Enthusiasts say bouldering rocks

Indoor gyms make the sport more accessible to all

Posted 5/14/19

Being a climber for more than half his life, Kegan Minock has never heard an excuse that he thinks should deter someone from trying bouldering. It doesn’t matter your age or weight, he said, or …

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Enthusiasts say bouldering rocks

Indoor gyms make the sport more accessible to all

Posted

Being a climber for more than half his life, Kegan Minock has never heard an excuse that he thinks should deter someone from trying bouldering.

It doesn’t matter your age or weight, he said, or even if you have a fear of heights.

“Often, when people think of rock climbing, they think of going really high,” Minock said. “With bouldering, you’re not super high off the ground. But it’s just as challenging.”

Minock, 27, general manager of ROCK’n & JAM’n gym in Centennial — ROCK’n & JAM’n also has a location in Thornton — has been climbing for 16 years and started focusing on bouldering about a decade ago.

“To me, it’s more fun,” Minock said, adding he enjoys the gymnastics skills required and the problem-solving aspect of it. “It’s physical, but also mentally challenging.”

In his blog written to serve as a beginner’s guide to bouldering, Willis Kuelthau, editor and climbing gear tester for 99Boulders.com, defines bouldering as “climbs that are protected by (landing/crash) pads rather than ropes.” He adds that bouldering is the physical act of completing “relatively short sequences that prioritize power and technique over long-term endurance.”

A “boulder problem” is the common term for the climbing challenge, or route. It is “the sequence of holds (which have) a start point and end point,” Kuelthau wrote. Boulder problems have “various levels of difficulty.”

Scott Rennack, marketing manager for The Spot Bouldering Gym, believes the term is coined boulder problems because of the problem-solving skills required to complete them.

“You have to figure them out,” he said. “You can try a move 20 or 30 times before you figure it out. Even a hundred times isn’t that uncommon.”

Rennack, 42, was introduced to climbing as a youth in the Boy Scouts, and “after 25 years, I’ve tried just about everything,” he said. Rennack was involved with starting the American Bouldering Series in 1998 — a competition that has since merged with USA Climbing and is now known as USA Climbing’s Bouldering Open National Championships. It took place this year on Feb. 1 and 2 in Redmond, Oregon. National championship titles went to Ashima Shiraishi for women and Sean Bailey for men.

“Colorado has kind of always been in the center of the bouldering world,” Rennack said. And The Spot can also claim it contributed to the history, he added.

The Spot’s Boulder location, which opened in 2002, was the first bouldering-only gym to open in Colorado. It “missed the title for all of the U.S. by about two months,” Rennack said. “A place in Salt Lake City opened just before (The Spot) did.”

Just south of downtown, The Spot Denver opened on April 18.

Though English mountaineer Oscar Eckenstein, circa 1880s, and French alpinist Pierre Allain, in the 1930s and 1940s, preceded him, many climbers point to John Gill as the father of modern bouldering.

According to Gill’s website, www.johngill.net, he “initiated a gymnastic approach to short rock climbs, specifically bouldering, in America in the 1950s.” Gill’s article “The Art of Bouldering,” published in the American Alpine Club Journal in 1969, “encouraged the recognition of bouldering as an authentic form of climbing,” states Gill’s website.

According to an article by Alex Beale, owner and editor of 99Boulders.com, John “Verm” Sherman created the V Scale — now the standard grading scale for the boulder problems in the U.S. — in the late 1980s while climbing in Hueco Tanks, Texas.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing’s (IFSC) website states that climbing competitions largely began in Europe in the 1980s. The site states that “in 1991, the first World Championship was organized in Frankfurt, Germany,” and bouldering “was officially introduced as a new climbing discipline” in 1998.

MORE: 2019 IFSC Climbing Worldcup to take place this June in Vail

As fun as bouldering may be, Rennack would remind people that there are dangers that can come with it — injuries due to not knowing how to fall properly or adverse outdoor elements, such as no padded landing spots.

Luckily, bouldering is a “very social” sport, said Hilary Harris, founder and co-owner of EVO Rock + Fitness in Louisville.

“Everyone gets to try” the boulder problem, she said, “and everyone cheers each other on.”

Minock “absolutely recommends” that anyone going bouldering outdoors for the first time should go with someone who has some experience with the sport. But, he said, it’s probably best for people to start out in a gym to get a foundation for bouldering, then transition to the outdoors.

Rennack agreed. An indoor gym is a controlled environment and it’s “cactus-free, guaranteed.”

In addition, many gyms offer introductory clinics and/or safety briefings.

Coloradoans in general are enthusiastic about the outdoors, Minock said. “People come from all over the world to test out what we have to offer,” he added. “We (indoor climbing gyms) try to bring that experience to everyone. But it doesn’t matter if you’re bouldering indoors or outdoors, as long as you’re just enjoying the climb.”

One reason indoor gyms are becoming more popular may be because they are making bouldering more accessible to everyone, Harris said.

Bouldering gyms “are popping up all over the country,” Harris said, “especially in urban areas where people don’t have access to the outdoors.”

Harris, 51, has been climbing for more than 30 years. She did some competitive climbing while living in Europe in the early 1990s, but it was her background as an architect — along with her love of the sport — that inspired her to open EVO Rock + Fitness. EVO Bouldering Golden, which will be a bouldering-only gym expected to open in the winter of 2020, will be the fourth EVO gym in the U.S.

“Climbing is a canvas to let people discover their full potential,” Harris said. “You have to face challenges that you think are impossible, but you work it out, move by move.”

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