Posted on 31. Aug, 2009 by in News

CATS has long been the training ground for the elite in Boulder. There are no workout machines, the walls are short, the holds are almost never changed, and there are always a million screaming children everywhere. That being said, it is hard to deny that the most difficult indoor climbing in the country has been done here. Right now, my friend James O’connor has been spending alot of time there, setting problems and filming them for his new site Cats Climbing. The grades are stout, and James is nearly unstoppable on a random Tuesday night. Don’t believe me? If you live in Boulder or are passing through check out some of the problems he has filmed. My contribution is the “B3” problem, which is taped. I think James calls that one “CATS 8A”, which he says “I usually take the grade of what something would be outside, and subtract one.” By comparison, I did Clear Blue Skies V11 or V12 outside in a couple days, I haven’t done three of the four moves on the simulator “Keen problem” which James calls 8B.

As much as I love climbing outside, it is awesome to see this kind of devotion to indoor climbing. Not only has it lead to a very high standard of difficulty, it is also some of the first examples I have seen of people systematically quantifying the indoor experience, in America, with such detail. This type of mentality was seen years ago with climbers like Wolfgang Gullich, when he developed the campus board and the now famous problems like Splinter and from The School Room in the UK Perky Pinky, which became testpieces in their own right. I applaud James for his efforts and devotion to difficult climbing.
I also think the indoor realm is a niche where climbing is headed next. 20 years ago, in America, bouldering was “practice climbing” and a “waste of time”. As our sport develops it seems to be progressing towards areas of greater focus and concentration. Gone are the huge objectives of the Himalayas. Most of the major big walls have been climbed, Sport climbing has been developed around the world etc etc and so the view turns inwards. Bouldering came into its own as the younger generation dismissed the thoughts of the trad and sport climbers and did their own thing, grabbing crashpads so they could safely dyno between holds. The old salts shook their heads and talked about the days of old, when people didn’t mistake bolts for courage, lycra for style, and bouldering as an end.
The gym is the next venue to play this model out, as most boulderers respond negatively when it is suggested that it is the future. Not only is it accessible to anyone living in a somewhat major metropolitan area, something the outside lacks, but standardization of walls, angles, holds, etc. is much easier. Campus boards and system walls will come into vogue, and climbers around the country can push themselves on the same problems, regardless of location, sharing their sends on the internet, much in the same way they do now.
With a crunch on oil, prices are bound to go up soon making travel expensive and excessive. The new generation will find a new way. The weather is always perfect indoors, the holds aren’t sharp, and there is often a great social scene, providing youngsters with something to do and some place to hang out.
Companies popping up in Denver like Athletk Spesfik bring a modern and professional view to training and climbing. When I was training there Dartfish analysis was used to compare attempts on singular moves. Digital video is overlain and movement mistakes become easy to see, and easy to correct. Incredible new gyms like Movement here in Boulder are the exemplar for an indoor setting. Competitions bring access to the mainstream, and in turn foster youth teams and leagues, all with the focus of climbing inside. Instead of sponsored athletes hiding outside in the woods by themselves, they can really be part of a community, and demonstrate their abilities for all to see, like is seen in modern skateboarding. I can hear the youth of the future saying “I can’t believe people climbed outside, it’s so sharp and painful, and I don’t like to hike anyways” to the cringing of the old bouldering guard. Even now, areas like Boulder Canyon, which in terms of quality are pretty lackluster, (compared to places like Rocklands) are very popular. Mostly, I think this is happening because of the ease of getting there. Driving two hours to go to the Poudre Canyon or Red Feather has become more and more unreasonable, and people seem to be willing to sacrifice quality for convenience.

Obviously this is all speculation, but nevertheless fun to think about. In no way am I suggesting that people are going to stop bouldering outside and if they do, it’s not going to stop me. I just see this as a new opening for climbing. Either way, people will be enjoying the feeling of upward movement and bringing their own take to this unique and amazing sport.

27 Responses to “CATS”

  1. 10000 B.C

    31. Aug, 2009

    “Gone are the huge objectives of the Himalayas.”

    Didn’t think it was possible for me to regard boulderers as being even more myopic and misguided than I already did, but, Live and Learn!

