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Top 5 Bouldering Spots: Climb Big Boulders Around the World

Arthur Hsu

Some climbers forgo the ropes, harnesses and tall walls and opt for bouldering, designed for extreme rock-climbing adventurers. At the heart of bouldering are extra-large boulders, starting at 10-15 feet high and "high balls" exceeding 25-feet high.

The true challenge is that bouldering is done without any ropes or harnesses. Climbers must rely on their skills and fearlessness to keep them on the rock and off the crash pad, the portable cushion that is placed at the bottom of the boulder to soften the blow when boulderers tumble back down to Earth. Aside from the foam crash pad, you'll also need good climbing shoes and chalk.

While traditional rock-climbing focuses on an individual's endurance, bouldering is a more social sport that emphasizes strength and powerful moves. The bouldering community often sets off in groups to conquer the big rocks, so grab your pals and set off on an adventure at these top 5 bouldering spots around the world.

Bishop, California
Located on the eastern slope of the lower Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the small town of Bishop, CA, is surrounded by some of the country's best bouldering spots. The 3 main bouldering areas--Happy Boulders, Sad Boulders and Buttermilk Country--offer climbers a diverse bouldering experience, including high-ball granite boulders and pockety volcanic boulders. The Happy and Sad Boulders offer similar terrain tucked into canyons with interesting routes, referred to as problems in the bouldering world, and a range of ratings from easy to difficult. The Buttermilk region has a selection of freestanding boulders called highballs or eggs, with unusual names including A Birthing Experience, The Beekeeper's Apprentice and Jedi Mind Tricks.

Fontainebleau, France
Adrenaline junkies have been bouldering in Fontainebleau, France, since the 1870s. This well-developed bouldering area is just 1 hour south of Paris within the sprawling Fontainebleau forest. Looming sandstone boulders are scattered throughout the forest in a series of color-coded circuits that guide newbies and experienced climbers through a series of unique problems. The Trois Pignons area is one of the most popular spots for climbing with more than 60 circuits and sandy beaches to further soften the blow if you hit the crash pad.

Rocklands, South Africa
Climbers who make the trek to Rocklands, South Africa, are rewarded with a panoramic view of boulders as far as the eye can see, all of which are options for climbers looking to hit the rocks. Rocklands is about 3 hours north of Cape Town in the Cederberg Wilderness Area. There are clusters of boulders in fields at the Roadkill Cafe and the Fields of Joy that make up challenging bouldering courses.

Squamish, British Columbia
Located just an hour north of Vancouver, Squamish, British Columbia, is a North American climbing hot spot when the cool temperatures welcome climbers from the south looking to escape the heat. Squamish appeals to boulderers and traditional route-climbers with plenty of great angles across more than 1,500 routes. The boulders are scattered throughout a forest that sits in the shadow of The Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in the world.

Horse Pens 40, Alabama 
While there are great international spots for climbing, you don't need a passport to experience some hard-core bouldering. Horse Pens 40 Park, or HP40, is packed with sandstone boulders in Steele, AL, just 1 hour east of Birmingham. This historic park is tucked into the foothills of the Appalachians. There are numerous big rocks at sites including Ten Pins, Ghetto Superstar and more difficult problems at Mortal Combat. Bring a tent and head lamp, and plan for some nighttime bouldering and camping, which is also permitted in the park. If you plan your trip accordingly, you may be able to combine some bouldering with the park's popular annual events, including the Alabama leg of the Bouldering Triple Crown competitive series, bluegrass music festivals, American Indian Powwows and motorcycle rallies.

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