The area I grew up in was absolutely inundated with swimming holes. One of these was under a bridge that had been built for trains but repurposed for snowmobiles, about a 20 foot drop, or 25 if you leapt from the rail. To get back to the bridge from the water took either a short swim to the shore or a perilous climb up its pier; I do not have to tell you which route 14 year old boys, who know that their spines are unsnappable, preferred.

On my first attempt to climb the pier, I failed at the last push to get up there. As I dangled I considered whether my spine might in fact be snappable after all, until P.J. Hicks pulled me up. He advised that I take the shore route next time. This gutted me, so I put tooth and nail into my next climb. I made it, and in doing so completed my first problem.

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“A ‘problem’ is what we call the path a climber takes to complete a bouldering challenge,” explained Sean Foster, resource manager of the Minneapolis Bouldering Project. “It’s part of  what makes the sport so social — you can watch people attempting a problem, see what they do that works, try that for yourself, improve on it, and together arrive at the best course of action to beat a wall.”

What first struck me when I visited the Bouldering Project is that there are no ropes there. Each of the Bouldering Project’s members clambered around the towering walls’ outcroppings like bouncy vervet monkeys, with nothing to break their falls save for the thick, soft padding that spans the entire climbing area. Every now and then a loud floompf resonated to mark a climber’s regrettable but painless failure to find their next handhold.

Although many of the routes to the top overlap, they are color coded to distinguish them from one another as well as to indicate their difficulty. This begins with yellow, problems surmountable by the least limber newcomer, to white, problems which would give even the friskiest mountain goat pause. I especially enjoyed the freeform wall, which has so many colorful lumpy grips bolted to it that it looks like the underside of a table at a diner. Rather than presenting you with an obvious course of action, it baffles you with an infinite variety of ways up.

After only half an hour of swinging and scrambling up and down the inclined walls, I felt a cardio burn which I hadn’t experienced since my first varsity lacrosse practice, before which I’d stupidly washed down a big plate of spaghetti with two diet colas. There is little wonder why every other man and woman at the Bouldering Project look like their bodies were sculpted by Zeus. If you want to get buff, thumbing your nose at gravity is apparently the most direct path there.

The Bouldering Project offers more than fast-paced climbing. They also have a full weight room with everything you could want to hoist, elliptical machines, regular yoga classes, and youth programs complete with child-sized climbing walls. All of that makes the place an attractive gym for everyone around town, whether they would climb or not.

“The Twin Cities don’t have a great abundance of natural bouldering destinations,” said Sean. “On top of that, our weather would make it pretty miserable to engage in this sport for a great part of the year. One of our owners is from here, so he was very proud to make bouldering available to his hometown all year long.”

Whether you’re a devoted rock climber, a fitness connoisseur, or just want to try something exceptionally fun that’ll take your mind off the frozen expanse we’re all marooned in this time of year, the Minneapolis Bouldering Project is a marvelous place to go to. See it at 1433 West River Rd N in Minneapolis, or visit to find out more.


By David Scheller