My brother and I go for my first bouldering session at Manga Climbing gym in Milan – here are my impressions as a first timer.
Bouldering is a type of free climbing performed on rock faces or artificial rock walls. There are no ropes or harnesses and there is a crash mat in case you fall.
The night before, we find ourselves at my brother Louis’ friend’s place making homemade pumpkin gnocchi. I go ahead and ask Cami, an experienced climber with a strained ankle: “what am I to expect from my first bouldering session?”
“Make sure to stretch out your arms after.”
Louis adds, “otherwise you’ll even have a hard time picking up a glass of water.”
The following day, we are in northeastern Milan, just off Viale Monza. The December Sunday afternoon is brisk and as we duck into the climbing gym. Inside are greeted with smiles by the receptionist. She sorts out a pair of rental shoes for me and we got on our way.
Here is what I took away from my first day bouldering.
1. Bouldering is a very chilled out community
Climbers are chill people by nature. At least in Milan. No flashing brand names on clothing. No judgement from others as you try and fail on the beginner routes. Oh, and people are very approachable.
“This is what I found all over the world, not just in Milan” Louis assures me.
If you are someone that’s shy about showing up and trying a new sport or activity, do not be dissuaded. Everyone is understanding.
If you are still antsy, go early when the climbing gym is empty and take all the time to learn the ropes. We only arrived in the afternoon because the night before we paired the gnocchi with a few bottles of wine.
2. It is a very meditative sport
Bouldering is super meditative. It’s true whether you are 3 or 4 meters up or if you are relaxing down on the mats watching a more experienced climber make their way up, it is a mediation all the way. Let’s start at the beginning. You have a row of 7 mats or so as you enter, perfect for pre-climbing stretching and yoga. Here you find 2-3 people easing into it before they hit the wall.
Second, observing the wall before you make your way up, you must be pensive. Sure, people will help you out with pointers, but the only one who will get you up is yourself. Make a plan, think wisely and then make your attempt.
Being on the wall is another meditative state. The only thing on your mind is making your way up and not falling. Full concentration here. No time for posing or selfies. Either you’re in the zone or you’ve fallen already.
Lastly, it’s a meditation simply sitting and watching people go up and down. Fall and try again. Reach the top and solve the problem they were working at.
3. Bouldering is not as easy as it looks
You really have to channel your inner goat when you make your way up. Perhaps our ancestors had an easier time hanging by our limbs, but we’ve surely lost it! Getting it back isn’t easy either.
In any case, your upper body will suffer and inevitably give out after some time. You will be tense after your first bouldering attempt. Thankfully my brother has a Theragun.
With that being said, you will feel accomplished when the day is over. You’re climbing (or at least attempting to climb) obstacles in your life which is symbolic in itself.
One thing that helps immensely after a bouldering session is warming up by stretching before and cooling down stretching again. To be fair this should be mandatory, regardless of the sport. Focus on the wrists here.
4. It is an inclusive sport for everyone
Bouldering is a sport for everyone. When we arrived, we saw both guys and girls making their way up the walls. Ok mostly guys, but there was a fair distribution of the sexes.
Age really wasn’t an issue. Monkey-like kids found their way up with the help of their parents. Veteran climbers of 50 years plus were scaling the walls without harness, protection or anything. Just their experience and their limbs kept them attached to the wall.
The clientele of this gym was diverse. Italians of course, with many foreign climbers. All helping each other trying to solve the part of the wall they were attempting to complete. Louis expands:
“Climbers are crazy international. Wherever you have mountains, you have climbers. It’s as universal as music.”
The average person was very trim. Yet nobody showed up super buff either, just naturally fit. Seeing that climbing is all about moving around your body weight, perhaps it provides the human body the optimal size and definition.
Interested in other inclusive sports? Check out our coverage on Capoeira.
5. Bouldering is a cheap sport to get into
Bouldering, as opposed to full-on climbing, does not have expensive barriers to entry. Louis, a more avid climber brought his climbing shoes (that permit more goat-like behavior) and a bag of chalk to keep your hands dry and to grip the walls better.
I arrived in a full Adidas tracksuit looking a little out of place. But that didn’t inhibit me following my capra brother on the easier sections of the wall.
My one-time entry to Manga Climbing was 13 euros, which included unlimited time to climb for the day, use the stretching mats and even access the cardio and weight equipment if I wanted. For a little more, I was able to rent climbing shoes (necessary for scaling the wall).
We spent a total of 3 hours there – totally worth the price and the sore muscles. I will be keeping my eye out for bouldering gyms in the future.