Chalk dust was sprinkled throughout the Maine Bound Adventure Center, like the early signs of the season’s first snowfall: The 14th annual University of Maine Boulder Bash was well underway.
With the efforts of Maine Bound Adventure Center coordinator Charlie Bloedon, rock climbing manager Mark Warner and help from various local sponsors, Maine Bound’s Boulder Bash had its largest outing yet, with around 70 competitors and dozens of spectators.
“I’ve been here for almost five years now, and every year the event has gotten bigger and bigger with the community,” Bloedon said. “It’s great to see familiar faces in here. We have a small group, and it takes people a little while to realize they love this activity. They keep coming back when they do.”
Boulder Bash is a friendly bouldering competition — basically indoor rock climbing without a rope. The floor is padded to begin with, but a larger mattress-like “crash pad” is used for extra protection.
“Bouldering exploded in the ’80s,” said Warner, who has been managing the rock climbing wall for two years. “Fourteen, 15 years ago, I’m sure there was some people that were like, ‘Why aren’t we having a competition here?’”
Various paths up the wall have different difficulty levels ranging from a V0 — which, according to Warner, “anyone off the street can climb” — to an “unbelievably hard” V12.
“It’s a subjective rating,” Warner said. “In competition, though, anything that has 0 to 99 next to it is a V0, anything in the 100s is a V1 and so on. I think the hardest one we have is a 920 or 930, which is a V9. I don’t know if there’s anyone here that would be able to do it.”
The beginning of each path is designated by two pieces of the same colored tape. The competitors start with their hands on the tape and can only use holds indicated by the same color tape as they climb up the wall.
“Once you get up the wall, there’s an outlined-box at the top, and you have to grab that with both hands and control: You can’t just jump up and hit it and fall. You have to be like, ‘alright, I made it,’” Warner said.
Each competitor has a chart featuring numbers corresponding to each path up the various walls. If the competitor completes the path in the first try, he or she gets a certain number of points. For each subsequent attempt needed, the number of points obtained lessens.
“We made little plaques with old holds as the top prizes,” Warner said. “Other prizes that we had were $10, $15 and $20 gift cards to Woodman’s and Verve and a gift certificate to Cadillac Mountain Sports.”
In addition to the men’s and women’s divisions, there was also a group for those 12 years old, which featured a number of climbers from a local church’s youth group.
“There’s a local climbing club called Thrive; it’s through a local Baptist Church,” Warner said. “I go out with them every couple months and teach self-rescue clinics and sports climbing clinics. Last year, we probably only had four or five kids under the age of nine; but this year it’s exploded, which is awesome to see and it’s something we didn’t really expect.”
The rules differ slightly for children under the age of 12. While they are still encouraged to use the path that the colored tape indicates, they can use any of the holds as footholds, opening up the variation they can use to get to the top.
Warner’s interest in climbing began in middle school, due in part to his older brother. Warner soon explored a couple spots in New England and became enthralled by the activity.
“I went out to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and fell in love with it — like, head over heels,” he said. “When I came to the University of Maine, I walked into the Maine Bound Center and was like, ‘this place is awesome!’ I really wanted to come to UMaine because of this.”
While Warner enjoys it, he’s not looking to turn climbing or instructing into a full-time job. Instead, he’s planning on finishing up his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering technology.
“I’d love to be able to guide after Maine Bound, in the summer or weekends,” he said. “But it’s a hobby. I feel if I made it a job, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable. It would be more stressful.”
While Warner has watched the climbing wall expand in popularity in the last two years, Bloedon has marveled at the expansion of the Maine Bound Adventure Center.
“Maine Bound Adventure Center used to be in the third floor of the Union. It was about the size of a closet. It’s come a long way in magnitude,” Bloedon said.
Boulder Bash is the hallmark event each year that Maine Bound develops as a climbing wall staff, but the Adventure Center is constantly offering excursions, most of which are free for UMaine students with an active MaineCard.
“We do events every weekend over the course of the semester, programs from hiking to skiing to water sports,” Bloedon said. “We do a lot of non-traditional sports and activities — and by all means, the recreation popularity has increased over the last 30 years and with it has come our chance to grow and develop with the outdoor sports community. Our audience is people who are interested in the sport but want to learn more.”
Since Bloedon took over, student involvement at Maine Bound has nearly doubled, and the program is always looking for more help and support.
“We are almost entirely student-driven,” Bloedon said. “We have 38 student employees. It continues to grow. We had about 20 students five years ago, so we’ve almost doubled in size.”