Rock climbing has been one of America’s most rapidly growing forms of outdoor recreation for a while now, and at a time when outdoor sports are perhaps the healthiest and safest thing people can participate in, climbers here in Oregon are blessed with a big backyard full of options.
Traditionally hailed as an international hub for rock climbers, Oregon is also a haven for those brave and adventurous folks who participate in bouldering. Considered the most basic form of rock climbing because it involves no ropes, bouldering is a form of physical problem-solving. It challenges “boulderers” to seek nooks and crannies within rock structures and scale routes that often lead to high, lonely places and spectacular views. Strength, balance, and foresight are the key elements of bouldering, along with a desire to climb using only the raw essentials. Shorter boulders as opposed to steep cliffs make up a boulderer’s playground, and Oregonians are smack-dab in the middle of several solid hotspots.
“What makes Oregon’s climbing unique to me is that, on top of the world-renowned climbing destinations, there are hundreds of other places that are amazing to climb here,” veteran boulderer Paul Trendler says. “The simplicity, accessibility, and the difficulty of bouldering is what makes it my favorite discipline of rock climbing.”
Boulderers are a tight-knit group that sticks together when it comes to their shared pursuit. For this reason, it can be a little tough for the novice to get in on the action and locate where the good outdoor bouldering locations are. If you’re looking to get into bouldering right about now, you’re going to need to find an outdoor area that possesses the shorter, craggier boulders that define the sport.
“Asking a boulderer where a good spot to go bouldering is a lot like asking fishermen where their favorite fishing spot is,” local climber Kyle Jackson says. “But, for folks living in Eugene, you can’t beat The Columns at Skinner Butte.”
Located in the heart of Eugene, The Columns are a 50-foot tall wall made of basaltic rock, containing an abundance of cracks and handholds that are perfect for boulderers of all levels to climb. And while both Jackson and Trendler agree that the best location to go bouldering is the place that’s nearest you, it is commonly known among Oregon boulderers that Smith Rock State Park, located about 130 miles east of Eugene, is an excellent climbing location, as well.
Another thing that climbers generally agree on is protecting the wilderness. Wildlife conservation is a big part of bouldering, and rock climbing in general. Like the participants of other common outdoor activities such as backpacking, fishing, and birdwatching, the bouldering community is made up of active conservationists.
“Anyone wanting to start doing this should seek out and learn how ‘Leave No Trace’ techniques apply to bouldering,” Trendler says. “We climbers can leave some pretty unsightly impacts. And for those really wanting to get into it, hiring a certified guide to take you out can be immensely helpful for you to progress in the sport safely.”
Tips for New Boulderers
- Get a pair of rock-climbing shoes and a “crash pad” (a cushioned pad to break your fall).
- Join or follow the local climbing access group near you. This will help you connect with responsible climbers who organize informational nights, hold discussions, and participate in clean-up projects. You’ll also learn how to minimize your footprint and be a steward for your local natural areas.
- Buy some nylon or hair-bristled brushes to clean the rock before and after your climb.
- More chalk doesn’t equal better performance—don’t overdo it. Try using liquid chalk that can help you maintain ideal skin conditions without over-chalking.