This is a question that has been argued by many students, enthusiasts, and centre staff. Which is better: roped climbing, or bouldering?
In an article by the Guardian, the two variations were compared and given scores – the results seem to show that the two were in fact almost exactly the same, and the differences came from what the individual wished to achieve.
Many members of the USMC (see here for an article on their recent trip) have very strong opinions on this matter – some joke that bouldering is a “dirty filthy sport”, whilst others disregard it as a sport altogether. Admittedly, most of these jibes are aimed towards fellow members who prefer the non-roped climbing and so the greater insults aren’t necessarily a reflection of their true opinions. However on the other side, another member said “I like to compare it to skiing and snowboarding [where] bouldering is snowboarding”, bringing to light a fairly common opinion that bouldering is the ‘cooler’ side of climbing. This has been made an even stronger idea with the launch of Outcrop Films’ debut full-length film Tomorrow I Will Be Gone – a feature-length docu-film in the Rocklands of South Africa containing no interviews or commentary, just an eclectic soundtrack and footage of people doing some of the most challenging bouldering problems. Why is there such an animosity between the two styles?
Following a poll I set up on Facebook, out of the 61 people who responded (though poll is ongoing), 77% of them voted climbing as the better option. Some found it hard to decide between the two, saying roped climbs are useful for outdoors, but bouldering is preferable for indoor training. Although I personally prefer roped routes, this is because I do not have the strength that is needed for bouldering – however this means that I am shifting my focus slightly more in that direction so I can build my ability to perform dynamic moves, which will be needed when I venture into the top graded climbs.
Generally, there is also a bit of a gender-divide when it comes to the two practices. Most women, myself included, find routed climbs a more technically challenging way to climb; the ropework required, extended technicality and the stamina needed, especially when leading, is preferable to the brute strength often enforced in bouldering. Therefore many guys I know like the short bursts of energy and the way in which they rely heavily on their ability to haul bodyweight. In fact, quite a few boulderers revealed to me that they don’t quite have the head for leading – the idea of making your way up a route where a fall near a clip can leave you free-falling a good few metres didn’t quite appeal to them. Nor did the responsibility of having a second, especially when trad climbing and placing protection.
Similarly, it was suggested to me that bouldering is a young man’s sport – all you need are some shoes, a chalk bag, and a rock, and you are set. Like I said before, bouldering is the ‘cool’ way to climb, whereas the hardened, more experienced older climbers will spend their time and money on the appropriate gear and protection for roped climbs; on one particular forum, the debate seemed to state that boulderers are drugged-up teenagers with short attention spans.
It would appear that there might forever be a divide between the ropes and the rocks, as the current generation move on and a new one follows up behind… almost like leading.