Sorry, please excuse me, that’s not what I actually believe.
I think I’m saying that just because I’m bitter and I’m sick of being injured and this stupid fucking LCL isn’t healing and I’m injecting shit into my knee and maybe that’s making it worse and I’m running stairs and running miles and doing my physical therapy and come on please God just let me heal.
I mean please Tao.
Let me heal.
Help me heal.
The question I’d like to address today is: Is 36 too old to start bouldering? And the reason I’ve chosen that specific age is that’s when I started bouldering, just a little over a year ago. Since then bouldering has become a central part of my life and something that I think about constantly and care about deeply and am even starting to restructure my whole life around, as silly as that sounds even though it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve felt this deeply connected to few things in my life, especially something that makes so little sense. I say “so little sense” because I did not MEAN to fall in love with bouldering. I didn’t think I would EVER like climbing, and indeed when it comes to climbing bouldering is still the only discipline I care about. It also doesn’t really make sense because obviously having started at the age of 36 I’m never going to be an elite boulderer, probably nothing even close, and how can it be fun to start something only to be mediocre at it? Finally it doesn’t make sense just because bouldering is such a ridiculous activity. I mean, you’re climbing rocks that are usually no more than 10 feet off the ground. And often times you’re starting with your ass ON the ground when you could easily start standing, or you’re doing climbs where for much of the climb you’re trying very hard NOT TO TOUCH the ground. It’s contrived. It’s wonderfully, horribly contrived and I love the rennet out of it and I hope I never fall out of love with it.
Even though I love bouldering to death it’s not ALL roses when starting bouldering at such an advanced age. So without further ado the top five pro’s of starting bouldering at age 36 and at least one con.
Top 5 PRO’S of starting bouldering at age 36 (or just starting bouldering in general):
When you start bouldering in your 30’s there’s very little pressure to be “good” since there’s very little hope for you to be “good.” If you start at the age of 13 or 18 or even 25 and climb for five years I dare say you better be climbing at least V10. At LEAST V7, but actually at least V10. There’s just no way around it. You have no excuse. Five years is an insane amount of time to learn good technique and get strong.
But when you start at the age of 36 you’re NEVER expected to climb V10. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t even really expect to climb V5 outdoors. So when you show up to the boulder field and little zygotes of humans are crushing V400 all around you and you’re flailing on a V3, you still feel bad, but not in an EXISTENTIAL way. I mean, you feel bad, but it doesn’t cut to your core the same way it would if you were 20 and had been climbing for hella and eveyone around you was still way better.
And it’s nice not to have that pressure.
This is similar to no pressure. When you start bouldering so late in life you don’t really know what’s cool or what’s accepted and you don’t really care. For you it might be super cool to project a V3 slab, even though most people would look at a V3 slab and if they couldn’t do it in the first few goes would be pissed off and/or ashamed. But as an older boulderer you exist in your own kind of bubble. You watch YouTube videos by yourself of Jimmy Webb and Daniel Woods and Drew Ruana and get super psyched. You go off into the woods and boulder by yourself and get super psyched on easy boulders, on V0’s and V1’s and V2’s, and then you get even MORE psyched when you finally start linking some sequences on some V3’s and V4’s. You don’t really know what’s going on in the larger world of climbing. You know nothing about sport climbing. You know even LESS about trad climbing. And you don’t care. All you want to do is trek off into the forest and climb sick (to you) blocs and then watch YouTube videos at night of people climbing even sicker blocks. You’re in your own little world, and nothing outside of that world matters.
3. Adds strength training to your life
I HATE strength training. I HATE maxing out weight. I hate anything that’s doing exercise purely for the sake of doing exercise. This is probably why I have the physique of a hydrangea vine and have never really been super strong in my life. I don’t go to the gym. I don’t sit around at home doing push-ups. And I don’t really care if my pecs resemble a those of a striped bass.
But then I started bouldering, and suddenly I was maxing out all the time. Because that’s what happens when you climb, you max out. You climb until your fingers and arms literally can’t hold you any longer, and you peel off the wall and float to the ground like a wilting daisy. You do this day after day after day, and suddenly you start getting less pumped in sessions, and suddenly you notice that you (sort of) have muscles. Even if they’re old man muscles.
4. It’s super social
There’s no easier way to start talking to someone than when you’re working on a problem together. “Oh, are you doing left hand out left? I’ve been trying right hand. I’m such a jackass…” Or, “Wait, are you heel hooking that tiny chip? How does your heel not pop off?” Or, “Did you just flash that pink? Why do you crush so much harder than me…”
I don’t meet people every time I go bouldering, but it’s not rare either. I met a guy from Seattle while at a weird (but kinda rad) boulder near Mt. Shasta. I met a girl at the Clear Cut Boulders near Gold Bar on a sultry spring day and we climbed the whole afternoon together and the session made my week. I met a guy from Czechia at the Camp Serene boulder and watched him calmly flash Serenity Now V4+ and we went on to climb together, too. And then of course there’s the gym. At the gym you meet people all the time. And the wonderful thing about these interactions is they’re low-pressure, casual. You’re working together towards a common goal. And there’s nothing better to bring people together.
5. If all goes well, it will consume your life
Even starting at the age of 36, if all goes well bouldering will consume your life. You’ll spend very many of your waking hours thinking about how can you send harder. Will lower temps help? Should you get new shoes? Should you start fingerboarding? And that’s to say nothing about the actual problems and beta themselves. You’ll find yourself in bed thinking, “Maybe if I put my THUMB on that hold instead of the fingers. Then I could just kind of squiggle it around as I stood up.” “What if I went right foot high instead of left foot….” “What if just dyno’d the whole damn thing…”
We all need obsessions, and bouldering is one of the better obsessions you could ever have.
Top 5 cons
(this is the only con).
The point is this: You’re never too old to start bouldering. You’re never too old to push your limit. And as I’ve hopefully explained, in many ways it’s even BETTER to start later. Or at least there are a few advantages.
So head down to your local gym, get your temperature checked, put your mask on, and start crushing.