  2. B3

    31. Aug, 2009

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. My point was not that there is nothing left to climb in the Himalayas, but what was once the training ground (Messner in the Dolomites) for huge objectives (like those in Asia) became an end to its own. That pattern continues to distill itself and the next step from bouldering is the gym.

  3. el nino

    31. Aug, 2009

    The next step from bouldering is the gym? Actually the next step from bouldering is sport/trad, and from sport/trad to freeing walls, from there to alpinism etc.

    Maybe you should be a bodybuilder, where the result of the training is its own end, valued over any actual application of it (kinda like bouldering…), which is what you seem to be advocating. Because surely the next step from the rock gym, since power is the goal, would be the weight-training gym. Just cut to the chase and start pumping iron…

  4. B3

    31. Aug, 2009, clearly.

  5. liar

    31. Aug, 2009

    after my gym is up and running tomorrow, im flying you out here on a jet to set

  6. peter b

    31. Aug, 2009

    Too bad the naysayers got here first Jamie. Some very good points about the future of climbing and not myopic or misguided at all. The idea that bouldering’s next step is sport/trad or something else is not accurate in my view. Bouldering’s next step is harder problems. If someone can explain exactly what the “actual application” of any climbing is, I ‘d love to hear it.

    Remember that a crew was doing this kind of thing at CATS starting back in the mid 90s. The holds may be smaller and/or further apart but nothing significant has changed in my view. Only the cast of characters has.

  7. sock hands

    31. Aug, 2009

    holy missed point. it’s not about you and your values or what should be, it’s an observation of what is actually going on.

    though the outdoors are becoming increasingly crowded, the influx is still far outpaced by the flood of new and strong climbers in gyms across america, many of which are content to keep their climbing to the gym.

    after trekking a heap of pads through yesterday evening’s humidity, then rain…. up very steep, loose hillisides, through ivy, only to find mediocre wet lines covered in saturated lichen doom, i’m not far off from sympathising with them.

  8. Brian

    31. Aug, 2009

    It is not unusual for revolutionary ideas to be laughed at and ridiculed.

    Time will be the judge.

    Would there be a Jade without CATS?

  9. B3

    31. Aug, 2009

    Peter, thank for the commentary. i fully realize that what has been going on at CATS was in place when I moved to Boulder 8 years ago. Perhaps the difference I see is that James has really taken another step, by documenting all of this and putting it on an international forum for all to see. Maybe someone from your crew would have done the same and what has really changed is the internet. So now, instead of the 7 people that would be there on a tuesday night, anyone who has an internet connection can see these problems, think about them, get beta and when they travel to Boulder they can come in and try them. I do see that as a significant change. I still tell the James about the yellow problem that I believe you set (and sent) on the steep wall. I think that was CATS V12.

  10. Mark E

    31. Aug, 2009

    I’ve always liked the idea that climbing has followed a trajectory of larger to smaller. As Jamie points out, the last century has seen the most coveted ascents move from mountain summits to multi-pitch walls to one-pitch routes to boulder problems. So the next frontier, in my opinion, will be one-second dead-weight hangs from the tiniest holds imaginable. I can’t wait for the day when I chalk up, raise my feet off the deck for an eyeblink, and go home! The purity on non-movement will eclipse the pointless struggle to ascend ever upward. Let’s hang!

  11. jimmy

    31. Aug, 2009

    on, they have some of the standardization that you speak of, allowing climbers to work on the same problems around the globe. they provide specs for a board, as well as problems that one can set on it.

  12. campusman

    01. Sep, 2009

    I am looking for other peoples opinions on a T-Nut Pattern. Should I do a grid pattern like Cats or should I do the staggered pattern like at most gyms?

    I like the staggered pattern because it offers more variety with placing holds in different areas.
    The grid pattern looks like it offers a better training regime when it comes to moving a hold just one t nut further in the same line, not diagonally. Maybe that’s what I will do but what do you guys think?

