Introduction to Bouldering – accessible Climbing across the UK

We have a very exciting interview coming very soon for visitors of the blog but we thought it would be best to introduce a few other intricacies of bouldering and the terminology used in facing a climb. We hope this help and advice page will be helpful!

What is bouldering?

Bouldering is a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope but with crash pads, and normally limited to relatively short climbs so that a fall will not result in serious injury. Bouldering draws on the more technical aspects of climbing, where the difficulty in the climb lends new challenges to the climber that tackles them.

Bouldering is often regarded as a bit of an art form, whereby a climber’s experience goes a long way in topping-out a climb. height has little to do with accomplishments though, but rather the technical skills, agility, strength, balance, finesse and determination.

Freestyle climbing, bouldering, sport climbing, rock climbing…?

A similar climbing style is sport climbing, which draws on the technical and gymnastic needs of the a climber (like in bouldering or free climbing) but uses a climbing rope for basic protection but not for relience. These forms of climbing are quite different to other forms of climbing such as ice climbing, rock climbing, mountain climbing…

Bouldering Terminology

Here’s a break-down of bouldering definitions and terminology used by boulderers around the UK and abroad…

  • Beta— insider information about a climb, usually about sequences or holds.
  • Bomber — huge handhold, or “bombproof” protection.
  • Bomber — Of the highest or finest quality; huge, perfect, the best. This is a highly versatile word that some climbers use to describe just about anything. A ‘bomber handhold’ or ‘bombproof protection’ are examples.
  • Bouldering — A branch of rock climbing without the use of safety ropes primarily concerned with the climbing of exceptionally difficult moves on smaller rocks.
  • Boulderer — a climber who considers themselves a small rock climber.
  • Chalk — a powdery white substance (usually magnesium carbonate) that keeps the hands dry in order to maximise your hands, knees and feet’s grip on the rock face.
  • Chalk Bag — a bag which holds chalk.
  • Chicken wings — When your elbows start to rise, because you’re running out of strength.
  • Climbing shoes — Shoes made with sticky rubber soles fitted a few sizes too small.
  • Crank — pulling hard through difficult moves.
  • Crash Pad – something to land on after a fall. It is typically made of foam and softens the impact.
  • Crater — to fall and hit the ground.
  • Crimp — a tiny hold with just enough room for the climber’s fingertips.
  • Crux — the most difficult part of a climb.
  • Deadpoint — The top of a swing or controlled lunge, when upward motion has stopped but downward fall has not yet begun.
  • Deck — hitting or landing on the ground unexpectedly: to ‘hit the deck’, ‘deck it’
  • Drop-knee — putting the outside edge of one’s foot on a hold, then “dropping” the knee towards the ground, positioning the climber perpendicular to the rock.
  • Dyno — A technical way of lunging or swinging to the next hold (short for dynamic movement).
  • Elvis leg (see also sewing machine leg) — to have a leg begin shaking sort of like Elvis Presley on stage, usually a sign of fatigue or fear.
  • Flag – extending your leg as a counter balance but without putting into a holding position.
  • Flash — Climbing a problem rock face on you first attempt.
  • Fontainebleau — Legendary bouldering area in France, pronounced ‘fon-tan-blur’ known for abominable top outs! Also a grading system often used by European climbers, ranging from 1a to 8c+.
  • Gardening — removal of loose rocks and plants to clear a path; can be anything from ripping out a tuft of grass to bringing in a chain saw.
  • Gill ‘B’ System – a simple grading system used by boulderers: B1, B2, B3 (most difficult), and now also include minus and plus to diferentiate slightly. Interestingly, a B3 would only be regarded as a B3 when there had been only one recorded ascent of the problem, but would be reclassified after it’s second ascent.
  • Grade — an accepted standard, and a degree of difficulty. Contemporary bouldering uses the V Grade system
  • Gripped — scared.
  • Highball — A boulder problem that is really high, and would likely incur injury if the climber was to fall.
