What even is a V-6?

Demystifying the strange culture of indoor bouldering and the notorious bouldering bro.

First impression: it smells like feet in here. 

Walking into an indoor climbing gym is a bit like stepping off the spaceship onto another planet. The air is heavy with the unmistakable odour of sweaty feet, the walls are adorned with brightly coloured holds in all shapes and sizes, and—hey, what’s up with all the man buns? 

Even if you’ve never experienced the climbing gym first-hand, chances are high you’ve heard about indoor bouldering. It’s inescapable: Brie Larson is doing it, the guy behind you in class can’t stop talking about it, and climbing wall photos seem to have replaced the Tinder fish photo (if you don’t know what fish photo I’m referring to, consider yourself lucky.)

For those who have managed to escape the discourse, indoor bouldering refers to free-climbing artificial rock walls on which “problems” have been set. These problems are graded on a V-scale of difficulty from V-0 to V-17, hence why you might hear someone bragging about the crazy V-6 they flashed last weekend.

As bouldering takes the spotlight, so does a very specific archetype: the bouldering bro. Who is this notorious figure, and does he bring a bad name to the climbing community?

“When I picture somebody who boulders, it’s the beanies, man buns and skinny, patchwork-tattooed arms that come to mind first, as you will never enter a bouldering gym and not see that guy,” said Simon Bowrin, a first-year Concordia student who has been climbing for roughly a year. 

There’s a certain mentality that can accompany climbing, a pretentiousness that is prevalent in any scene. Like film bros and skater boys, the archetype goes beyond the “look.” There’s also that attachment to obscure jargon, a set of overlapping interests, and immense bravado. Bouldering bros are the ones squinting up at the wall with their hands coated in chalk, talking loudly about their life-changing hiking trek and their ever-growing Nalgene collection.

Those archetypes are real, although their existence doesn’t consume the scene.  “Like every subculture, there’s the stereotypical people out there ruining the reputation of the sport for the 90 per cent of kind people who participate,” said Bowrin.

In truth, the vast majority of the scene is welcoming and non-judgemental. People of all demographics intermingle, and you might see someone attempting their first V-0 right beside someone jumping for a V-8. This can be intimidating, but also inspiring; bouldering is unique in that it’s an extremely easy sport to break into. Most gyms provide shoe rentals, and bouldering can be quite social as people observe each other’s technique and chat about how best to complete a problem. There are also countless physical and mental benefits of the sport itself, as it provides a full-body workout with problem-solving aspects involved. 

In each Concordia Student Union agenda (distributed at the beginning of the year), there are coupons for a free try at Café Bloc, a climbing gym on St Laurent. So bring a friend and go check it out—beware of the bouldering bro, but keep in mind he doesn’t define the culture. 


Things I wish I had known when I started climbing

Everything you need to know about indoor bouldering

When I decided to delve into the world of bouldering, I was merely hoping to keep myself busy amidst troubling times. Coming off a summer in which I looked to broaden my activity spectrum by picking up new hobbies and habits, I carried that positive momentum into the fall when I obtained an indoor climbing membership. Bloc Shop, a bouldering centre in the greater Montreal area, was to be my fitness getaway until further notice.

In my first session, I completed beginner bouldering routes (also known as ‘problems’) but couldn’t wrap my mind around anything beyond. Over the course of two hours, I did nothing but fall and fail. Yet, I was unmistakably hooked.

The sport I initially considered a temporary pass-time quickly became a genuine passion. Fast forward to today and nothing has changed; I spend most of my time in the gym laying on my back, staring at a looming problem, speculating what went wrong and how I could better approach the problem in the future.

After three months of regular practice, I have a solid grasp of the basics, but I am pridefully inadequate compared to my skilled peers. During my journey thus far, I’ve received valuable feedback from fellow climbers, tips that I regret not knowing from day one. Whether it’s to avoid injury, conserve energy, or break down a physical or mental barrier, here is the information I wish I knew from the start.

Don’t be embarrassed to climb in front of others

This is an issue I continue to struggle with today, and it’s something that’s frankly easier said than done when you’re first picking up the activity, and it feels like all eyes are on you. When I started, I avoided areas of the gym that had experienced climbers around because I feared their judgement. As a result, I hindered my improvement by limiting the routes I had access to.

The truth is, people are hardly inclined to pay attention unless you are actively demanding it. In addition, experienced bouldering athletes understand the hardships of the sport, and can be reliable sources for advice.

Speaking of which…

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions

I went through a period in which I went completely autonomous in my training. At the time, my philosophy led me to believe I would become a fundamentally better climber if I could solve problems independently. For over a month, I would spend entire sessions on a single challenging problem, failing repeatedly, learning nothing, and ultimately building bad habits.

When I got stuck on a particularly demanding route, I shamefully caved in and asked my experienced friends for help. They pointed out a couple of minor technical issues I had become accustomed to and within five minutes, the problem that had taken over my week and psyche was completed without a sweat. Moral of the story: leave your ego at home, and be willing to listen.

Attempt harder routes and don’t be afraid to fail

It’s very common to attach oneself to a completed route for numerous sessions because it makes us feel accomplished and can build self confidence.

