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 By: Jens Larssen  | Date: 2008-05-19  | Category: Tips & Tricks    | Comment  

Ethics - Boulders (easiest way up) and Boulder problems
By Björn Pohl

Bouldering has been a climbing activity for over 100 years and probably it all started in Fontainebleau. Since then, bleausards have been sliding off the slopy boulders trying to find increasingly problematic ways to get to the top. Specific boulder problems were first identified in the mid 40-ties in topos and by painting small arrows on the rock. Lately, lots of innovative methods to create new difficult problems, have come up: Variations, Eliminations, Traverses, and Link-ups etc. Actually, maybe only half of the 8a boulders in Fontainbleau and around the world could be considered "easiest way up". Some are, in fact, so complicated that they can't be described in a topo or by arrows, instead they only exist in the mind of the first ascender and maybe their spotters.

Almost every sport has a judge deciding what’s right and wrong. The extreme athlete tries to find shortcuts like doping, "high altitude houses", pace makers etc, to be number one. In sport climbing and bouldering however, it’s more or less up to the individual to decide what goes, that is to bend and sometimes even break the "rules". These "rules", are by no means written in stone, in fact quite the contrary.

Since there’s nothing we at 8a.nu like better than to tell people what to think and do, we thought we’d take the opportunity to use this forum, where no one can object to what we’re saying, to do exactly that . This time we’ve decided to discuss the matter of bouldering ethics, a few do’s and don’ts if you like. OK, it's only a game but it's better played when everybody sticks to the same rules. It should be underlined that we are first of all looking at a way of categorising boulders from boulder problems! We’ll go through the potential troublemakers one by one and discuss them briefly, but don't forget that it's first of all a game and actually in most cases nobody knows what's right or wrong and that it's totally impossible to exactly draw a line between any boulder categories.

"The easiest way up" is the key definition for a boulder: Further more, you should categorise a boulder from a boulder problem by understanding it. If you can not decide where to start, which hold to use and where you should top-out, only by looking at it and study it in the topo, then we are talking about a boulder problem. In this case you often have to use friends, information to be able to do the specific problem. Below you can see an overview of how we define the two categories.

Boulders - Easiest way up
Boulder Problems
Topos & Looking
Written info, Arrows etc.
Most be obvious
Most common
Way to go
When specific holds
On top or obvious top-jug
Marked holds
Very seldom

Traverses are, in a few places in the world, graded with a particular hybrid scale. The world's highest graded traverse is located in Fontainbleau and it's given 8c+. We think 8B+ is a more correct and compartible grade with other traverses/long boulders in the world, like the 40 move roof, La Travesia de Balzola 8B+, in Spain. The reason for this are as follows:

1. The V-grading system makes no difference between traverses and boulders.
2. It's often hard to tell what should be called/graded like a traverse respectively called/graded like a boulder, resulting in equally hard things getting different grades.
3. How should short traverses be graded?
4. How should long roof boulders be graded?

So, what should you do if you climb something which is traverse-graded? Well, the rule of thumb is to lower the grade two steps, 8a+ becomes 7C+. In some cases one step could be justified, especially if the traverse is short and doesn't require that much endurance. Use common sence. About pathetic eliminations, link-ups, variations etc., come on… try to avoid them, they only tend to confuse things. If the problem is too easy for you - try something harder rather then go forward and back, round and round horhorizontal!

Crash pads

For starting purposes you can only use one crash pads and that is an unfolded one. If you can’t reach the holds - tough luck, then you can only do your own variation of the problem and the same goes when you use cheater stones. Apart from that, our advice is that you use as many pads as you can or that pole-vaulting mat, they are easily freight able by helicopter...

Starting holds
Normally, a boulder starts at the holds within reach. However, sometimes a boulder starts with a jump start (because there are no other possibilities) and on other occasions at holds further below, just because these holds are defined by the line. As long as the start is obvious, then we are talking boulder, but when it's hard to understand where to start, often because the problem maker mainly was going for a specific grade, then we are talking boulder problem.

If the easiest way to top out a boulder is by a sequence of moves around a potential dyno you should do so if you want to categorise it as a boulder. The dyno might be much more fun and challenging, but as it's not natural then you should categorise it as a boulder problem.

First rule: You don’t chip or chop boulders. Second rule: You DO NOT chip or chop boulder! There are no grey areas here. Bouldering is about doing the hardest moves possible on rock, and it should go without saying, that means unaltered rock. Chipping means changing the rock in the way you want it, to make it suit you and frankly it sucks! In other words we don't consider it even as a boulder problem!

Top roping

If nothing else is said, you’re normally supposed to top out. Use your brain though... We’re talking about high balls here, and there’s no rule saying you can’t use a top rope to practice the problem. On the ascent however, you can’t use a rope, cause that wouldn’t be bouldering. Of course, one alternative is to freepoint it.

Use as much chalk as you want, but be sure to brush it off the holds when you’re done. Chalk attracts moisture... On the other hand old chalk also offers a reasonably good explanation for why you didn’t send the problem, so...it’s hard to say... If you’re anywhere else, but in Fontainebleau, don’t use pof! It gives you a temporary advantage and everyone who comes after you, including yourself, a disadvantage. Not exactly what we’d call a fair game... The rule is thus: Don’t use pof unless you’re absolutely sure you’re going to send...

Traversing is not bouldering and vice versa. Traverse grades are not comparable to bouldering. The traverse grade is an actual hybrid, a mid-way to sport climbing grades. In our categorisation we consider all traverses, boulder problems as long as they are not the easiest way up. Then they are boulders by definition and should have a proper boulder grade.

We have had a lot of questions regarding ethics for the Scorecard and that's actually one of the reasons why we are writing this article and discussing ethics. Feel free to register anything you like in the Scorecard, but if you want to receive a specific ranking for both boulders and boulder problems register them in a categorised order (Soon to come automatically also including a specific traverse category). In the long run we hope to increase the status of doing boulders.