Boulders in Bozeman

I say that recreational interests have erupted in the past thirty to forty years. But you ask what a 20 year old knows about the last forty years. In my defense, I draw from forty years of outdoor experience. My dad’s experience.  Over four decades ago, he started camping out and backpacking. That led to rock climbing, ice climbing and extended backpack trips (try 175 days!). Mountaineering and other adventures followed.

Back in the 70s, when my dad was first backpacking, he was part of a tiny minority. At the end of that decade, he joined an even smaller group: ice climbers.  When my parents hiked the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada, one third of their route has trail-less map-and-compass navigation through the wilderness.Few people backpacked at all. Compare that to the present.The Continental Divide has become a backpacker’s highway (but not a freeway, like the Appalachian Trail). Backpackers abound. Summer weekends bring hordes of climbers to all the crags. Finding another party’s tool placements in an ice fall is not uncommon. REI is the Wal-Mart of outdoor sports, bringing consumerized outdoor gear to the masses. And the masses climb rock and ice, backpack, go on mountaineering expeditions, and all the rest. Don’t get me wrong – increased interest in outdoor recreation is great. I just wanted to illustrate the change which has taken place.

I enjoyed one of the benefits of this change last week. In Bozeman Montana, someone had the bright idea to build a series of small playgrounds catering to this ever growing population of outdoor enthusiasts.  Five or so concrete “boulders” have been placed in parks throughout Bozeman. And truth be told, these boulders are a great place to hang out and practice a bit of climbing. Thirty years ago, only a tiny segment of the population would have been interested in these. But today, there are enough climbers around that the boulders see a fair amount of use.

I have yet to visit all five boulders, but of the three I have visited, each one is different, requiring different technique to climb. Some have finger and hand cracks, others feature large overhangs. My favorite boulder included a wide variety of holds: little ledges, finger holes, knobs – great for laybacks and friction holds – and a comforting selection of buckets. Buckets are big, deep, bombproof holds. Buckets induce relief on a tough climb.

The increased interest in climbing over the last few decades is fairly noticeable, but if this kind of playground becomes common, I can see kids ditching swings and monkey bars for these boulders. Think how many climbers we could have in another forty years.

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