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Bouldering is a branch of rock climbing which involves climbing low altitude routes without the use of ropes or similar supportive gear. A bouldering route rarely exceeds 23 feet (seven meters) and is designed to be a physical and intellectual challenge, rather than a test of endurance. Skilled bouldering does require excellent physical condition and rock climbing skills, and many rock climbers start out bouldering. However, people with less ability can also participate, and it is a fun and less expensive way to experience rock climbing.
People have been climbing rocks and boulders for most of their history, but bouldering as a sport appears to have emerged in Europe during the late 19th century. Europe is an excellent location for bouldering, as many areas of Europe are festooned with large boulders and low climbing faces which lend themselves well to the sport. For people who want to hike and engage in a little bit of climbing, bouldering is an alternative to all the gear and risks involved in actual rock climbing.
Several surfaces can be used for bouldering. The first is, of course, a boulder or very large rock. A successful bouldering route or challenge on a boulder usually ends at the top. Climbers can also boulder at the base of a larger route, or use a bouldering wall, a specially constructed climbing wall. In addition, the skill can be adapted to climbing buildings, a pursuit sometimes called “buildering.”
The gear for bouldering is very basic. At a minimum, the climber will wear climbing shoes and bring chalk to dry the hands so that he or she can get a better grip. Most climbers also bring along a crash mat, a soft layer of padding to land on if they fall Some climbers also use special gloves, especially for rough surfaces. Rope is not generally used.
In many instances, a rock will be mapped out with an assortment of bouldering challenges designed to test the skills of climbers. Climbers may be restricted from using easy holds if they follow a challenge, or expected to follow a set list of holds as they complete the challenge. Some of these challenges are extremely difficult, requiring great agility and strength.
Bouldering should always be done in pairs or groups for safety, especially in the wilderness. Even when someone has excellent skills, he or she can fall or be subject to an unexpected injury. Bouldering with a partner ensures that help is within reach in an emergency situation, and it makes the sport more fun.