March 17, 2022

What Is Highball Bouldering? (And How to Climb It)

by Jullie

Highball bouldering is one of the most dangerous climbing practices.

It involves climbing a boulder problem that has a high chance of failure and injury.

These can be in the form of a high, steep roof, or overhung face with no holds to grab onto.

The risks involved in Highball bouldering are not for everyone.

The climber must have a lot of experience and be very confident in their ability to climb without fear, as they will not be able to stop themselves from falling if they make an error.


Table of Contents
What is a Highball Bouldering 
What is Highball Bouldering? A Highball Boulder Problem

What Is a Highball Bouldering? 

A highball boulder is a bouldering challenge that is higher than the usual boulders and tougher. A highball boulder is between 15 feet and 40 feet high.

Unlike normal bouldering, ropes and belays are not used.

Hence the higher risk posed.

As for the height, it is open to varied interpretations.

Some climbers say it’s a climb beyond 15 feet, while others say it’s somewhere between 34 and 40 feet where the highball turns into a free solo path.

While there are no specific interpretations or regulations concerning highball, ethics and techniques are causes for concern.

Clean ascents are made from the base to the top, but a rope may come in handy for new problems.

Should You Spot Highball Boulder Problems?

It is better to spot when you have an expert highball bouldering problem spotter.

Highball spotting is a rare skill because the person falling from a height of more than 20 feet gains momentum due to gravity.

A climber with more than 150 pounds weight will exert a force of more than 3200 pounds when he falls from a height of 23 feet.

It is equal to the force of a car hitting a person.

Only a highball bouldering spotter can help you in this case.

How to Climb a Highball Boulder?

You can climb a highball boulder by building strength to climb the boulder and gaining experience in bouldering.

You need to focus on your breathing while climbing as it helps you calm down.

Some suggest using mantras to increase your focus.

You can improve your highball bouldering skills by climbing different boulders and learning more about controlling your fear.

Improving physical strength and getting help from a professional highball spotter can increase your confidence during climbing. 

1. It’s a personal thing when it comes to highballs

There are no specific rules for highball bouldering.

Highball bouldering may start from ten feet for an inexperienced climber.

A professional highball bouldering athlete may not consider it highball as his idea about highball is different.

One should not feel embarrassed if his highball level is lower than others because it depends on personal experience.

2. It’s a personal decision when it comes to highballs

Media glorified highball bouldering these days.

Many think that all the athletes should climb some highball bouldering walls.

It is not true because it depends on your personal decision.

Even if you feel you can climb a highball bouldering wall, you are free to choose.

Nothing is forcing you to do it.

It is best to remove all the media pressure from your mind and make a personal decision.

Before Climbing a Highball, What Should You Ask Yourself?

There are some crucial things to know if you want to do highball for the first time.

We will give you a list of questions to help you decide.

1. Why do you want to climb this highball problem?

There are many reasons people climb a route.

Some climb because they want to take on challenges.

Some want to beat their friends.

Some people also do it to post videos on social media and get followers.

It is also acceptable if you have an obsession with climbing.

2. Have you ever climbed something this high before?

You can think about the time you climbed to the same height in similar settings.

It is better to think about your feelings.

Some feel afraid at heights.

Did you make wrong decisions on the bouldering wall due to nervousness?

3. Could you describe the fall you would experience if you were to fall? Where is the crux of the climb, and how hard is it?

You can take help from a professional spotter and ask about the no-fall zones near the boulder.

If there are no fall zones, will it cause severe injuries or death?

You can also ask the spotter to guide you about falling from the bouldering wall.

4. Can you tell me about the landing?

It is crucial to discuss the landing with your spotter or someone with more experience.

A flat landing area can give you many benefits.

You will not feel tense when you have a flat landing area.

A flat landing area will help you fall without injuries.

5. Do you have a lot of crash pads?

Sometimes, only a few pads are enough to land from a highball bouldering wall.

It is not true in all cases, as you may need many pads in some situations.

A professional spotter or someone with more experience in highball bouldering can help you with that.

6. Is it possible to bail out?

Things may not go as planned.

You may have to jump down due to an unexpected situation on the top.

You can talk to someone who climbed the same boulder before you to get the answer.

7. What is your emotional/mental/physical state?

It is the state of a person to determine his ability to make rational decisions and control fear.

Small things can hinder your ability to control fear.

If you did not sleep the night before climbing, you might not make rational decisions during bouldering.

You can think about your mental state before deciding to climb the boulder.

Before sending a highball boulder problem, try it on a rope

You can aim to have fun while climbing.

You may have to try the boulder problem on a rope first.

Some may think that it is a form of cheating because you do not trust your abilities.

It is not the case because you can only decide your situation.

There is no cheating in this sport because there are no rules that you are breaking.

The idea someone is cheating due to rope climbing is unsuitable.

There are several excellent reasons to rope up before sending a highball

  • There are some no-fall zones under the boulder.
  • You do not have experience climbing the same types of boulders and are unsure about the holds.
  • A professional spotter told you about the difficulty of landing as it is dangerous.
  • The down climb is more difficult than the up climbing on the boulder.
  • You do rope climbing to make the climbing more comfortable.

If you opt for a highball problem, here are some tips to use while climbing high off the deck

Highball climbing depends on personal decisions.

You should know all the aspects of highball bouldering before making the decision.

High energy consumption is one aspect of highball climbing.

You should not regret that you did not consider some parameters before climbing the bouldering wall.

It is hard to give someone tips about highball bouldering because everyone has a different level of experience and ability to control fear.

Controlling fear is one of the aspects of the highball type.

