There aren't many sports that let you literally climb the walls. But bouldering-which consists of climbers clambering up, across and under rock faces without ropes or harnesses-is one of them. And the sport is gaining a rapid following in Vancouver from both beginner and veteran rock climbers.
"That's what's beautiful about bouldering. It's very accessible to the general public," said Dustin Curtis, a member of the Competition Climbing Canada's national team for bouldering from 2008 to 2011 who moved to Vancouver in the past month. "People can come off the street, grab a pair of shoes and go."
Climbing shoes are the only required equipment, which most indoor facilities rent out, but some climbers also use a chalk bag and chalk to keep their hands dry. Partners are optional, and ropes and harnesses are not used, unlike traditional rock climbing that requires both.
While bouldering can be done indoors in some rock climbing facilities on artificial surfaces or outdoors on boulders and rock faces, indoors can be an easier place to start for beginners, as the coloured, plastic hand-holds are easier to see and grip and thick safety mats are laid out to cushion accidental falls. With outdoor climbing, the type of rock differs so it is harder to find the handholds. Climbers must bring their own safety mats.
Curtis has been bouldering for 12 years, although he says he's seen its popularity rising for a long time.
"Bouldering used to be referred to as just practice climbing. You'd be just practicing for rope climbing. Now it's a separate discipline."
There's no coincidence that Curtis moved to Vancouver this year, the same year the first dedicated climbing gym opened in the city. Called the Hive Climbing Centre, the 10,000-squarefoot., bee-themed facility has 15-foot high walls, no rope climbing sections and a slide that takes climbers down from one of the boulders. Curtis moved here to work as route setter for the gym, and is in charge of setting up routes in the facility, located at 520 Terminal Ave.
Aimee Chan, who has been the manager of the Hive since it opened in March, said the gym's debut is a response to the growing climbing community. Hive clientele includes people from four to over 60 years old, and school groups have come in with kids as young as seven. The indoor gym reflects the variance in skill and has colour-coded routes that are marked for levels of difficulty.
Michelle Radley, a UBC student who is new to bouldering, said a friend introduced her to it and "it really clicked," especially the mental aspect of the sport. "It's all about learning efficiency. You can climb the same route in many different ways, but it's all about finding the easiest way to do it," said Radley.
Curtis said one of the beauties of the sport is that the pros aren't segregated from beginners. "Whatever your skill level is in hockey, when you're beginning, you're not going to play with Wayne Gretzky," he said. "In rock climbing, it could be your first day and you'll still be climbing with some of the best rock climbers in Canada, sharing that facility, that arena, that atmosphere."
OUTDOOR BOULDERING SPOTS
Rich Wheater, who is working on a book about bouldering in Vancouver to be released this summer, suggested five outdoor bouldering sites:
. Pennywise Boulders on Mount Seymour, near Deep Cove
. Cypress Falls Park, West Vancouver
. Godman Creek and Arbutus Grove at Cypress Mountain
. Lighthouse Park, West Vancouver
. Squamish (though not recommended specifically by Wheater, it's a well-known bouldering spot)