Advanced bouldering techniques - highball problems
What is highballing?
In a nutshell, it's when a boulder problem becomes a free solo. The precise answer varies for every climber depending upon the likely landings, fall length, age of knees, etc., but this grey area has come to be known as highballing.
Highballing differs from free soloing in that the highballer is willing to fall and plans for such eventualities before leaving the ground, whereas the soloist would never entertain such notions
If difficulty and freedom of movement without fear define bouldering then highballing is more akin to bold, traditional climbing where a cool head and absolute confidence are the keys to success. However, it is still the art of solving problems on boulders, and the element of risk adds a new dimension to the game and offers greater rewards to the players.
Definitions and ethics
Highballing differs from free soloing in that the highballer is willing to fall and plans for such eventualities before leaving the ground, whereas the soloist would never entertain such notions.
There are no strict definitions or rules regarding high balls but style and ethics are as prevalent in this aspect of climbing as they are in any other. A pure ascent is always made from the ground up without roped inspection. If roped cleaning is required for a new problem, ask a kind friend to do it or accept that your ascent will be tainted.
Obviously highballing can be dangerous. So be prepared and before leaving the ground check:
- Your landing zone(s) particularly those from the hardest looking moves and position crash pads and spotters appropriately
- The area under the pad is flat
- The top out to the problem
- Your state of mind.
Don't expect too much from your spotters. They will not catch you, the best they can do is steer you on to a pad feet first.
Tips from the expert
- Aim to land on your feet, relaxed, with slightly bent knees.
- On a particularly long fall, cushion the initial impact with your knees and roll it out 'judo style'.
- Where the landing is exceptionally poor sometimes it is best to do away with spotters and rely on your own 'ninja skills'.
- If a fall occurs from a bad position try to gain some forward movement i.e. away from the rock.
- Head towards the softest landing zone (inspected prior to ascent, or place a pad there before climbing) and boulder hop, run, grind, bounce, generally hope you way towards it remembering that most limbs will heal, but heads, necks and spines are not so forgiving.
- If a highball will take gear, consider using a rope and climbing it as a micro route. One blundered highball could end your climbing career.
- Always be aware of where you will land should you fall
- Don't be afraid to down climb. A position that is terrifying on the first attempt will become part of the easy section after a few successful retreats.
- At some point you will have to commit and step beyond the point of return. Just relax and concentrate on the next move. Positive thinking is the name of the game.
- If you get really 'gripped' close your eyes, ignore where you are and focus on calm, deep breathing. If things get even worse rescues can be arranged (by human chains, belts, etc. if no rope is available - but this is asking a lot from your friends).
DO NOT COMMIT TO A HIGHBALL UNLESS YOU HAVE ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR OWN ABILITY TO GET TO THE TOP!