No Correct Way, Unless You’re Bouldering

Written by on August 20th, 2013 // Filed under Blog

Climbing has a little something for everyone, and that’s one of the things that is really appealing about it to me. Some folks prefer to only climb indoors, others are trad-climbing aficionados, while others get pumped by the power and athleticism of bouldering and sport climbing.

Personally, climbing represents that weird interface between the human experience and nature; it’s that really gritty place where these two distinct universes collide into something wholly unnatural, but supernally satisfying. For several years now, I’ve translated my appreciation of that interface to mean alpine and trad climbing––vistas, scenic views and impressive features. I’ve now learned to incorporate bouldering into my paradigm and no one is more shocked than I.

Double Dyno (V3)
Aaron White is no stranger to powerful bouldering moves and proves it on this problem in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

My girlfriend Taylor has been bouldering for a long time, and prior to meeting me she had never spent any time doing more than a single pitch or really getting more than 100 feet off the ground. Bouldering was the driver beyond her passion for climbing, and it’s a driver that until now, I’ve never really understood.

Now, let’s not get off on the wrong foot; I’ve always admired bouldering. It’s incredibly difficult and committing, but I’ve always admired it from one of those it’s-really-cool-for-other-people-to-do kind of vantage points. I readily admit that my exposure to bouldering heretofore was strictly in a gym environment, and I think it just took a little bit of correct exposure for me to open my eyes a little bit more.

Little Mill Boulder
Taylor Shannon working through the start of the Little Mill problem (V3).

Alpine climbing is all about the adventure––the expansive nature of the environment. Coming face to face with one’s own smallness is simultaneously humbling and empowering. Bouldering always felt small, confined and limited. I always felt like that human–nature interface took place high above the deck, sweeping vistas below you, not surgically plotting your next move in a boulder problem. But if you really think about it, what’s more invasive a photograph or a surgery?

The precision, power and technical prowess required to be a boulderer flay open that interface that so embodies the climbing experience for me. Not only do you send a problem, but you decimate each problem that you send. Most of the time, especially as the problems become more advanced, the beta becomes more and more specific, requiring greater strength, precision and technique that when absent will inevitably end in failure.

Little Mill Boulder
Who knew that I could project a boulder problem, eh? Photo by Taylor Shannon.
Little Mill Boulder
Taylor Shannon looks good when she climbs. This was our last climb together before she left for Mexico.


In alpine climbing, if you get skunked you are often obliged to turn around and go home. In bouldering, the only thing that gets in the way of you and your problem is how hard you’ve trained and how well you can suss out the beta. Failure is a part of the game. Working your project is par for the course, and success is equally deserved after an afternoon of projecting your V4 as it is spending an afternoon rigging belays and moving quickly to beat the storms of the alpine landscape.

Little Mill Boulder
Projecting is such a critical aspect of bouldering, it takes sweat, concentration, some grunting and no short supply of chalk.

Thanks to Taylor and Aaron for helping me see that there’s always more, and encouraging me to challenge my conceptions.

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