Introduction: Finding a Local Bouldering Spot.

Picture of Finding a Local Bouldering Spot.

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.

Picture of 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.

Picture of 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.

Picture of 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.

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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.

Picture of 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.

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Begin climbing.


ilpug (author)2012-04-02

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

randofo (author)ilpug2012-04-02

Yes. That is the place.

ilpug (author)randofo2012-04-17

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

ilpug (author)randofo2012-04-02

Yay, I can recognize things! :P

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

crapflinger (author)2007-02-05

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...

randofo (author)crapflinger2007-02-05

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.

syco123 (author)randofo2010-10-07

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

nomuse (author)2010-04-18

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.

ryguydub (author)2010-04-18

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.

zip0nada (author)2009-11-19

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.

Rishnai (author)2008-03-20

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.

Rishnai (author)Rishnai2008-03-20

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

smithy813 (author)Rishnai2008-05-08

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

Rishnai (author)smithy8132008-05-08

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.

Rishnai (author)2008-03-20

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.

randofo (author)Rishnai2008-03-21

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..

Rishnai (author)randofo2008-03-21

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

Wade Tarzia (author)2007-12-12

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?

macmaniac (author)2007-12-08

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.

James (pseudo-geek) (author)2007-12-07

VERY organized and thorough.

jongscx (author)2007-11-30

Step 7: Wait, why did you need a self timer? Were you bouldering ALONE? didn't you just tell us not to do that?!? I'M SO CONFUSED!!! (Disclaimer: I'm not as crazy as I sound.)

randofo (author)jongscx2007-11-30

My climbing partner is blind.

leevonk (author)2007-02-02

there's even some good places in central park nyc

CameronSS (author)leevonk2007-03-16

I think that Topeka, Kansas counts as "flat as a pancake."

randofo (author)leevonk2007-02-02

Yeah.... there's a bunch of good places, but people climb on them so much that the holds fall off and they have to glue them back on. And little demon children throw pebbles and injured pigeons at you from the top of Chess Rock (don't ask). Also, there are places to climb in that park in the north Bronx, but that is a whole 'nother story. The retaining wall in one of the pictures was taken by the boathouse (go to 72nd street and keep walking west) and it is quite fun to top out onto the West Side Highway.

canida (author)2007-02-02

Nice overview!

I'd add one more thing about height. Determine how high you're comfortably able to ascend unroped (ie, how far can you safely fall? This will depend on you, the ground conditions, and your spotter), and identify that height on your rock face. Identify some features at that height, and don't climb above them, even if you see an awesome hand-hold. Your spotter can help keep you in line.

Bouldering is typically performed fairly close to the ground, with the emphasis on traversing the side of a rock face rather than ascending more than a short distance. Unroped ascent is usually referred to as free climbing, and can be quite dangerous. Proper bouldering should result in mere scrapes and bruises when you (inevitably) take a tumble.

qtm (author)canida2007-02-16

No, you're thinking of "free soloing", people who climb without the protection of a rope. "Free climbing" is climbing without the use of artificial aid, which means not pulling yourself up the rope or pulling on gear. You can both "free solo" and "free climb", but most climbers "free climb" with a rope for protection. Bouldering is as diverse as the rock. There's no emphasis on traversing, except where the rock lends itself to be traversed. "Proper bouldering" doesn't keep you from getting injured when you pop off. What keeps you from serious injury are your spotters. The more the better. You might have a good idea how you're going to come off most of the time, but when a hold breaks and you go spinning out into space, it's your spotters that help guide you to the soft landing on the pads. Hopefully... they can only do so much. Even with the best spotting, you can still land wrong and seriously twist your ankle, even if you're just one foot off the ground. And there are always injuries to spotters, broken fingers, sprained wrists, even worse... stay awake when spotting!

randofo (author)canida2007-02-02

Hmmm... good point. Height is kind of important.

qtm (author)2007-02-16

Watch out for the traffic (and the cops). Because these tunnels and overpasses are built for cars, the surfaces and cracks will be coated with all sorts of nasty grime built up over decades. Wash your hands afterwards, and bring something to clean any nicks and scratches.

Jack Attack (author)2007-02-02

Very nice. I have been climbing for a number of years, mostly in indoor competitions (I have some outdoor experience also). I placed sixth out of about 120 in my region in the USA climbing sport climbing series last year, and the first comp for this season is in eight days (I can't wait!). A general rule of thumb for bouldering is to have a crash pad if you waist will be more than 8 feet above the ground, especially if you don't have a spotter. I'm planning on posting an instructable on the fundamentals of climbing, and that should be up in the next few weeks. Please, please, please do not climb anywhere where the surface you will land on is dangerous. I was bouldering in Central Park a few years ago and I fell about six feet right on my butt and the ground was coated in broken beer bottles, that was very painful. Also, it is very important that you know how to fall safely, with or without a spotter. The most important thing is that you don't stick your arms out behind you, which puts all the pressure on your elbows, and that will cause them to telescope (the elbow pops out of its socket and the bone slides all the way up your forearm- very messy). While falling you should curl up into a ball, land on your butt, and immediately roll backwards. You may end up doing several backward sumersaults and you will be very dizzy, but you wont break anything. Just make sure there is plenty of room behind you. Good job covering the basics.

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Bio: My name is Randy and I founded the Instructables Design Studio. I'm also the author of the books 'Simple Bots,' and '62 Projects to ... More »
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