times. I’ve also had elbow tendonitis and shoulder impingements. I’m starting to get old now so I always feel injured! Just kidding. I feel like with more injuries it gets easier to listen to my body and know where to draw the line instead of pushing it until I injure myself again. All of my injuries have been from overtraining and bouldering when I should have been resting. Eat healthy, drink lots of water and make sure you’re getting enough sleep and training when you are fresh, and you will avoid most injuries.
Bouldering often is tied to competitions. What competitions have you done? I used to do youth competitions. When I was 15, I won Youth B Bouldering Nationals in Baltimore, Maryland, and I won again at 17 at the Spot bouldering gym in Colorado. I also made Open Finals at nationals when I was 16 and since then a few local comps, but nothing big.
What do you like about competitive climbing? I like the feeling I get in comps where I feel like the crowd is behind me. It makes me feel light and I think the pressure helps. My worst nightmare though is slabs in comps!
Bouldering is one of the three disciplines of the upcoming 2020 summer Olympics along with lead climbing and speed climbing. How do you think the Olympics will affect rock climbing in general and bouldering specifically? I think the Olympics is great and there will be a lot more serious kids getting strong in the gym because if it. Climbing is going to grow a lot in the next few years.
What advice would you give a beginning boulderer? I would say you should be disciplined. Don’t climb too much. Climbers never have the issue of not being psyched. Controlling your psych and calling it quits when you feel too fatigued is important to avoid injuries that will keep you out. Also, learn good technique before you get too strong.
Jeremy Shive, 43, Idaho Falls
When did you start bouldering? I spent well over a decade in Pocatello. I would occasionally boulder outside at Ross Park in Pocatello when I first started climbing over 15 years ago. It was an easy way to get in a quick workout after class or work, especially when I couldn’t round up a partner to climb routes. I attended Idaho State University, and once the climbing wall opened on campus, I would boulder regularly as a warmup before roped climbing.
What attracted you to it? What attracts me to bouldering is the process of figuring out beta and solving problems that require the mastery of different techniques and movements. Bouldering can force a climber to perform powerful and acrobatic moves that may be less common on routes within their range of ability. While bouldering isn’t necessarily a solo activity, I’ve spent many enjoyable days outside working on projects alone when my climbing partners were busy.
Where is your favorite place to boulder? Locally, my favorite place to boulder is Massacre Rocks State Park. There are lots of great problems of all grades and styles and other climbers are few and far between. Joe’s Valley, Utah, is my overall favorite place to boulder outside. Joe’s Valley is comprised of gorgeous tan and black sandstone boulders that could keep most climbers busy for a lifetime. Although Joe’s has become increasingly popular, there is still free primitive camping and the boulders are distributed over a large enough area that it’s easy to avoid the more popular crowded spots and find some solitude.
What kinds of injuries have you had because of bouldering? I haven’t experienced any serious injuries bouldering other than some sore tendons in my fingers on occasion. But if you warm-up properly and ease into your projects, those type of injuries can generally be avoided.
Bouldering often is tied to competitions. What competitions have you done? I wouldn’t consider myself a competition climber although I have competed in a couple of bouldering comps and had a lot of fun. When I lived in Bozeman, Mont., about 10 years ago I competed in my first bouldering competition at the Spire Climbing Center. I entered with no expectations and ended up winning my division and took home my first bouldering pad as a prize. Since then I’ve only competed in one other bouldering competition here in Idaho Falls at the Edge Climbing Gym last year. The competition atmosphere I experienced was friendly and supportive rather than competitive as one would assume. I think competitions are good for growing the sport and encourages kids to it get involved at a younger age. For me personally, being outside and getting to travel to different parts of the country is what motivates me the most.
Bouldering is one of the three disciplines of the upcoming 2020 summer Olympics along with lead climbing and speed climbing. How do you think the Olympics will affect rock climbing in general and bouldering specifically? I have mixed feelings about climbing in the Olympics. It will clearly expose the sport to the general public who may be unfamiliar with competition climbing, and could certainly help the industry grow. However, it’s already fairly common to see examples of abuse and neglect to our climbing resources and damage to other natural resources at popular climbing areas. If the sport is expected to become more mainstream, there needs to be a concerted effort to educate new climbers who started in the gym about the environmental impacts and access issues they may face when transitioning to outdoor climbing.
What advice would you give a beginning boulderer? The advice I would give someone just starting to boulder is: Simply have fun and enjoy your time outside with friends. Bouldering can be both physically and mentally challenging and sometimes progress can be slow and setbacks are normal. Don’t get too hung up on (difficulty) grades and create additional pressure that detracts from the overall experience.