Preparation and risk assessment for bouldering

Preparation and risk assessment for bouldering

Bouldering carries a number of potential risks, but these can all be reduced with a little forethought. This article looks at some of the common, and not so common, risks encountered when bouldering.

Before you go

Don't just decide on a veune and go. Check the weather, any crag restrictions (due to nesting birds etc), and think about other considerations, like: will the crag be wet from previous rain? Don't forget to pack water and food, too.


Do some specific warm-up exercises on your arms and fingers

Warm up

When you arrive at your venue, don't be tempted to head straight for your project but make sure that you prepare properly. This includes taping any previous injuries (if appropriate) and having a good warm up. If your chosen venue involves an approach walk of ten minutes or more, you can use this as your initial warm up. You then need to do some specific exercises for your arms and fingers.

After this, climb some easy problems that are well within your capabilities. Treat these problems the same as the rest of your session. It will still be possible to hurt yourself if you fall from them, so think about the landing (use a crash mat) and whether the holds are clean or not. Use a spotter and consider both the top out and way back down.

In the same way, think about how you are going to climb each problem and concentrate on doing them with good technique, by working out sequences from the ground and trying to see things that may be hidden holds. Use this as practise for the harder problems you may try later. Gradually introducing your body to the day's activities will reduce your risk of injury and should be considered a vital part of your preparation, as warmed up muscles operate much more effectively than cold ones.

Additionally, the tone of your bouldering session can often be set by the first few problems you tackle. Flow through a series of problems ranging from easy to progressively harder ones, to increase your confidence about how well you're climbing. 

It is common to employ techniques such as visualisation of the sequence or relaxation techniques to overcome any muscle tightnes, especially when working on problems at your limit

Mental techniques

Once warmed up, the nature of preparation shifts up a gear in readiness for more technical problems or personal projects. Such problems also bring new factors into play, including the ability to remain positive about succeeding and analysing previous failures. It is common to employ techniques such as visualisation of the sequence (thinking your way through the problem), or relaxation techniques to overcome any muscle tightnes, especially when working on problems at your limit. Some people may prefer the opposite technique, whereby they psyche themselves up and then 'explode' onto the problem. More subtle, but equally important, issues include cleaning the holds and analysing possible sequences of moves.

Happy landings

Bouldering falls always end on the ground, so before you begin climbing you should always consider the potential risks attached to the problem. The most obvious one is the landing area, is it flat grass or a jumble of boulders? In either case it's worth placing a crash mat to reduce the impact with the ground and, if correctly positioned, they can pad out most rocky landings. It is always worth having a spotter who can ensure that you don't over balance and bang your head on the rock that wasn't covered by mats.

The top out

When assessing the landing, consider the top out: is it very rounded or square edged? This will change your angle of trajectory should you fall when topping out. Consider actually checking the finishing holds to make sure that they are clean, especially if the landing is potentially awkward.

Completing a problem frequently brings other problems - principally how to get back down.

Descending

Completing a problem frequently brings other problems - principally how to get back down. It is always worth thinking about this in advance. It can be a particular issue when you're climbing a steep problem with a slabby descent, especially if it's raining or there is snow on the ground.

Weather

Bear in mind also, that in such conditions the top of the boulder will also be affected and this is likely to dramatically change the nature, and grade, of the top out. A further consideration with snow is that your mat will be more prone to slipping.

Holds

Other hazards to look out for include loose, or hollow-sounding, holds. You may think this doesn't affect you if you only climb established problems but flake holds, for example, can become weakened either through use or the effects of freeze thaw. Do not assume that all holds are completely trustworthy.

Risks from above

When bouldering at the base of crags, be aware of both people and animals above you as they may knock (or throw!) sticks or rocks down. Consider this in woodland settings too, as the trees are frequently home to birds and squirrels that can accidentally drop or knock things onto you or defend their territories more aggressively.

Abroad

Beyond these shores other hazards may be encountered - earthquakes, avalanches, snakes, insects and wild animals! Ask the locals about any known dangers and act on their advice.

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