From Scotland to the Paris Olympics, bouldering is on the rise - we give it a try

Young woman jumping on handhold in indoor bouldering gym Pic:Andrey Bandurenko/AdobeYoung woman jumping on handhold in indoor bouldering gym Pic:Andrey Bandurenko/Adobe
Young woman jumping on handhold in indoor bouldering gym Pic:Andrey Bandurenko/Adobe
We visit Alien Bloc in Edinburgh’s Canonmills

My friend was supposed to meet me at Edinburgh’s Alien Bloc.

She is late, so I have gone in on my own and am feeling bamboozled.

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This is my first time trying bouldering - the rope-free climbing activity that will feature at the Paris Olympics, under the category ‘sport climbing’, which was originally added to the Olympics for the first time back in Tokyo 2021. It’s becoming increasingly popular, as a fitness activity, too.

The hashtag #boulderingtips has had 18.9m views on TikTok, and Scotland has seen the opening of various indoor centres, including, in recent years, The Climbing Hangar in Edinburgh’s Portobello, Above Adventure in Ayrshire, and The Prop Store in Glasgow.

Apparently, this activity has celebrity fans including Florence Pugh, Lady Gaga, Jason Momoa and Harry Styles.

If only Momoa was here to help me today.

I have the fear after filling out the disclaimer, which seems to use the words ‘death’ and ‘injury’ rather a lot. Still, bouldering, though comparatively safe, isn’t without its risks. I have a friend who tore a ligament in her knee after falling on it at a different venue.

There are huge squishy mats underneath Alien Bloc’s walls, which never exceed more than 4.5 metres in height, but you could land awkwardly. It’s worth booking an induction, to learn how to fall, as well as climb.

I’m winging it after watching a few YouTube videos. Also, I did once - using ropes - scramble to the top of the 30 metre wall at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, though the vertigo gave me an instant migraine and had to belay down and go home.

First of all, I have to mush my feet into the tiny climbing shoes they provide at Alien Bloc.

I feel completely hobbled, so I have to go up two sizes. When my friend arrives, she tells me they’re supposed to be titchy, but I stick with my bigger boots, thank you. You could also bring chalk, to dry out your sweaty palms and help with grip, but I leave that for next time.

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Otherwise, I’m in my usual workout gear - leggings, vest and an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder, obviously, no jewellery.

I am feeling very old. The average age of participants here looks to be about 25. Also, there is something in bouldering called the ape index, which is the length of your arms relative to your body. Basically, lots of people here have HUGE wing spans. I wonder if they were always like that, or if bouldering stretched them out.

My limbs are short, like a mountain goat, and I am ancient. Never mind, once my stuff is in the locker, I’m going in.

We go upstairs first, where there’s an easy wall that’s only about two metres high.

There are holds along the walls, and various routes you can try. For beginners, look out for the Irn-Bru colours of blue and orange. It doesn’t take long before I’m horizontally navigating these, from left to right. Then I go up to ‘piglet’ holds, which are pink and spotted, before moving onto different and more advanced shades.

I really don’t know how people do the black routes, which feature tiny holds that are the size of After Eights. One day.

It gets more advanced downstairs. The walls are higher, and there are winding routes and hardcore challenges, including buttress-like bulges and a pull-up ladder to climb, just with your arms.

It’s fun, and thanks to a few adrenaline bursts, I am now totally hooked. It’s only my sore hands that convince me to wind up. (Don’t apply alcohol hand gel straight after bouldering, like I did, ouch).

My wing span may be short, but I think I’ve found a new hobby.

Admission from £10 at Alien Bloc, 23 Dunedin Street, Edinburgh,



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