UPDATE: Someone on Reddit informed me that the idea I describe below has already been done in the UK and it’s called the Moonboard. It’s almost identical to the system I envisioned. Seems like a great idea but apparently it hasn’t proven to be very popular – probably because the number of climbers that are motivated enough to build something like this (and have the space to do it) is relatively small. However, this is sort of a network effect idea – the more people that have it, the more appealing it becomes…
I’m been thinking about an interesting idea for rock climbing (specifically home and gym bouldering). The idea was inspired by two things:
1) IFSC speed climbing walls, which use a standardized route pattern, holds, and wall angle so that climbers around the world can practice and compete on exactly the same route.
2) Crossfit, which uses standardized workouts called Workouts of the Day (“WODs”). This allows people around the world to share the same workout experience, motivate (or compete with) each other (in person and online), and track their performance. This has been a big part of Crossfit’s incredible success.
What if the ideas of standardization and sharing were applied to bouldering? Imagine hundreds or even thousands of climbers across the world with the same simple, low cost bouldering wall at home or in their local gym. Using the simple system described below they could set up identical boulder problems and connect with people across the country (and world) that are working the same problems. It wouldn’t take long for the community to amass a large collection of “open source” boulder problems that could be shared, discussed, and rated by users for difficulty and quality.
Here’s how it could work:
1) The system could be based on a simple, inexpensive “woody” bouldering wall, similar to the walls many of us have in our garages and basements. The wall size and overhang would be standardized – perhaps three 4 x 8 foot panels stacked to form an 8 x 12 foot wall. With a 1 foot kicker panel and an overhang of about 35% this wall would fit in a room with an 8 foot ceiling.
Figure 1. Side view of a basic wall design. Standardized, simple, and affordable.
2) Panels would be manufactured to ensure precise bolt hole locations and, more importantly, they would have “alignment holes” around each threaded bolt hole to make sure holds are oriented properly (more on hold orientation below). Rows and columns of bolt holes would be labeled so that the coordinates of each location could be easily referenced (e.g. “J16” as shown in Figure 2 below).
Figure 2. The wall panels would have a pre-drilled grid of bolt holes,
with column and row labels so that boulder problem “blueprints”
could reference hold locations.
3) One of the big challenges with this idea is hold orientation. Any climber knows that turning a hold a few degrees one way or the other can dramatically change the difficulty. This problem is easily solved with a peg & hole alignment system. Holds would be molded with short alignment pegs on the back that fit into small holes around each bolt hole in order to precisely and securely orient holds in fixed positions. This feature would be crucial to make sure that boulder problems could be accurately replicated on any Open Source wall.
Figure 3. Each bolt hole would be surrounded by alignment holes
that enable precise orientation of holds that are molded with
matching pegs on the back. The design shown here would support
four orientations of a hold (0, 90, 180, & 270 degrees).
4) Boulder problem “blueprints” would be a simple list of each hold to be used (holds designed for this system could each have a name), its location on the wall (column and row), and its orientation. With this system, problems could be set from blueprints in a matter of minutes with zero routesetting skill – a big plus for people who would rather climb than set problems. Lots of boulder problem blueprints would be available online so that climbers could choose problems by difficulty, style, quality rating, and other factors (and of course submit new problems). The website would allow users to post beta and comments and upload photos and videos, much like Mountain Project (in fact, the community could use Mountain Project pretty much as is). It would be easy to connect with climbers of similar ability and climbing style. You can imagine that talented routesetters would develop a following and perhaps pro climbers would contribute. Wouldn’t it be fun to try a problem designed by Chris Sharma from the comfort of your garage?
5) With a relatively small set of holds (maybe 50?) a wide range of problems would be possible. Ideally, the standards for this system would be shared by all climbing hold manufacturers and they could sell hold sets designed for specific problems (sell holds by making them part of a great boulder problem!).
I like this idea for a few reasons:
- It would make training more social and fun.
- It would allow climbers to quickly set high quality routes on their home wall.
- It would allow climbers to track their ticks online and compare with others.
- Problems could be documented forever and favorites could be revisited (re-set) from time to time.
- It would allow for benchmarking of ratings by many climbers, similar to what happens on sites like Mountain Project.
Does this idea have legs?