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Topping Out

Kristen Kirkland on the top out of “Return of the Jedi”

The transition from gym bouldering to outdoor bouldering can be difficult and there are a great deal of subtleties involved that take some time to adjust to. An important and necessary component of outdoor bouldering is topping out, which is one of the hardest aspects to learn for someone who is new to the sport.

Before you climb:

After you have read your problem, (see our previous article on reading a route)  determine how you can get on top of the boulder to examine the top out holds. Bring a chalk bag and brush with you or have someone toss them up to you once you are safely established at the top. If possible, brush, chalk up, and tick mark holds as necessary. Get a finishing sequence together that you are comfortable with. This will give you the confidence to commit to finishing the problem once you are at that crucial point of topping out the boulder.

During the Climb:

As you reach the end of the problem you have to decide if you are going to complete your project or drop off and try again. Once you realize that you are going to commit, you must start to execute your top out. Take a deep breath, relax for a second, then start the top out sequence that you have worked out in your head already. Topping out requires a lot of trust. Trust in your hands and feet, trust in your spotters, and trust in your crash pads. This type of trust can only be developed through experience, so it is important to work trough the process of topping out.

Trust yourself and go for it. Pay close attention to how your body is positioned on the rock. Sometimes a shift in hip position can allow you to comfortably assess the next move. Once you have established the last holds at the top, it is time to shift you center of gravity up and over the edge of the boulder.


Climber: Kristen Kirkland. Photo taken by Jamison Burt.


The most common way to do this is to put a foot on the lip of the boulder and drive your hips up by pulling in with the hamstring. Your arms will change to a pressing position (also known as mantling) once you drive your hips up. At this point you will be pushing away from the hands. Keeping your body close to the rock, extend a hand to the next hold, bring the low foot up and pull yourself safely to the top of the boulder. Success! You have completed a rock climb.

What truly matters in the sport of  bouldering is completing a problem, not just the ability to do hard moves. At the end of the day mental toughness, experience, and strength will get you to the top of the boulder.


One Response to “Topping Out”

  1. November 21st, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Chicks Climbing » Blog Archive » Giving thanks & the gift of Chicks! says:

    [...] – Some good tips from Vertical Girl’s Girl Beta on moving your bouldering outdoors: – The New Ouray Ice Park Winter Guide is up! – Insane friction climbing [...]

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