I am fairly fortunate to live very close to a great deal of bouldering. Within 30 miles of my current home there are about a dozen areas either established or in the process of being established. I live near a great deal of first ascent potential. I also gave my car away. Dealing with these two facts is pictured below. The first experiment in my attempt to boulder as much as I’d like without the obligation of a car.
Panniers have tools, clothes etc for riding and visiting. The boots are because the forests are still full of snow that I’ll be hiking through on my way to boulders. The trailer has my climbing shoes, chalk and a bunch of crash pads, more than I needed as it turns out. (The trailer is a cheap one I found on Amazon: Homcom Bike Trailer for $79).
I’ll give an overview of the activities followed by a set of reflections on the experience and what I’ve learned. But to cut to the chase, this is very doable.
Riding with panniers and a trailer is a great way to gain some patience and humility. You’re not going to move very fast and if you try to you’re just going to burn out. You have to reduce your expectations for time and be willing to spin your way up hills. This trailer made standing on hills very awkward. I spent my time learning my limits (though frustrated) and listening to the Dirt Bag Diaries Podcast. The trailer is a little loose (I’ll update this when I fix this problem) and so bombing downhill was a little terrifying as the back wiggled a lot.
My first destination was Phillips Lake in Dedham. My niece lives here and it also happens to have a nicely developed bouldering area near Hurd Pond (which is next to Phillips Lake). Hurd Pond has a couple areas of boulders. The one I’m a fan of at the moment is called the Parking Lot Boulders area because they’re just off the road. I have a couple of projects here. The first is a combo: Mosquito Butt which is a stand start V3, with a V5 sit start option.
It’s hard to get a good picture of it. It’s an arete with a series of left/upwards facing crimps. The boulder has a slight overhang as well. The crimps are good, a little painful, but not so bad for this area. I had worked on it last year but with only a little progress. Saturday I put together all the moves. The mantle is straightforward but being pretty safety conscious I didn’t want to do it without a spotter. Working on the sit start proved fruitful as well. To my surprise and glee I was able to stitch together the moves. I’m certain that with spotters I’ll be able to send the entire problem this spring. I’m excited, but not because it’s a V5, but rather because I like the boulder, the arete, and the moves. It’s my kind of problem, not too high, great landings, nice rock and powerful moves. I like sit starts for what they represent, using as much of the boulder as possible. Making mountains out of molehills if you will.
Bouyed by this success I moved onto Zax, a V4 across the access road (snow covered) which is another problem I started working on last year.
Again this appeals to my aesthetic. It’s a beautiful little boulder with burly moves to make up for its diminutive size. You start on the bulge with a good left crimp, a poor sloping right crimp and crap for feet. There’s a good right foot under the boulder but it’s pushing you away from where you want to go. The guidebook (which I should mention is Boulder Bangor!) gives a hint I haven’t the talent to use yet, “…heel hook around edge.” It moves from this powerful start onto a huge ledge and then there are just a couple more powerful moves until you top out. you’re never more than a couple feet above a pad but it’ll take all you’ve got to get that high in the first place. Last year I couldn’t manage the start and I still can’t. But I worked the moves afterwards all the same.
This was only my second day out on boulders this spring and so I didn’t push my luck too far, in particular the pads on my fingers. I know that if I’m patient my skin will warm up to the idea of being tossed against sharp granite and the pain of contact will subside a bit to allow me to focus on the pain of the move instead.
I chose this weekend to climb because we’d had a few good days to ensure dry rock and the weekend promised temps breaking into the 40s. I was rewarded for my efforts and Sunday afternoon was great. The Green Lake Power Line Boulders are in a Power Line Corridor that crosses Green lake road. From the road you’ll see a tempting and beautiful Boulder:
The boulder you see at the top is called the Origins Boulder. Here’s a shot up close:
This is the ‘front’ i.e. the side facing downhill towards Green Lake Road. The guidebook details four established problems on this boulders of ratings V2-V5 that are all really neat. But I can see at least three very different problems and, with variations, as many as 7-8 new problems to be added to it. There’s a nice V4 in the back called Power Trip,
Which has a really powerful sit start and a series of neat moves upwards and to the right to top out. I worked parts of that route with no expectation since I’d only just gotten on it two days before with Tilan. Mostly I worked on a project traverse on the front.
It was at this boulder that I started to think about what bouldering gear would be appropriate with bike commuting. At first glance bouldering is the least friendly climbing to do with a bike. Bouldering pads are very big and bulky. Roped climbing would be stuffed in a Bob bag on a Bob trailer which would be much better to haul along. You could certainly imagine using a set of front and bag panniers and a rack to carry all the gear you’d need for a day at the crag, but a trailer seems unavoidable for bouldering which is funny since bouldering is often touted as a purer form of climbing, more simple. Yet, on a bike, it’s more involved.
I realized, however, that if I’m bouldering by myself there are a couple consequences. (1) I won’t be climbing very high. The whole point of thick pads and spotters is protection from the unexpected blow off. That desperate move that you’re not sure you’re going to get, but will only get if you commit entirely. It’s unlikely that I’d be able to position the pads to catch all possible falls and if I can’t then I should climb accordingly. (2) I’m also likely to only climb when the landing’s pretty good. Spotters can easily guide you away from awkward trees, sharp rocks and other obstacles. But again, if I’m by myself and come off the wall I will be in free fall. Best not to be in free fall over crap. The conclusion is that perhaps I don’t need five inches of padding that the Mad Pad affords. Perhaps I should save those pads for when I’m climbing with friends and will have the protection for the dicey mantle, the highballs etc.
I actually bought the Metolius Launch Pad for this reason, as a possible candidate for fast and light solo bouldering days. But now I’m thinking that perhaps all I will ever need are a bunch of Metolius Launch Pads, or something similar (EDIT: A little research suggests that the Organic Briefcase Pad may be the solution as it folds small and has 3″ of padding for about the cost of the Launch Pad). If I could get it to fold in half I could attach three of them to my rear rack and then I’d have almost 18 square feet of landing zone, albeit two inches thick.
So am I doomed to just working low when alone? Not necessarily. Nothing says I can’t bring extra gear and top rope a problem that’s high on my own. It’ll still be more compact than an extra crash pad.
Crash Pad goals: to either modify the Metolius Crash pad or create from scratch a solution that is the same size and thickness but folds and can be velcroed to others. It would be nice to be able to create a large or long landing zone of a couple inches of padding.
Cooler Weather Bouldering: it was pretty nice out this past weekend, armpits were plenty for warming up hands and my feet were fine. I definitely will bring a small stove to make something like miso soup or tea next time however. EDIT: also research Organic Briefcase Pad
Overall I’m pretty jazzed about the experience. There are obvious ways I can improve the experience, have a source of warm fluids, plan on the longer time to arrive to the boulder (so plan on longer sessions to make it worthwhile), use smaller pads so I can ride sans trailer. I hope to work out the kinks on this and provide a series of posts on bouldering and bike riding and winter bouldering. Stay tuned.