Indoor vs outdoor bouldering.

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So, you've been climbing at indoor walls, whether it's roped or bouldering it's all good practise but if the sun raises its head suddenly you have the whole centre to yourself. Where has everyone gone? 

Outside. Out into the glorious British summer or for some lucky devils somewhere more exotic. The leap from indoor climbing to outdoor is significant but it can be made an easy transition with a little foreknowledge.

Imagine Ray Mears dispensing sound advice on bushcraft, caked in mud and with a slight manic glint in his eye, this is what Eden Rock will do for you but without the mud or craziness. Strap in.

1. Environment

The music is blasting, you're friends are already cranking out the moves, you've just had a triple espresso and you're psyched; ready to crush anything and everything. You feel amazing.  

The environment in gyms is designed to make it as mentally easy for you to climb, the atmosphere is normally sky high; a room full of like mind individuals doing what they all love, the routes are all nicely colour coordinated, you have huge mats to fall on and more caffeine you could shake a stick at. 

With the progression of the sport, gyms have become more sophisticated, gone are the days of chipping holds out of concrete and with this evolution gym climbing has become a sport in itself, which is why they're easy to climb in; they aren't just for training anymore. 

Moving out of this safe (as it can be) environment into the outdoors takes a different kind of mental attitude. It is more work. You have to find a venue which means ratching through guide books or trawling the internet trying to find somewhere suitable that isn't half a world away. More often than not you have to drive/cycle/walk to get to the boulder or crag which can be a workout in itself. You can arrive at your destination and the heavens could open or you could be swarmed by midges. There are a whole host of reasons not to do it. But after all that, if you persevere you can climb routes that aren't possible indoors, routes that you become so passionate about that topping out erupts into a victory dance; you get so much more from that collective experience; you get an adventure.

It's worth bearing in mind that the styles of climbs you have been doing at your local gym might not be the same style as the ones in your local environment which means a transition between the two may be more awkward than thought. If you know what sort of rock you'll be climbing try and seek out the most similar holds or movements in your gym.

2. Size of the holds

When you manufacture climbing holds there becomes a point when small is too small to screw them on to the wall. Here is one of the major basic differences between outdoor and indoor. Outside there is a mind boggling array of rock, with each square inch infinitely unique and complex. 

The footholds shrink the moment you step out of the gym, not only does the size differ but the shape. It will take a little patience and effort to re-learn how to move on small footholds that require you to shift your weight for them to stick. If you have been practising those micro holds at Eden Rock then this will give you a kick start, the most important thing is to use those toes; that's where the power lies.

As for hand holds the same rule applies, you will be disappointed at the lack of jugs (large, positive hand holds) but you can quickly overcome this by a little practise and on the occasion that one pops out then you will be all the more grateful for it. Don't take those lovely jugs for granted!

3. Texture

At Eden Rock we try to vary the texture of each circuit, to do so we have a range of different manufactured holds; Beastmaker, Core, Expression, Gript and Axis. Texture relates directly to friction. Lots of friction is a good thing; this makes you stick slopers or hang on a few more seconds on that crimp. Friction diminishes with temperature, humidity or if it rained recently.

As you can imagine each rock type has its own unique properties (texture included) and within that each route will have a lesser or greater percentage of those properties in it. It's pot luck. It will take a few climbs to start understanding what these properties are so don't worry if you are climbing, reach for a hold expecting a positive crimp and in fact it's an unfriendly sloper which spits you off. 

To help put this in perspective here are some rock types of Eden Rock's local area with a couple of informed presumptions about what to expect:

Armathwaite: sandstone: soft sandstone can be a little grainy so take a soft brush: slopers, pockets, very small crimps and smears for your feet.

Carrock Fell: gabbro: a very sharp rock with small crystals in, great for friction, bad for skin: slopers, small footholds, positive but sharp crimps. Greasy when warm.

Cumrew: limestone: compact rock with fossils: small crimps, small positive footholds, occasional jug. Not good to climb when wet.

Brown Slabs, Borrowdale: Borrowdale volcanic: large jugs, small footholds, positive crimps. Not good to climb when wet.

The only way you will become better as understanding rock types or textures is to climb in as many different locations as you can. Some people do prefer to become wizards at one type but this can lead to struggling in the future.

4. Landings

You may have noticed that all bouldering gyms have matting whether fixed or movable so that if you do happen to fall off then you have something to soften the impact shock to your body. This is most definitely a good thing. It means you can climb higher and harder than you normally would outside without a second thought.

To boulder outside you need a bouldering mat or pad. Even if you aren't going very high not having a mat isn't something I would recommend; it can start to erode the bottom of the climb and you never know what will happen.

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Before you chuck your mat down and romp up the boulder problem have a think about where you could fall. For instance if you're climbing an overhang and you pop the mat where you start you will quickly find that after a few moves you've climbed over the mat and are now dangling over rugged terrain.  You can overcome this by either having two or more mats or your spotter* could adjust the mats as you climb. 

*a spotter (right) is someone who is watching you climb but more importantly make sure if you do fall off you aren't going to conk your head on the floor by redirecting the fall to the mat and keeping you there (not rolling down the hill), also they can adjust your mats. Here is a great article on it.

5. Grades

Boulder GradeWhen you climb indoors the routes are easy to follow; the holds are discernible from the wall, you can usually see what type of hold you're going for and the landing below you is comforting. Don't be put off if your grade drops outside, with a little bit of practise getting your eye in you can normally recover. However one thing to bear in mind is that not all gyms have a dedicated route setting team so discrepancies between gym grades and outdoor grades do arise very commonly. At Eden Rock we have a dedicated team who are some of the best and most experienced in the country (as well as the regular guest setters) yet because of certain limitations (foothold size for instance) we can't totally prepare you for the weirdness that is out there in nature. Precise movement, core tension and technique are the name of the game. 

Bouldering grades are different from any other grading system out there, even though they look very similar to French sport grades which does cause a lot of confusion. The two types of bouldering grade systems are: V (Hueco) grades, an American grading system that starts at V0 and is open ended. The second system known as Font (Fontainebleau) grades are numerical and begin at Font 4, this is also an open ended system. The Font system is more accurate than the V system. Both are used in Britain depending on who wrote the guide and on the continent Font grading is used almost exclusively. At Eden Rock we use the Font system and have based our routes on the circuits that Fontainebleau is famous for. See the chart (right) to compare the grades.

6. Etiquette

As people who enjoy the outdoors and use it for our own pleasure we have a responsibility to care for and manage the environment. These are the unspoken rules of the crag that may not be apparent to someone who goes for the first time.

1. Use bouldering pads to avoid erosion and vegetation damage,

2.Take your litter home and if possible recycle,

3.Clean and dry your footwear before climbing to reduce rock damage,

4. No chipping,

5. Respect any crag restrictions, if you're unsure check the BMC RAD. If you don't then the access could be at risk for everyone,

6. Minimise chalk usage and brush away excessive build up or marking,

7. No blow torching holds to make them dry, if it's wet; tough.

8. Remove carpet patches and foot mats,

9. Adhere to the countryside code, if you don't know it, here it is.


And now...

Here is a link to a great article discussing bouldering grades: