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.)
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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.
Step 4: SAFETY! SAFETY! SAFETY!
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.