  • Hold – anything that the climber can use to pull or push from, using any part of his body, to ascend the rock face. These could be cracks, jugs, etc…
  • Hueco — Spanish for ‘hollow’, Hueco’s are the round sunken odd shaped holds. The Hueco “V” grades devised by John Sherman and Hueco Tanks State Historic Site is the most widely used grading system in North America.
  • Jugs – a large secure hold that the climber can use.
  • John Gill — The father of modern bouldering.
  • Lock-off — using part of one’s body to hold a position or hold taking weight off the part of the body physics would dictate.
  • Mantel — Often used to reach the top of a boulder. A mantel requires the boulderer to push down with their hands to allow a foot to gain the same hold as the hands when no other higher handholds are available.
  • Matching — Having both hands or both feet on the same hold.
  • Midnight Lightening — Boulder problem in Camp 4 in Yosemite, arguably the most famous boulder problem in the world.
  • Mono — A pocket-hold small enough to only allow the use of one digit.
  • Newbie — A new climber. Sometimes used negatively but remember, we were all newbies once.
  • Onsight — Climbing a problem first go with no beta and no falls.
  • Onsight flash — a successful climb with no falls on a route where you have no beta nor have seen anyone climbing.
  • Overhang — A face or boulder that is less than 90 degrees.
  • Peel — to lose contact with the rock possibly leading to a fall.
  • Pocket — a hold that is reasonable big and comfortable.
  • Problem — Boulderers climb ‘problems’ not ‘routes’, as this is used in traditional climbing.
  • Reachy — describes a route with a lot of long reach moves.
  • Redpoint – climbing at maximum ability and effort. Or climbing a person’s most difficult grade.
  • Rock rash — general abrasion wounds from bouldering.
  • Running Beta — insider information about a climb, usually about sequences that is being yelled up at you some loud-mouth as you’re trying to send.
  • Roof — Seriously overhanging part in a climb. The climber is more or less horizontal.
  • Sandbag — a move or problem that is much harder than the grade suggests it is.
  • screamer — a very long fall.
  • Send — A successful ascent.
  • Sewing-machine leg (see also: Elvis leg) — A leg under tension that suddenly begins to jerk up and down like a sewing machine.
  • Side pull — A hand hold that needs to be held with horizontal (sideways) pressure toward the climber.
  • Sit Start — Sitting on the ground to start your climb at the boulders lowest point.  Often the sit start part of a problem can add a level of difficultly to a regular standing start.
  • Slab — a chunk of rock that is at an angle of greater than 90 degrees. May look easy but is often hard and if the climber peels, rock rash is highly possible
  • Slap — Making a dynamic movement with the hand for an open-grip hold.
  • Sloper — A featureless rounded hold that takes enormous stength to hold
  • Smear — There is no ideal hold so only a smear is used as a small friction hold, usually a foothold.
  • Spotter / Spot — The person who stands beneath the climber to make sure their landing is as controlled as possible. Task include: running beta (if required), moving the crash pad, removing dangerous objects in the fall zone, and physically cushioning or modifying the trajectory of the climber in the event of a fall.
  • Tick Mark — small marks applied to key holds (usually foot holds) on a problem. Purists frown on tick marks. If used, it is proper practice to wipe them away when you’re finished.
  • Top out — to summit the boulder and stand-up.
  • Traverse — lateral movement that is typically a horizontal problem. The opposite of an up-problem.
  • UK technical grades – inaddition to the Hueco and Fontainebleau grading system.
  • Up-Problem — a problem that goes up. The opposite of a traverse.
  • V-Scale — The current grading scale used by most of the developed world. The ‘V’ comes from the originator of the grading scale, John Sherman. See Hueco.

Bouldering Risks

There are substantial risks involved in bouldering and although we are certainly not going to put you off from taking part we would encourage you to wear a helmet, use crash pads, plenty of chalk, get the right training and start at an indoor climbing centre under the guidance of an instructor before climbing outdoors.

Climbing equipment can be found here, along with further climbing gear help and advice. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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