A few months ago my daughter, Aliza, came over after an evening out with her work friends. Aliza told us she and her friends had gone to the Minneapolis Bouldering Project or MBP, an indoor climbing gym where people climb “circuits” of up to 17 feet high without ropes or harnesses. She was so excited about it — they’d had a blast!
She said she couldn’t wait to go again, which didn’t surprise me.
Then she said I needed to try it, too, which surprised me a lot. After all, I am afraid of heights and climbing — without ropes — well, that wasn’t my thing. What was she thinking?
After I bit of cajoling over the next few days, I finally agreed to go to MBP. Believe me, I was plenty nervous. I wasn’t sure if I’d like “bouldering” or if the younger people in the gym would like sharing their space with someone their parents’ age. (Isn’t it funny the things we worry about?) My other daughter, Maureen, said she would join us, too. At least it would be good “girl time” I told myself. I thought I would go just this once, be seen as a good sport, and leave the climbing to the young folks after that.
When we arrived at MBP, a staff member gave us a quick tour. He explained that bouldering circuits have color-coded holds. The color of the holds defines the degree of difficulty for each circuit. There are a lot of circuits for beginners, he told us, so we would find plenty to do. (As climbers get stronger, more flexible, and more confident, they progress through the colors.)
MBP provided us with climbing shoes — special shoes that hug your feet and mush your toes. Rubber on the toes, soles, and heels provides a better grip as you climb. Climbers use chalk on their hands, too, like gymnasts do, to keep their hands from slipping. No other special equipment is needed.
Aliza, Maureen, and I strapped on our climbing shoes and looked around. The gym was full of climbers of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Some looked like they were just learning; others were so good they looked like they could give Spiderman a run for his money.
“Let’s go!” Aliza said. We headed for a yellow beginner circuit.
We climbed. We fell. We “topped out.” We celebrated.
And, needless to say, we had a blast!
Why? Well, bouldering is so much more than just exercising. For starters, it requires a willingness to try something daunting, to look a little silly at times, and to fail. The entire gym floor is covered in a cushioned mat about 18 inches thick, which is good if you fall – and you will fall!
Bouldering requires problem solving. All of the circuits are different and even the circuits within the same color grouping require different skills: balance, flexibility, grip strength, ability to stand on tiny toe holds. This means you always have to think about what you’re doing. It also leads to camaraderie among the climbers in the gym. Strangers will give you tips or show you how they’ve overcome a climbing hurdle. It’s true team work. I love that.
Bouldering also requires persistence. My daughters and I try to give a new circuit at least three tries before we move on. Often, that third try ends in success. And if it doesn’t, we’re right back at it the next time we’re there, usually after talking, miming, and dreaming about the circuit over the course of the next few days. (I kid you not — at some time or another all three of us have dreamed of climbing a particularly hard route only to come up with a new idea about how to approach it.)
Bouldering is a favorite activity now. We go two or three times a week and we’re getting pretty good! It never gets dull. The staff at MBP changes out the circuits every week. Just when you think you’ve mastered all of the green circuits in the 40,000 square foot gym, you arrive to find a whole new set to tackle. We cheer each other on and push each other just a little. Aliza is especially good at getting us to try circuits we think might be beyond our reach. We all ride home laughing and exhausted. (Did I mention what a great stress reliever it is?)
Could bouldering be your thing, too? Maybe. But even if it’s not, consider this. The next time a family member or friend suggests doing something outside your comfort zone, you could say “yes.”
Agree to go once.
Be a good sport.
Then be prepared … you just might have a blast!