  13. peter b

    01. Sep, 2009

    Jamie, I agree the Internet is the big difference here. I do remember thinking back when I climbed at CATS regularly that putting together an interim guide to problems at CATS might be interesting, since holds were seldom changed and shorter problems rarely taped. However such a project seemed both infinitely long and somewhat silly at that time. It is very interesting and inspiring to see the commitment James has made to recording the problems at CATS.

    James’ blog is not the first guide to indoor or man-made bouldering but it stands as possibly the first Internet-based updatable one. It stands as a manifesto of sorts as to the value of gym bouldering in its own right. As such it recalls the commitment that Gill made to climbing boulders in an age when high mountains and big walls were what “real” climbers climbed on. Even today, many people recall Gill primarily because of The Thimble when in fact his greatest legacy was in pointing to less obvious, safer, and much harder lines. The bias toward problems that feature risk remains strong today but bouldering has always been for me about finding difficult interesting moivement on whatever surface is at hand. It could be CATS, my home wall, or the infinitely varied environment of natural rock. The superior attitudes and scorn directed by some toward the pursuit of bouldering appear to me as evidence of insecurity and lack of confidence in the meaning of climbing. Such a need for external validation is indicative more of a weak sense of self-belief than anything else.

  14. B3

    01. Sep, 2009

    Peter, great comment, thanks for the input! I love it.

  15. greasy enchiladas

    01. Sep, 2009

    Jamie, Read this after it first came out and knew you would catch some shit. I thought you made some very interesting points and some interesting thoughts to consider. Keep it coming. ge

  16. Brion

    03. Sep, 2009

    The trend is there it’s not so hard to imagine things going just as you describe. Also, in certain part of the world like the southeastern u.s you can’t really climb outside year round and this may be the summer time equivallent of boulering outdoors

  17. campusman

    07. Sep, 2009

    I think I’m going to do the grid pattern like at Cats. I like the training aspect it offers. This is against the grain with 99.99% of all gyms, but I’m pretty sure on this now. Awesome. Thanks for posting this Jamie.

  18. CT

    09. Sep, 2009

    This post is on so many levels…

  19. CT

    09. Sep, 2009


  20. B3

    09. Sep, 2009

    Carlo, your reply would be much more productive if you enlightened us.

  21. photophile

    10. Sep, 2009

    “be part of a community, and demonstrate their abilities for all to see, like is seen in modern skateboarding”

    The video you linked to is just a demo, not a regular scene at a skatepark (skating equivalent to a gym). Just as pro climbers are hiding in the forests, pro skaters are lurking in the streets as much as possible.

    I’m all for climbing in a gym when there’s no rock nearby (I live in the prairies), just as I’m fine skating in a park when there are no spots, or I just want a chill session (I’ve been skating for 14 years).

    But, skateparks aren’t considered “legit” spots to skate, aside from big bowls and ramps, witch do not occur in the streets. If you want footage in a legit video, or photos in a big mag, you almost always have to go to the street spots.

    Just as climbing holds are made for climbing, skateparks are made for skating. Rocks and real handrails? Not made for climbing or skating. There’s a difference.

    I have no problem with people flocking to the indoor gyms. But, if in the future there are interviews with people who only pull on plastic in a big mag, I will gladly never support that publication again.

  22. CT

    10. Sep, 2009

    In regards to the future “progression” of the sport:

    1. If you were to ask each one of the top climbers in the world which discipline (inside or outside) they prefer, my assumption is that at least 80 to 90% of them would say outside climbing. The human race tends to progress and develop mostly in the direction in which they are most motivated to pursue. If the majority of the motivation lies in climbing outside, then this facet will continue to be the future.

    2. Bouldering is slowing down in its ability to continue to produce achievable, yet markedly more difficult problems. This is the issue that we are confronting today. The upper echelon of bouldering is not getting any more difficult per say, it is just getting more style/body dependent. Just because someone establishes a boulder in their style that is unrepeatable by anyone else due to its difficulty, does not mean that said boulder marks a progression in bouldering. It could certainly mean a progression in that particular style. But with so many different strengths and body types in the climbing world today, trying to categorize each of these individual progressions would be meaningless and a waste of time. This applies to both outdoor and indoor climbing. The holds can only get so small and so far apart. Humans have their limits.