We have compiled tips that are beneficial for beginners and experienced bouldering professionals.

1. Practice breathing techniques

You can learn some breathing techniques to control your fear.

Breathing techniques can help you when bouldering by maintaining oxygen levels in your body for intense physical needs.

It also keeps you calm during these situations.

2. Keep a relaxed attitude

People lose focus when they are tense.

Climbers avoid making poor decisions on the bouldering wall by keeping themselves relaxed.

It is easy to say, while doing it is hard.

You will make the best decisions when you have a relaxed mind.

3. Chant mantras

Most climbers use two-word mantras to keep them focused and relaxed.

Saying the words You Can, I Can, Be Calm, and Stay Strong repeatedly will help increase your focus.

It is suitable to make a pattern of your breathing and mantras as it will increase the relaxing effect.

Highball Bouldering Tips

  • Make sure it is a problem that you can crack easily without much effort. The solution entails projecting it first, then reversing it and learning the moves. If you’ve never climbed the problem before, scout it beforehand. Be keen on start-off moves, parts where you bail, the landing spot, how you rest, and how you get down
  • Plan how you will fall. Determine where you will land. Lay down crash pads accordingly.
  • Before climbing and during your ascent, take a deep breath and be conscious of your state of mind.
  • Prepare to get detached from the highball as you descend to the base. Downclimbing is safer for the knees and ankles and better for your knees than leaping over to the padding. Take a step back when you still control your movement.
  • Concentrate on the higher portion of the path and the top-out over the peak.
  • Don’t take a highball issue until you are confident of cracking it. To allay the risk of falling, use a safety rope.

Are Crash Pads Allowed in a Highball Problem? 

Yes, crash pads are allowed in highball bouldering.

Crash pads, whenever used, will help allay the falling risks of a high boulder course.

Stacking them at the boulder base will help reduce the falling impact.

Risks in any form of climbing are inevitable, and so does highball bouldering.

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Crash pads, however, are not the sole guarantee of highball bouldering safety.

Ropes, occasionally, are helpful.

A top rope is essential for highball bouldering if you need to learn and practice complex climbing maneuvers.

Once you have mastered the route, you can forgo the ropes.

According to the legendary boulderer John Gill, a top-rope climb of a highball bouldering challenge is legal.

How Tall is a Highball Boulder?

Highball problems are generally considered anything higher than 15 feet in height.

However, the definition of a “highball” cannot be determined with certainty.

Some elite climbers consider any problem below 20 feet high a “tall problem.”

It qualifies as a free-solo course at the height of about thirty feet.

Even so, the boundaries between boulder problems and routes are blurred.

What Do You Consider Highball Bouldering? 

As with highball bouldering, there are many factors in the mix.

On average, bouldering is any scaling that you perform without the aid of safety equipment, apart from crash pads and a safety rope.

Highball bouldering will entail the same, but with a slightly different height that is higher than a boulder’s height.

Suffice it to say, if the height surpasses fifteen feet, going towards 35 feet, and you successfully scale it, then it is highball bouldering.

However, it’s all determined by the complexity of the ascent and the smoothness of the touchdown, which are equally crucial.

High Planes Drifter, in contrast, isn’t necessarily regarded as a highball despite the boulder’s 35-foot height.

On the other hand, the crux is about 15 feet from the base with a solid descent, and everything beyond that level is mostly fourth grade. 

The White Rastafarian (20′ feet high, generally regarded as a highball) is an excellent comparison because the crux is at a similar level as the drifter.

Yet, it has a dangerous boulder close to the foot, and the maneuvers following the crux are difficult.

Is Highball Bouldering Rewarding? 

Highball bouldering is rewarding yet risky.

Crash pads and topes make highball bouldering a bit less perilous.

If you are approaching highball bouldering from a professional angle, there are financial benefits.

On the other hand, it’s a high-intensity activity considered a compound exercise.

Doing it means strengthening your arms, calves, shoulders, and core.

Also, it sharpens your mental grit as you are exposed to several puzzles standing between your success and failure.

Lastly, as with any other climbing form, highball bouldering gives you a chance to socialize.

You can solve your route’s puzzle as a team and help each other succeed.

Is Highball Bouldering Dangerous?

Yes, highball bouldering is dangerous.

Consider doing advanced bouldering with the same risks associated with bouldering.

If you have no crash pads, it will be fatal when you accidentally fall.

More risks are on the menu when you do not have prior info about the boulder path.

In this case, you should use a rope to study the route before scaling without it.

Other dangers of highball bouldering include broken ankles, customarily associated with reckless falling, and more climbing-related injuries.

As you grip and move on the boulder’s surface, there is also the risk of tearing your ligaments.

Reckless falling can also break or fracture one’s legs.

Who Has Climbed a V17?

Nalle Hukkataival has only scaled V17 in 2017 and Daniel Woods in 2019.

The latter made this feat after a successful ascent on the “sleepwalker,” while Nalle achieved it by making the first ascent on the Burden of dreams.

Is Highball Bouldering Free Soloing?

No, highball bouldering is not free soloing.

Free soloing is a type of climbing on rock or ice marked by the climbers’ avoiding ropes and protective gear.

It relies on personal strength, awareness, and skill.

They share the similarity with highball bouldering, but at times, highball bouldering may involve using a rope.

To take it further, free soloing is perilous.

The climber gets to higher altitudes where falling may be a death ticket.

So, when a highballer is eager to fall and gets to plan for the incident, a free soloist isn’t exposed to such privileges.

Lastly, a highballer will use a cliff, whereas free soloing specifically happens on high mountains.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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