A few weeks ago, I learned how to boulder outside with the Seattle women’s climbing group, Never Stop Moving. It was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to get back outside.
My New Year’s goal list has looked the same for the past three years: climb a boulder outside. Despite being the most approachable outdoor climbing, I found the entry to outdoor bouldering surprisingly steep. I initially started bouldering because I loved the independence of the sport. It was easy to swing by the gym during empty hours and practice different techniques until I felt like I belonged in the space. Bouldering gave me an outlet to explore climbing as a beginner without feeling pressured to be good.
Unfortunately, the benefits of independent bouldering were a hindrance when taking my climbing outdoors. Sport climbing requires safety training if you want to be more than dead weight. Sure, a kind friend may take you to the crag and strap you into a top-rope, but eventually, you need to learn how to lead and clean the route. In Seattle, there are robust resources to teach you. When I decided to start top-roping outside, finding the community was easy. I signed up for an intro-climbing class with the Mountaineers, found belay partners and learned the essential skills.
Without the technical specifications required for sport climbing, bouldering seems to be without classes or communities to take newbie climbers from the gym to the crag. I found plenty of bouldering technique classes, but nothing that would help me be safe (and not a jerk). I desperately wanted to boulder on real rocks but didn’t know where to begin.
Enter: Never Stop Moving.
Never Stop Moving is a Seattle women’s climbing group dedicated to educating, supporting and motivating female rock climbers. The group provides a training program to follow, including a weight-lifting circuit and a supportive group to practice with. In addition, Never Stop Moving has hosted several talks and clinics, and organized outdoor climbing trips.
I began climbing with Never Stop Moving this January for my first training season. It turned my independent, solitary climbing system into something so much better. Becoming a part of the Never Stop Moving community focused my approach to climbing, increased the stoke and frequency of my climbing and provided awesome educational opportunities.
Mission: To motivate and inspire women of all abilities to reach their rock climbing goals through education, outdoor recreation and applied fitness in a team setting.
Outdoor Bouldering Clinic
The outdoor bouldering clinic was the most recent activity I participated in with Never Stop Moving. When I read the trip description, I could not believe my luck; it was exactly what I wished for the past three years. Never Stop Moving offered an outdoor bouldering clinic for beginners that started at the very beginning. How to find a boulder, what type of crash pad to use and where to put it, what the standard etiquette for sharing a boulder is. How to get off a boulder after you make it to the top, whether you should to top-out or down-climb, and how to figure it out before you are at the top. We even had the opportunity to practice some technique on slab, flagging and smearing. Now that I have finished the clinic, the questions that seemed too intimidating to start, had simple and intuitive answers. Based on the skills I learned in this clinic, I felt confident enough to take 5 people who had never climbed outside before to the crag last weekend.
The clinic was led by Mercedes Pollmeier and I was so thrilled to have her expertise. Mercedes is a climber and climbing coach that focuses on developing well-rounded athletes. Her approach to teaching created a friendly, supportive and collaborative environment, where people felt free to experiment on the wall and push against their limits. In particular, I came away with a renewed focus on intentional movement, and the importance of precise foot placement. When I was able to test these skills over the weekend, I found the techniques I learned in this clinic to improve my performance and confidence on the rock.
I have taken several sport climbing and outdoor classes and this has been the most positive experience thus far. Most instructors have the best of intentions but may across as patronizing. Mercedes managed to convey an enormous amount of information while maintaining an environment where the climbers could discover things for themselves. I purchased her book, Simple Strength after this clinic and I am looking forward to incorporating her recommendations into my climbing training.
Crushing the Boulders
We started at the Machine Gun boulder to learn the basics. Mercedes taught us how to top-out, pad placement and falling techniques. We test-climbed a few holds and jumping/falling onto the pads. We started test-climbing a few more holds, and before we knew it, we were at the top. The morning was pretty freeform and didn’t necessarily focus on specific routes, rather playing with how rock feels, how to find a hold, etc.
Eventually, we started properly climbing routes, reading the guidebook and testing our limits. We practiced climbing routes multiple times, getting comfortable with holds and working on technique.
After a few hours, we moved to forestland to play on a few more boulders. We found a boulder to practice slab techniques and I far preferred outdoor slab to gym slab. The slabby boulder was perfect for testing balance techniques and focusing on footwork. I worked on Breadline (V1) and I took a solid fall at the crux. Despite ultimately being unsuccessful, it was really great to test my fear and fall unexpectedly. This unplanned fall in a controlled environment actually boosted my confidence and made falling seem less terrifying. We tried a few more V0 and V1 boulders in forestlands before calling it a day.
At the end of the day…
We packed up our gear and hit the road. After a quick stop at Zeke’s for rhubarb shakes and cheeseburgers, I made it home, exhausted and smelly. The sticky, dust-covered film on my body sloughed off as I took a shower. My obsession with outdoor bouldering was not so easy to wash away; I immediately began researching crash pads and sourcing where to buy the guidebook. I have since gone back to Leavenworth and enjoyed sharing this activity with new people, and plan to continue bouldering outside. I am so grateful to Never Stop Moving for organizing this clinic and teaching me about outdoor bouldering.