    3. However, the human limits have been far from reached when it comes to stringing together doable double-digit boulder problems into longer experiences. This is the world of Sport Climbing. 5.14 rock climbs rarely require the climber to achieve moves harder than V8 or V9. This is especially true when it comes to 100+ Ft. resistance style routes. In this case, 5.14 can be 60 moves of V4 without a rest. So, maybe 5.15 is 100 moves of V8 without a rest. I don’t know. I don’t climb that hard. The future of climbing lies in the fact that without surpassing human limits on individual moves, sport climbing can continue to progress for A LONG time. At least it’s much, much easier to see its progression into the future than bouldering.

    4. Now that we see the future, let’s revisit the plastic argument. Gyms can only get so tall. Height is required for progression because you can’t stack enough V13’s on top of each other in a gym to create a 5.17a or whatever the fuck it will be called. It was stated in the post above that “Sport climbing has developed around the world etc…” and my answer is, yes it has and it will continue to develop and at a faster rate than anything else. From what I’ve heard, the amount of cliffs in Europe is astounding and only a small percentage of them have ever been touched.

    5. The majority of climbers are likely to follow in the direction that receives the most attention. Bouldering is leveling out in its ability to progress in difficulty, thus the talent of the sport will move on to short, bouldery routes and onward. The general population is swayed by the upper tier of talent and so on.

    6. However the potential outcome previously described will not apply to climbing comps. Bouldering will always be the best way to showcase the sport, at least in the nearest future. It is currently the most fast paced, fun form of climbing. But the boulders in comps will continue to not be very hard (as we’re seeing already), and will be a display of the “showier” moves.

    7. Once again, this is purely from a “progression” point of view.

  23. B3

    10. Sep, 2009

    Carlo, thanks for you comments, I think you bring up some really good points. I really appreciate this kind of constructive dialogue. I think my argument is more that there is a new niche that has opened up and it’s about to get filled. As I wrote in my post, this is not going to stop people from climbing outside, certainly not myself anyways. It should be obvious that I am an advocate of outdoor bouldering and outdoor climbing in general. I think the group of climbers you are talking about represents such a small number of the total number of people that take part in the sport. Even someone who is dedicated enough to climb V13 (Brion Voges) commented that as a Southerner he could see the appeal of having gyms year round to climb in. I think the same will happen for kids in FL, NE etc and they wont feel compelled, or that they have to move, to be the best. They will create their own world of climbing. This is already happening. James O’connor has created an area that has more hard power problems than anywhere. Also, the gym is a place where climbing can really generate income, particularly in places where there are no rocks to climb on. This is a huge door opening for the progression of the industry, and as someone who works at a gym, I know you see the value in this. I would argue that on most days, the number of people that climb in the Spot far outweighs the number of people in Chaos Canyon. That was not the case 20 years ago. In fact there may be more people bouldering in the gym in a place like Baltimore or Berkley than outside in Colorado on any given day. And all of those people are pumping money into the industry. I agree that Chris Sharma dynoing over the Mediteranean Sea will sell videos and Prana shorts, but the people that will buy those things are the ones in the gym on a daily basis. The industry has long needed a foundation and now the niche has opened for one.
    Perhaps it will become obvious that if climbers want to push themselves on the rock, they need to spend the majority of their climbing time indoors, training (Patxi, Malcolm Smith etc) If climbing becomes an Olympic Sport this most def. will happen and all of the standardized training techniques I mentioned above will become the norm for every serious climber.

  24. ktmt

    10. Sep, 2009

    Great post! I think you’re spot on. I can easily see future roadtrip guides to indoor gyms… touring around the country, checking out the indoor climbing. I’m surprised one hasn’t appeared already.

    Indoor climbing is neither incompatible with outdoor climbing, nor does it threaten it. It is its own experience. I’m actually an old-school climber –as in, I started a lonnnggg time ago, in the pre-plastic era. Nevertheless, today, gyms play an integral role in my climbing. The gym is a highly effective way to maximize available time — I work 5 minutes’ jog from a university climbing gym, and I can cram in an effective training session during a long lunch hour several days a week. This has allowed me to progress and reach goals outside even though I’m lucky to get to actual rock more than a day a week.

