Climbing boulders isn't always child's play.Late fall is an ideal time of year here in New Hampshire to get outside and hike. And if you've spent any time on trails or anywhere out in the woods in our great state you've surely noticed a large rock or boulder here and there, the kind that calls adventurous kids to come and try and climb up. While some might try to find a way to work their way around such an obstacle, there are those among us who intentionally seek them out and try to climb to the very tops of them.Manchester's Mike Thompson is one of those folks who cannot resist the lure of the climb and has made somewhat of an art form out of the sport of bouldering. This form of free climbing requires no ropes or harnesses and allows the climber to go from boulder to boulder, or to make several attempts at the same boulder, working the "problems" on the rock until a way is found up.Taking a class in meditation, Mike realized he could apply the same techniques using his focus and energy when he is bouldering. If he is having a particular difficulty with a route problem he can visualize himself accomplishing the moves that he needs in order to make his way up the rock.While outdoor bouldering is ideal and holds the most appeal, indoor climbing gyms are a great place to refine climbing techniques, get expert instruction and meet other climbers.Manchester's Vertical Dreams climbing gym (250 Commercial St., Waumbec Mill) offers more than 5,000 square feet of indoor climbing and bouldering caves.Impressive FactMadison, N.H., is home to the largest glacial erratic in New England. The "Madison Boulder" is a massive granite rock measuring 83 feet long, 23 feet high and 37 feet wide!Gear BoxThe Five Ten Siren women's climbing shoe (109.99) offers all-around comfort and great fit in a stylish lace-up design.If you find yourself bouldering higher than you are comfortable falling to the unforgiving ground, then you will definitely want one of these. The Climb X Double X Crash Pad ($119.97) is a good investment in safety and will provide both good cushioning and peace of mind.The Prana Chalk Bag ($25) features a draw-cord lock closure and is constructed from soft sueded nylon. It's also stylish enough to be mistaken for something other than just a chalk bag.This Patagonia long sleeve performance shirt ($31.50) made from recycled polyester is quick drying, making it a great layer for those cold November climbs, and the snug fit ensures that nothing gets between you and the rock.Exert AdviceManchester resident Mike Thompson has been rock climbing for seven years and has been the assistant manager of the Vertical Dreams Indoor Climbing Gym in Manchester for three. In addition to his numerous climbing and bouldering pursuits, which include teaching techniques, he's also a student in the field of environmental biology and an avid photographer.How did you get started in bouldering? I first got into it in high school at Souhegan, which had a climbing wall in the gym. One teacher taught Outward Bound there and that sparked an interest for me. Then once I came to Vertical Dreams for a competition and didn't do too well, but I came back the very next day to try some more routes. Two guys who worked here asked me to join the climbing team, which I did for a few years, and then I helped with coaching for a couple years here. It was super fun to teach kids. Once I got comfortable I began bouldering outside.What are some differences between bouldering and rock climbing? Bouldering tends to be harder. In climbing there is the Yosemite Decimal System - Hiking is grades 1-4 and grades 5 and up are climbing. Boulderer John Sherman (aka "Sherman the Vermin") developed the V-scale grading system, which begins at V-0 and goes up to V-16. There is no need for ropes or gear (except shoes and something to serve as a crash pad). It's a much more personal experience. With rock climbing, you can't deviate from the route.Why are the boulder routes called "problems"? Because you have to think a lot more about what you're going to do. You might have to find a hold, shift your body, bring up a heel - it's just not always straightforward. You can also do what's called "sequencing," where you visualize yourself doing a move and then it's like you've already done it. And you can do "sessioning," where five or six friends will all come climbing and you take turns working on problems together. One may get up and try something and then someone else tries to see if another move works. Then one person will figure it out and then suddenly everyone can do it.Where are the best places to climb in New Hampshire? Rumney has climbing and great boulder fields. Pawtuckaway is one of the best. There's climbing on the backside of the park from the camping side. But if you go out hiking you can often find boulders formed from glacial erratics in your own town.What are some safety precautions to consider when attempting to boulder? If you can, go with someone who knows what they're doing - who knows where the crash pad should go and how to spot. If not, then just don't go alone, even if your buddy hasn't done it before. And wear good climbing shoes. You may also want to get a chalk bag or just some loose chalk for gripping the rock. You can't drive in too close to the boulder fields if there is snow, so you'll need to be cautious hiking in and at the tops of the boulders.
This article appears in the November 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine