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. 


A conversation with record-breaking mountaineer Monique Richard

The Quebec alpinist has summited many peaks, including her record-breaking climb on Mount Logan in 2018.

In 2009, during a trip to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, mountaineer Monique Richard found her calling: exploring the untamed beauty of mountains. Following the trip, Richard was consumed by the desire to summit some of the world’s highest peaks, beginning with Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t long before the Quebec mountaineer decided to immerse herself in training for the Seven Summits challenge, where she would eventually reach the world’s highest peaks.

The Seven Summits challenge consists of climbing the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. In 2014, Richard broke her first record: she became the first Canadian woman to summit Nepal’s Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain. In 2018, Richard broke another major record, becoming the first woman to ever reach the summit of Canada’s Mount Logan on a solo expedition.

As of late, the alpinist has taken some time off from climbing, preparing and training for future expeditions, as well as hosting motivational conferences. Richard sat down with The Concordian to discuss her passion for high-altitude adventures, how she overcomes adversity, preparing for solo climbs, and more.

The Concordian: What initially ignited your passion for climbing?

Monique Richard: My love at first sight for the vertical world was during the GR20 hike in Corsica, reputed to be one of the most difficult in Europe. Then, my first high altitude experience, on Kilimanjaro. After looking at the sun rise above the clouds on the summit of Africa, I was hooked! Kilimanjaro was the first in my quest [to complete] the Seven Summits from seven continents […] culminating with Mount Everest in 2012. 

TC: As an alpinist, what’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

MR: From a mountaineering point of view, I would say my Mount Logan solo ascent in 2018. The remoteness, the hostile conditions, the solitude and isolation made this trip the most challenging climb I’ve done so far. From a human point of view, it was the death of my dearest friend Arvid Lahti in 2016 on Mount Rainier after reaching the summit together.

TC: Can you talk to me a bit about your 2018 climb, where you were the first woman to summit Mount Logan solo? How did this major achievement impact your future expeditions? 

MR: More than any other expedition, my Mount Logan solo ascent remains the one that has marked me the most during my mountaineering journey. Beyond the seven peaks, or the mountains of the Himalayas, Logan is the jewel of my expeditions, and it represents my biggest challenge.

First of all, because of the extremely hostile conditions on Logan: the altitude being 5,959 metres, the temperature being Siberian cold, storms (one of them immobilized me in my tent for six days), avalanche risks, white outs, and crevices.

And above all, because in addition to being solo, I had the luck, or bad luck, of being practically alone on the mountain. I was 100 per cent in charge of all aspects of the expedition, including orientation, camp construction, and meals.

This solo expedition really placed me in unique conditions that allowed me to live an unprecedented experience alone, facing this huge mountain, and facing myself, my dream, my doubts, my impulses, my fears, and of course, my past and the tragedy on Mount Rainier in 2016. 

TC: What have your expeditions taught you about yourself, especially in regards to overcoming adversity?

MR: I learned to never take anything for granted. Always question, doubt, evaluate, adjust, and accept what needs to be, without wanting to control events or nature, and even sometimes, let go! It’s part of life. It’s good to reach the summit, but the path to it has much more impact on us and is more enriching on a personal level.

TC: How do you prepare for a solo climb? 

MR: For physical preparation, I train four or five times per week. Usually at 5:30 a.m. for an hour and a half to two hours, with weights and cardio. 

For material preparation, [I prepare] all the regular mountaineering gear, with some adaptations: a tent for the lower altitude camps and an ultra light bivouac shelter for the high camps. I also bring my 8,000 metre boots because I expect extremely low temperatures.

For logistical preparations, I need to organize a support team of two: an expedition manager, and a router/weather forecaster.

TC: Can you talk to me about mentally preparing for a climb, especially a solo one? How do you get into the right headspace before your ascent?

MR: Mental preparation is essential in any expedition but especially in the case of a solo.

My mental preparation allows me to anticipate and envision various situations I might encounter during the solo climb. 

Since I attempted to climb Logan with a partner in 2017, when we managed to reach a high point on the mountain, it allowed me to become familiar with the route. With supporting photos and maps, I spent time visualizing the various sections of the route, the potential hazards, and picturing myself [climbing] solo in this environment. But I did not expect to not only be solo, but also to be almost alone on the mountain. This was quite an experience, and although it added to the challenge and the fear, I felt so privileged to experience this unique opportunity, alone on Canada’s highest peak.

TC: Do you ever envision yourself writing a book about your adventures in the future?

MR: It’s a project I’ve been working on for many years. The pandemic has been an opportunity for introspection and reflection, and I’ve started working on my project to write a story about my Mount Logan solo [climb], which will also include my other adventures.

My friend Arvid made me promise to one day write a story of my adventures in the mountains, and I intend to fulfill that promise!


Photographs by Guillaume Cossette

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado climbs the Seven Summits to escape past trauma

Victim of childhood sexual assault makes history by becoming the first openly gay and Peruvian woman to have climbed the Seven Summits

CW: This article discusses sexual abuse 


When life brings on its challenges, most people tend to relax or find their calm through common activities. For 46-year-old Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, she receives her sense of calm through mountain climbing. She has already achieved such incredible accomplishments, but her drive to summit mountains was propelled by heartbreak and pain.

