Finding a Local Bouldering Spot.





Introduction: Finding a Local Bouldering Spot.

About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

Bouldering: climbing on large boulders, either for practice or as a sport in its own right. (Oxford American Dictionaries)

Finding a decent boulder to climb on is harder than it may seem. Here are some steps to follow in finding a place to climb for practice or sport.

This instructable is written so that a person doesn't need to be able to identify different types of rocks or rock formations (another instructable waiting to happen). I apologize to those climbers that feel that most of the information conveyed here is common sense. However, I would appreciate feedback if you feel that I left something out.

I hope to update this regularly with pictures, comments and advice as I find more places to climb.

(And remember, climbing is inherently dangerous. You do so at your own risk.)

Step 1: Drive/walk/bike and Have a Look Around.

Generally speaking, in order to climb, one needs to have vertical elevation. So, you are going to want to get off your couch and travel around your town looking for boulders (obviously), hills (may potentially have an exposed rock face) and public parks (you never know when city planners will drop in a boulder for decoration).

Of course, if you live somewhere as flat as a pancake, you are mostly out of luck. For argument's sake, I will include on my list of places to boulder retaining walls and canals made of natural rock (or stone bricks). However, technically speaking, climbing man-made structures is considered "buildering" and usually quite illegal and dangerous.

Step 2: Determine If the Rock Can Support You.

Once you have found potential bouldering spots, the next step would be to determine if the rock can support your weight.

You determine this by walking up to the boulder, finding a handhold or rock chip and pulling on it with all your strength. Note whether or not the rock breaks loose when you pull on it. If the rock breaks loose in your hand, it means that climbing on that boulder is potentially very dangerous.

Either way... whether or not the rock breaks loose in your hand, repeat pulling on the boulder a number of times in different locations to get a better overall survey of its sturdiness.

If the rock doesn't flake off the wall, then it will likely support your weight. If it does consistently break loose, then the rock is not good for climbing. If the rock only flakes off sometimes, then inspect the ground below the wall. See how many rocks are on the ground that may have potentially fallen off the wall. This will give you a good indication of the boulder's strength.

If, after pulling on it, you think that the boulder may support your weight, the next step would be to actually hang from the rock. Find a few nice handholds and very cautiously hang from them for a couple of seconds and see what happens. If you hang without incident, then the boulder is climbable. If you can't find anywhere to hang from, then you are going to want to see the next step.

Step 3: Determine If the Rock Can Be Climbed.

Once you have figured out if the rock can support you, see if you can lift yourself off the ground.

If you can't get off the ground, then it would be fair to assume that the rock cannot be climbed (at least not by you... yet). If you like challenges, by all means, keep trying to get off the ground. However, it is fair to say that if you can't really climb it, the boulder does not do you much good.


Alright, once it has been determined that the boulder is climbable (the rock is strong and you can lift yourself off the ground), you are going to want to determine what would happen if you fell off the boulder.

Look at the ground around the base of the boulder. Are there a lot of large rocks around that cannot be moved? If so, it is most likely too dangerous to climb there even if you have a safety pad to cover them. Is the boulder at the top of a steep incline? Will you roll painfully down a hill if you fall off or twist your ankle? If there is loose gravel around the base of the boulder? You can twist your ankle on that too. Is there anywhere for your spotter to stand safely and support your fall?

*Remember: always boulder with a "spotter"--a person that doesn't catch you, but rather stands behind you and supports your fall so you don't hit the ground head first.

The point being that if the ground is uneven or covered in major hazards that cannot be removed from the area, you probably don't want to climb there.

Step 5: Other Safety Concerns.

There are many other "environmental" factors one should also keep in mind.

Can the boulder only be climbed during low-tide? Is it covered in dangerous organic slime? Is there a bird living in the crack up there or a beehive nearby? Is the neighborhood safe? Where did all this broken glass and garbage come from? Will people throw things off the top at me? Is it easy to get to the boulder? Is the boulder on private property? Is this in a drainage channel subject to flash floods? Is there a a best time of day to climb?

...and so on. Just try to imagine all possible factors that may make climbing there (always or at times) a bad idea and determine if they are really problems. If, after some thought, there are no major foreseeable problems, then you are almost there.

