The way to get up the wall is to master rock-climbing techniques.
I LOVE WATCHING a skilled, experienced climber move up a wall, so when I took Bouldering One last year, I champed at the bit. Learning to fall was important, but I wanted to learn to climb beautifully and with flow.
I returned to Seattle Bouldering Project for Bouldering Two, hoping to hone my climbing skills and understand the secrets of those elegant climbers.
Bouldering Two teaches you foundational climbing technique. Our teacher, Adrian Hurley, asked us about our experience and then dived in, emphasizing how important it is to use your body efficiently. Like any sport, when you move well, you save energy, and you can climb longer instead of exhausting yourself in an hour. You also strengthen the areas of your body you rely on most when climbing.
Seattle Bouldering Project
His first topic, center of gravity, was the most important one, he said. If we absorbed one thing from class, make this it. We nodded, then stood on the padded floor and practiced shifting our center of gravity from one foot to the other, standing firmly to lift the other leg easily.
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The next topic, straight arms, is one of the first you learn when climbing. Hurley explained that it lowers your center of gravity. Your lower body is adapted to endurance. Practice staying low in your legs, arms extended straight, and you will last longer. He had us hop on the wall, come into a deep squat and use our hands as hooks; it felt rather Hobbit-ish.
The next topic was weight transfer. We started in a deep squat, shifted our center of gravity over one foot, extended the other leg straight and reached with one hand for another hold. Your body is longer diagonally than it is up and down, he said. Use the geometry of your body.
He also gave insight into the holds on the wall. Holds naturally tell you which way to grab and position your body, he said. By shifting your body into the natural direction opposite the hold, you will read the wall and route more effectively and move more efficiently.
He gave us a mini-route to practice all he had explained. It was simple when he told us what to do, crossing arms from hold to hold and reaching diagonally at the end with one arm.
Next, we worked on a twist, moving our hips closer to the wall with every move. The more you twist your hips in toward the wall, the more you will flow as you climb. Hurley demonstrated an effortless traverse using the progression we learned — stabilize through your feet, transfer your weight and twist your hips in toward the wall.
I finally had words and technique for the beautiful, fluid climbing I’ve seen. But understanding how to climb is not quite the same as doing it well. Hurley told us it would take practice for us to get it intuitively. He advised us to start on easier climbs, work on the technique and build it into muscle memory.
He also gave us tips for reading routes and seeing our way up a wall. My brain was in excited overload. And as soon as I hopped on an easy climb to practice, I found myself staring down holds and moves, and thinking before I moved. It was slow-going.
But I know mastering any kind of activity requires a lot of practice. I can see how it is possible to progress even faster and to take on more challenging climbs. I can’t wait to put all the technique into action and see what climbs come next.