Come wintertime in Boulder, most rock climbers shift gears toward indoor climbing.
It’s freezing cold and most of our rocks are plastered with snow. Plus, climbing and training indoors can develop strength faster and more efficiently than “real climbing.”
Even still, consistent indoor exercise can leave a climber feeling like a caged animal. Personally, I value the outdoors so much that I’d rather climb zero-star routes outside than five-star routes inside. I blame this quirk on growing up in Seattle, where the only reliably dry rock climbing in winter — and often spring and fall — was found indoors.
Reluctantly, I climbed in the gym a ton. This unwittingly fostered within me a feast or famine mindset, perhaps bordering on psychosis, that dictated I be outside climbing if at all possible. After all, weeks could pass before the next dry spell.
For better or worse, this mindset perpetuated through my move to Boulder in 2001, and ever since I’ve felt a deep-seated guilt whenever I climb indoors while the sun is shining. As a result, few training protocols have really grabbed me.
That is, until I caught the MoonBoard bug.
The MoonBoard is an 8-foot wide by 12-foot tall bouldering wall that overhangs 40 degrees. A prescribed set of climbing holds is screwed onto the wall in a particular sequence and orientation, such that every MoonBoard is exactly alike. Boulder problems are set by climbers around the world and uploaded to the MoonBoard app. Connect to the board with your phone’s Bluetooth and you can choose problems (that illuminate with LEDs) according to difficulty and other categories.
For example, a climber in Norway can upload a new problem, and within minutes I can try that exact problem on a MoonBoard in Boulder. This standardized feature is precisely what makes this training tool so fulfilling: it has transformed an otherwise isolated activity into an interactive and ongoing global event.
The MoonBoard was developed back in 2005, but it didn’t take off until climbers could connect with one another internationally. This feature is so compelling that other companies, such as Boulder-based Kilter Grips and Denver-based Tension Climbing,have built similar boards with additional features.
Over time, these and other training boards will likely equal or even surpass the MoonBoard in popularity. But for now, the original board is the benchmark.
Speaking of, perhaps the most addictive MoonBoard component is the “benchmark problem.” These boulders are the best of the best; the one percent. Hand-picked by MoonBoard creator, U.K.-based Ben Moon himself and his app administrators, benchmarks are not only classic, they’re absurdly difficult for their given grade.
At first the “sandbagged” grades feel like a slap in the face. But the MoonBoard (and similar boards), trains power, contact strength, and flexibility so effectively that users quickly learn to love it. In an online article last September, Climbing magazine editor, Matt Samet, wrote, “By my third session on the MoonBoard, what had begun as hate and turned into curiosity and stoke had become a full-blown obsession.”
And he’s not alone. Tens of thousands of climbers worldwide use the MoonBoard app, and more connect to this community every day. The social feeling of MoonBoarding can be amplified by logging benchmark problems, which holds appeal for anyone with a competitive streak.
With the popular 2016 set of MoonBoard holds (two newer sets exist), there are currently 374 benchmarks out of about 33,500 (and counting) total problems. Climbing and logging them gives you a ranking among Moonboard users worldwide. Not only can you see which boulders others have done, you can watch videos of the problems being climbed.
Finally, there’s no time limit on MoonBoard problems like there is for standard gym climbs, which are routinely stripped and replaced. The problems will always be there. On every MoonBoard on Earth.
Nowadays, even if the sun’s out, I find myself torn between a bouldering session at Flagstaff Mountain — once my go-to — and a trip to the MoonBoard, found in most Front Range climbing gyms. Because, like anything meaningful, even something as trivial as an 8 by 12-foot sheet of plywood can make us feel part of something much greater than ourselves.
Contact Chris Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8
Part Two: Ranked No. 1 on the MoonBoard for multiple years, climber “Ravioli Biceps” opens up about passion, obsession and how MoonBoard training became an end in itself.