    But regardless of your use of a gym –whether for training, socializing or as end in itself– it’s all climbing and it’s all good.

  25. Kona

    18. Nov, 2009

    @ktmt, I agree with guides to indoor gyms. It’ll also give some recognition to Route setters. Maybe the Red Point Manager ( ) system will be used nationwide. My friend and I already check out other rock gyms “problems”.

    “It’s all climbing and it’s all good” +1

  26. Devin

    26. Nov, 2009

    I read this a while ago and I just stumbled back onto this. I dig it, good insights Jamie.
    I personally love indoor climbing, this is probably due largely to the fact that I live pretty far from any worthwhile outdoor climbing and I don’t have the resources at this time to travel outside to climb when Id like to. But there is also something about going into the gym and stringing together hard move after hard move and thrashing yourself in a dark, stuffy, training dungeon. Don’t get me wrong, id much rather climb at a place like the spot that is nice and open and doesn’t have 20 year old metolius holds perma-greased by 1,000’s of boy scouts, but you make due with what you have, and sometimes if all you have are uber -jank problems that no one else will ever do because they are suited only to your strengths and no one climbs in central illinois anyway, than oh well.
    There is also something about the “showcase problems/moves” that you can find in competitions, you can set/climb moves that you would almost certainly never find on real rock, and I quite enjoy the ergonomic, non-tweakyy holds and moves that are set (at least in theory) to be doable by almost any body type.
    As Kona right before me already posted , “My friend and I already check out other rock gyms problems”. I have done this as well in the past and would continue to do it if transportation want an issue. I’m perfectly content to be called a gym rat,, plastic puller, etc, because I enjoy climbing, indoors or out, and sometimes I just want to climb in a comfortable place with no approach, friendly holds, quality setting (again, in theory), perfect weather, and fucking bathrooms. If someone else really wants to equate it with bodybuilding (which is a purely form based activity, entirely different from the function focus of climbing) than they can go do some “real climbing” and leave me to the gym, it’ll be less crowded at their crag that way anyhow.

  27. Devin

    26. Nov, 2009

    I also remember reading someone else’s opinion somewhere that “eventually the hardest moves will be done on plastic”.
    This sounds like a reasonable claim to me.
    Step 1: You set a 6 move problem on a 45 degree wall that is at your limit.
    Step 2: You work it over and over until you can send it, then until you can consistently climb it. Get it wired so to speak.
    Step 3: make that left hand gaston a little more shouldery, that right hand bump into the undercling a little more thuggy, that left toe a little shittyer, that pinch a little smaller, that lockoff bigger and the final dyno farther.
    Step 4: repeat step 2 and 3 over time and eventually you’ll have the V-gnarly testpiece.
    Not that this will become a regular pastime of uber-strong rock thugs, nor would it have to be particularly fun: A. eventually the problem would suit you and only you to the point that it would be utter jankness to anyone else. B. you’d probably have more fun climbing other problems (hard, easy, outdoors, indoors) than you would obsessively working and refining a problem(s) to make them closer to impossible.
    Although I’ve actually enjoyed part A plenty well over the years and regarding part B you wouldn’t necessarily have to make it V-jank that only suited your exact biomechanical structure, but I would imagine that it would get increasingly more likely for this to happen as it approached your limit (whether you are a V5 climber setting a probable V7 or if you are a V15 climber setting a probable V16)
    But Id imagine this would be more easily avoided. if you had a few climbers of different styles and body types all setting/tweaking the same problem.
    Add to this the fact that there would be little to no approach, perfect conditians constantly, and the ability to alter any unwanted (too hard. too easy, too jank) moves, and you have the perfect environment to find/create the hardest possible thing that a human body can climb.
    Not that I would ever be refining a V16 on plastic but I think it would be interesting nonetheless to see what is humanly possible, I think it would come down to body strength more than anything (holds are about as small as I’d imagine could be used). And I remember reading an interview with Malcolm Smith discussing his time training with a friend in a gymnastics/climbing facility (much like CATS I would presume) while on a trip, and he said something to the extent that “watching those Olympic gymnasts just made me realize how weak us climbers really are, except in the fingers that is!”

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