Step 6: Preparation.

Go find someone to climb with (so that you can spot each other). Bring a crash pad if you have one. Also bring a rake or broom and clean the area around the boulder to get rid of loose rocks, garbage and broken glass. Wipe off any dirt or sand from the lower climbing holds, but don't worry too much about this because it will happen on its own as you begin to climb. Speaking of which...

Step 7: Climb.

Begin climbing.



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    Please be positive and constructive.




    If those pictures aren't taken below the ruins of Sutro Baths, I shall eat a hat.

    3 replies

    Yes. That is the place.

    I wen back there but that specific rock was underwater. Farther up the cliffs there was some good climbing, if a bit crumbly.

    Yay, I can recognize things! :P

    I'm taking some friends to SF in a week, and I will for sure go there again.

    damned boulder monkeys....either rope up or get off my rock ;)...kidding..bouldering's great for strength building and technique gathering...i don't boulder...because my attention span isn't there for it...and's alot easier to get into a place where you're climbing out of your skill range..very quickly... Trad's the way to it as you move...take it with you when you leave...the only evidence you where there is the chalk...

    2 replies

    I'm too poor for anything but bouldering. I like it because I have a bad shoulder and only have to fall a few feet when my arm gives out in a moment of blinding pain... but truthfully, even so, I liked doing it before my shoulder decided to hate me.

    I'm with you mate. Bouldering and sport is just practice for trad. Climb safe!

    I really have to add -- I think it is important enough to made a step all on its own -- figure out where you will be AFTER you've climbed up.  I put myself into this position once when totally alone at fontainbleu; I went up a face I was sure had a clean walk-out only to find out it was actually a detached boulder and the other sides were was tough going and very exposed getting back down the way I had come.

    if it's a new bouldering spot, expect to break off obvious loose flakes here and there. it may take some 'traffic' over the routes to clean it up, but if you are pulling bits off every hold, the rock is crap.

    refrain from climbing on wet rock. besides the dangers involved, waterlogged rock tends to break easier, degrading the a potentially good dry climb.

    Personally, these are the sort of things I think about as soon as I see a potential bouldering spot. Step two, rather than step four, but I suppose it doesn't matter that much as long as you don't get too overzealous testing the rock.

    Back in junior high my friends and I used to climb the janitor's shed and sit on it in between classes. The whole place was built with just the right brick offsets that we could have probably climbed the main building, too, if we had wanted to. I like bricks that when viewed from the side, look like this: | | | | | | | | | | etc.

    3 replies

    Oops, I mean: | | | | .| | | | | .| | |

    yea, my school's like that to, and some banks around here...

    I'd love to climb up a bank. There are some really neat skyscrapers that I'd love to climb, too, but I'm not sure that I'd be able to get down.

    Amen to the thing about the approach being more dangerous. My family used to own a chunk of land just across the highway from Pike's Peak, and there was this really nice boulder formation there. Of course, it was a long hike up a scree slope to get to the flat area where the boulders were-- Not fun! I loved climbing them, though, especially given the view and the fact that it was a nice level meadow to fall on. Moral of the story: it may be a great spot, but think about how you're gonna get there. A lot of people don't think of that.

    2 replies

    Indeed. I know someone who went all the way to Utah for a week and broke his ankle on the first day trying to get to the climb..

    Yeah. Common sense ain't so common. At best it'll ruin your trip, at worst, it'll take your life.

    I have to get this off my chest. Some spots are best when you can't be spotted. There are great bouldering/tiny cliffs behind the campus where I teach. I would climb out there between classes. The property is owned by the school, and the hiking trails have a 'hike at your own risk' sign, but one day someone called the campus cops on me. The cop hiked up and told me to get off. I asked, But why? He said -- my paraphrase -- I don't really know but it must be bad. I said, The hike at your own risk sign should cover everybody's asses. He said, I don't know, but you gotta get off the rock. This happened in the fall. Now I can climb only when the leaves camoflage me. What good was the sign?

    When I go climbing, I find that my spotter can, as well as keep me (fairly) safe when I fall, give me encouragement and guide me to the best path or foot/handhold.