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Bouldering: British National Bouldering Championships

Bouldering might just be the biggest sport you've never heard of. As the name implies, it's a form of climbing that requires no ropes or harnesses which evolved to take advantage of shorter rock formations than the cliffs and mountains of traditional rock climbing, for which it was originally a sort of training discipline. As such, wherever you find a long tradition of outdoor rock climbing, there also will you find a bouldering scene. On that front, the Pennines can arguably claim rank alongside such legendary climbing centres as France's Fontainbleu and Yosemite National Park in the US. There's a lot of fine rock around Sheffield, and a lot of fine climbers. That makes Sheffield an ideal venue for the British National Bouldering Championships, which took place last month on Devonshire Green as part of Cliffhanger outdoor sports festival. While bouldering started off as an outdoor thing, a lot of it gets done on artificial indoor walls studded with weird lumps, warts and knobbles to be used as hand and foot holds. As a result, competition bouldering has elevated not only the art of climbing, but the art of route-setting, the designing and setting of the 'problems' that the competitors have to climb. The result was a covered climbing wall the width of Devonshire Green, featuring eight fiendishly difficult problems for the finalists to solve. That may not sound very exciting on paper, but the couple of hundred people who braved Sunday evening's intermittent rain to watch the championship finals would beg to differ. This isn't like watching someone climb a ladder. While speed and the number of attempts to ascend are important, bouldering is probably closest to a gymnastic discipline. It's about strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, timing and a whole lot of psychological self-control, too. A six-metre wall doesn't look all that tall when you're stood at the bottom, but it looks very tall indeed when you're hanging from a three-finger crimp near the uppermost hold. So there were plenty of oohs and aahs and cheers of support from the crowd as the finalists battled gravity, and one another, for the British championship, vying for coveted slots on the British climbing team. As a boulderer (of admittedly limited skill) and a Sheffielder, it's a fine thing to see the nation's best fight it out in your own back yard, and even more so to see so many locals get through to the final stages. I could list the people who got to the podiums, but if you're new to the sport then that wouldn't mean much without the context of the contest itself. So instead, I'll just point you towards video footage which was live streamed from the event. If that doesn't look like hardcore athleticism under adverse conditions, I don't know what does. And if you think it looks like fun, well, you'd be right, though you need to have been climbing for a good few years before you can take on problems that gnarly. Sheffield is generously furnished with a number of indoor bouldering gyms where you can try it out. Introductory beginner courses are commonplace and you can even rent some climbing shoes if you don't want to commit to buying fancy kit. Veterans will always argue that climbing real rock outdoors is the heart of the sport, and perhaps that's true, but you'll still find them all in the bouldering gyms when the weather's too nasty to be out on Stanage. Why not pop in some time and find out why? )

Next article in issue 101

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A small girl, no older than six, had been sitting all alone for at least an hour, right in the centre of the cricket pitch at Low Bradfield.…

A small girl, no older than six, had been sitting all alone for at least an hour, right in the centre of the cricket pitch at Low Bradfield.

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