However, attempting bouldering problems beyond one’s climbing level builds mental fortitude that makes for better athletes in the long run. Challenging obstacles can also help target weak points in one’s abilities that lower-levelled walls will often mask. The best climbers are all alike in that they are constantly seen emphatically failing only to get back up and try again.

Try to complete problems in a manner that leaves no doubt

Beginner climbers tend to overuse their muscles by tensing up, which can lead to the improper usage of leverage, technique, and momentum. In the short-term, this can result in success, especially at lower levels. However, once one gets highly acclimated and invested in the sport, “powering” through routes can hinder one’s progression significantly and can have negative ramifications on the body from an injury and recovery perspective.

In my early experience, if a problem was difficult or physically demanding, but I managed to get the job done, I would pack my supplies and make sure I never acknowledged the problem again. Now, I try my best to be honest with myself and only receive credit for a route when I’ve completed it confidently and efficiently. As a result, I fail and learn a lot more than I used to.

Warm up to prevent injuries

This is applicable to every sport and it’s no different for climbing. Whether it’s by actively warming up or carrying out simple problems before tackling the focal points of a given session, it’s crucial to get the body warm and loose in a sport that leaves one easily susceptible to injuries if approached incorrectly.

Every time I’ve gotten hurt in my three months of experience, it’s been due to my lack of discipline when I enter the gym. Blisters, bruises, and general soreness can all be mitigated with a proper emphasis on warming up prior to climbing.

Most importantly, have fun

This idea sounds trivial, but there were periods of time when I was so caught up in my performance that I lost sight of the joy. When I am needlessly worked up, the negative atmosphere takes its toll on my technique and routine. Once I dig myself out of the senseless hole, though, the outcome is typically a productive, enjoyable, and wholly unique workout.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


Bouldering with Concordia University

Going on an adventure to Val-David with some brave students

On a cool November morning, 15 Concordia students met at the McDonald’s next to Côte-Vertu metro. It’s a good place to meet, eat a heavy breakfast and drink plenty of coffee before heading out for a day of bouldering.

What is bouldering?

It may sound silly, but bouldering is the sport of climbing boulders. Unlike rock or mountain climbing, the goal is not just to get to the top, but to get there by solving a “problem,” by working through a series of moves on small, often overhanging holds. In this sport, the emphasis is on difficulty. Boulderers fall often and when they do, they fall on to crash pads—small mattress-type cushions that soften the impact.

For these Concordia students, bouldering is a fun way to spend a day in the woods with your friends, working on “problems.”

Five cars left the metro station and headed north that morning towards Val-David, Que., a picturesque, alpine-style village in the Laurentians.

Best known as a pit stop along the Petit-Train-du-Nord bike path, Val-David is a quaint tourist spot. The town is divided by two rivers. It has a church, dozens of small restaurants, cafés and bakeries, and is situated in a valley, surrounded by rolling hills that turn bright orange and red this time of year.

What many people do not know about Val-David is that it is the heartland of climbing in Quebec. According to the Val-David guidebook, climbing legends like Paul Laperriere and Bernard Poisson cut their teeth on the cliffs near the town in the 50s and 60s. Before long, those pioneers had revolutionized the sport in Quebec, pushing physical limits while exploring what seemed like a never-ending collection of walls, caverns and pinnacles.

The Val-David regional park has more than 500 climbing routes.

Concordia students gear up to climb the big boulder.

By the late 70s, it is fair to say that Val-David climbing was well-established and well-known, at least within the Quebec climbing community, according to the Val-David climbing guidebook. What was only beginning to become known was a new sport: bouldering.

Today, bouldering is taking the world by storm. According to the International Federation of Sport Climbing, seven thousand people attended the Bouldering World Cup finals in Paris, France earlier this year. Thousands more watched the event online.

Why is it becoming so popular? The simplicity of the sport is to blame, according to Nick McCullagh, one of the executives of the Concordia Rock Climbing Association.

“It’s so simple and aesthetic: whether you succeed or not depends on if you can do the moves to get to the top. There’s no complicated rules,” he said.

Of course, it’s much more complex than that, as the students who went to Val-David discovered. The problems on the Val-David boulders are hard and physical, requiring impressive finger strength. Some students rose to the occasion, attempting difficult problems and sometimes “topping out”—finishing the problem by getting to the top of the boulder. Others stayed on the easier rocks and were introduced to the sport, learning the definitions of discipline-specific jargon like “gaston” and “figure-four,” both of which are just fancy names for moves that boulderers use to get up the walls.

The students also learned the definition of “sending-season.” It’s that time of year when it is so cold outside that skin-on-rock friction is improved. It happens when temperatures drop to around 0 C and it’s when most professional boulderers finally “send their projects,” meaning they get to the top of boulders they’ve been trying to climb for a long time.

It was so cold on that November day that it snowed, but according to some, there’s nothing better than bouldering in the snow. “If you fall and your friends don’t catch you on the crash pad, then you’ll land in the snow and that’s just as good,” said Matthew Packer, an experienced boulderer who was with Concordia at Val-David that day.

How do you finish off a day of wrestling with boulders, a day of defying gravity? The Concordia climbers ended up at Le Mouton Noir, one of Val-David’s popular local restaurants, sharing stories, laughing, drinking and nursing injured fingers. Time well spent in good company, each and every one of them ready to do it again.

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