The Peruvian native grew up in Lima during the reign of the Peruvian terrorist organization The Shining Path. At five-years-old, she experienced trauma that no child should ever have to endure; she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse by someone who was working in her family’s home. When Vasquez-Lavado became a little older, she had to confront her past traumas to move forward with her future, and came forward about her sexual abuse to her mother. Her mother was frightened for her daughter and didn’t want her to stay in Peru any longer, so she encouraged Vasquez-Lavado to leave Peru and move to the United States. It was not long after that a young and hopeful Vasquez-Lavado went to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship, where she attended Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Although she tried leaving her past behind, her trauma followed wherever she went and, in her twenties, Vasquez-Lavado struggled with depression. She realized that she had to confront her past instead of trying to forget about it. Therefore, in October 2005, Vasquez-Lavado returned to Peru for the first time since she had left, and attended a meditation retreat.

She recalled how, during this retreat, she had a vision of her adult self reconnecting to her inner child, as both versions of herself walked through a valley surrounded by mountains.

“I need to find a way to free myself of this huge pain that has paralyzed me for so long, and the only way I know how to do so is to walk to the tallest mountain in the whole world,” she recalled saying to herself as her epiphany came to her. “Might as well walk up to the base of Mount Everest,” she recalled saying to herself with a chuckle.

With a goal set in mind, she did just that. Vasquez-Lavado had seven days off of work and she devoted those seven days to climbing to the base camp of Mount Everest. The climb has been estimated to take people two weeks; however, Vasquez-Lavado was able to accomplish it in only four days.

“When I first [saw] Mount Everest, I recall feeling a sense of security and safety that I had never really felt ever in my life,” she said. “For someone who has ever experienced trauma like I had, personally I felt detached from my own body and it got to the point where I barely even recognized myself. So, being on top of these mountains, it’s an unexplainable, breathtaking experience that truly rekindled the spark that I needed in my life.” It was this first trekking experience that completely changed her perspective on life and made her fall in love with mountain climbing.

The following year, in December 2006, Vasquez-Lavado faced another great loss as her partner Lori had passed away. She didn’t want to let the pain and heartbreak of losing her partner shatter her life like her past traumas had.

Therefore, she made a promise to herself and Lori to climb each of the Seven Summits in honour of her partner. Keeping her promise, that year she climbed Kilimanjaro, and the next year she climbed Mount Elbrus. At the top of every peak, she left a picture of Lori.

Remembering her experience, with a smile on her face, she said, “I don’t know why exactly I felt the way I felt walking through these incredible mountains that are a true gift of nature, but for some reason I felt safe, seen, and like someone was holding me for the first time ever in my life.”

She regained her passion for trekking and even got remarried before her life took a turn yet again. In April 2013, Vasquez-Lavado lost her mother to cancer, and three months later her and her partner filed for divorce. Vasquez-Lavado was experiencing grief, heartbreak, and pain all at the same time, and the only way she knew how to keep going and eventually heal was to keep her promise and finish climbing the Seven Summits. She followed up on her promise, and that year she settled on summiting Aconcagua in Argentina.

On top of being a mountaineer, Vasquez-Lavado is also a philanthropist. In 2014, she founded Courageous Girls, which is based in California and aims to help young women who are survivors of sexual violence by bringing them along on adventurous travels. With her non-profit group, she is dedicated to helping victims find their peace and closure through mountain climbing.

“I wanted to empower these incredible women who are survivors by helping them find their inner strength,” she said about why she founded Courageous Girls.

In November 2015, she and a group of girls from Nepal who had all been trafficked in India, hiked to the base of Mount Everest.

“With this experience I hope to provide them with, I want them to be able to accomplish something on their own that no one else is going to take it away from them,” Vasquez-Lavado said of these women’s journeys.

After completing six of the Seven Summits, Vasquez-Lavado still had one more climb to do to keep her promise to Lori: reaching the top of Denali, which she had previously attempted to summit twice. As she was about to go back to Alaska to try to make her third attempt at climbing the mountain, she found herself in a cycling accident. While in the hospital, her doctors had discovered that she had a small tumor at the base of her brain stem, and she was immediately brought into emergency surgery. The doctors gave her two years before she would be fully recovered and regain her physical strength.

However, Vasquez-Lavado was more determined than ever to regain her strength so that she could get back to the one activity that brings her the most fulfillment of all: climbing. She was able to regain her strength back in half the time the doctors told her, and, with her strength back, she headed for Denali and completed her summit, all while enduring a storm. In the summer of 2018, she officially completed her promise, leaving a picture of herself, her mom, and Lori at the top of the mountain.

“I felt I gave everything to the mountain,” she said. “I emptied myself out.”

Vasquez-Lavado’s story is incredible and inspiring, so much so that it was recently announced that her life will be turned into a biopic titled In the Shadow of the Mountain. Actress, Selena Gomez will star and play Vasquez-Lavado,  and the movie will be produced and directed by Oscar winner Donna Gigliotti. The movie is set to be released in 2022.


Feature graphic by Chloë Lalonde @ihooqstudio


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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