If you ask a rock climber what they love most about bouldering, they will tell you that it’s about freedom of movement. There are no ropes or harnesses, all you need is a good pair of climbing shoes, ground-up chalk and a crash pad. Oli Vysloužil is one of the pioneers of this climbing discipline in Slovakia. He‘s been promoting bouldering in the climbing community for over a decade and founded the Slovak online bouldering forum boulder.sk.

Can you tell us a little bit about your early days as a climber?

I started climbing when I was studying at Uni, what is considered quite a late start in the world of climbing. From my early days on, I have been more drawn to solo climbs and smaller ascents. You could almost say that I was walking down the path to bouldering since the day one. It did not take very long and I was sewing my first crash pad out of a pair of old mattresses that someone dumped near the garbage bins.

Bouldering is performed on rock formations just a couple of metres above the ground. Why do you prefer it to the “classic” climbing with ropes and harnesses?

I’ve tried climbing on a few occasions but I would always end up free climbing boulders that were nearby. So I decided to follow my heart and I lost myself in the depths of the forests in Little Carpathians where I was climbing mostly quartzites.

I feel more comfortable bouldering. I love the overwhelming joy of unrestricted movement. Bouldering is an amazing and playful form of rock climbing that requires you to get very creative on a relatively small rock area. The boulders are what my dreams are made of, through their maze, I always seem to find my way to happiness. 

,,Bouldering is an amazing and playful form of rock climbing that requires you to get very creative on a relatively small rock area."

Do you follow a special training plan?

Creating a good training plan can be very time-consuming. I might get a more strict training schedule in the future, but for me, bouldering has always been about climbing outdoors. Artificial rock walls are useful when the weather is bad or I’m running short of time and want to stay fit. 

So I guess it’s more about finding a good balance between climbing indoors and in the nature. For example, I really enjoy watching climbers who spend a lot of time on artificial rock walls climbing next to those who spend the same time on natural boulders. They develop two very different techniques how to approach each move on the boulder, the effectivity of their movements and “elegance” is not the same.

If you could design an ideal indoor climbing wall, what would it look like?

Large and spacious enough, rich in profiles including precast molds of actual rocks and various levels of holds. It shouldn’t be missing “problems” to train on and have enough steep overhanging surfaces and edges. I like walls with plenty of holds, but not too many so that they don’t hinder smooth and technical movement. Also, I am not a big fan of massive walls, since a larger area is not necessarily a guarantee for offering multiple problems to solve. So I would try to design it as close to a natural boulder as possible. And use a sea of moulding and smaller holds. What’s also very important is the personnel, each climbing wall should have a knowledgeable caretaker who proactively checks and replaces damaged holds or builds new challenging routes.

,,Proper skin care starts and ends with a simple equation with three variables: number of climbing days, type of rock and type of boulders. What you’ll get is the number of resting days."

Do you believe that training on precast moulds and holds indoors prepares you for what you’ll encounter while climbing natural boulders?

Sure. But I struggle to find motivation to go climbing indoors. I don’t like the simulation of technical movements, I’d much rather find similar natural boulders to train on. Because I know that when I work on my explosive power and strength on an artificial rock wall, I will succeed in making the step on the boulder outside.

How do you take proper care of your skin when climbing?

Your skin needs to adapt to climbing. Since I climb on a regular basis, I can often do two days in a row without damaging my skin too much. But longer trips are much more demanding in maintaining functioning skin on your fingers. Your skin also reacts differently to each type of rock.

Proper care starts and ends with a simple equation with three variables: number of climbing days, type of rock and type of boulders. What is important is the number of rest days. For example, if I know that I am going climbing for a whole week to Fontainbleau during early spring, where I’ll be climbing mostly fine-grained sandstone and I’m not planning on any dynamic movements and quartzite “razors”, my number of resting days will be zero. At the end of each climbing day, I moisturize my hands with special regenerative wax or creams.

What bouldering equipment do you use?

I use wooden brushes with natural hair that absorbs debris and excess chalk well. To get into the more detailed parts of the rock, I use smaller “toothbrushes”. Gymnastics chalk is essential. It gives me the confidence in climbing. When it comes to climbing shoes, it can be a real pain to find the ideal pair. When you finally think you’ve found one, you’ll come across a boulder that takes them off easily. That’s why I carry two pairs of climbing shoes with me - a stiffer model for securing small edges and a softer model for greater sensitivity. I also carry a pair of bouldering mats to protect me from falls. Another tool I find very useful are mats for better sit starts.

What is the ideal temperature for bouldering?

When it’s around 10 or 15 degrees outside it’s a good temperature I’d say. But I go out regardless of the season - from freezing temperatures to hot summer days. I’m probably most comfortable during a sunny, somewhat chilly day in late autumn.

How do you cope with a physically demanding situation?

I visualize the steps, I visualize myself during the ascent and I try to identify why I failed. I look forward to every second attempt and that keeps me motivated. The biggest mental challenges for a climber are injuries.

,,One time, when I went to Varazza for a week, I injured my finger on the second day. Instead of giving up, I taped it to my little finger and continued climbing. What I did was simply change my original plan - to climb 6C with using three fingers. It’s all about your attitude."

Would you say that you need more courage when bouldering than climbing with ropes and harnesses?

Lack of courage is like a blunt pencil. If you don’t have enough courage initially, you can “sharpen” it by training hard enough. I try to be resilient, especially during the more challenging ascents that would otherwise scare me. But then I would never experience all those beautiful moments when I complete them.

The role of a “spotter” who is a person watching out for the climber to land in a convenient position on the crash pad is very important. What does a good spotter do?

We don’t talk enough about the spotting despite the fact that it’s one of the basic safety measures for injury prevention while bouldering. You don’t need to be afraid to take on the role of a spotter for a climbing friend. You are not actually catching the falling climber in your arms but you watch their centre of gravity shifting and do your best to redirect their fall safely towards the crash pad. Unfortunately, all too often I see inconsistency in spotting: the arms of the spotter are not ready to catch the climber, their position is not right, or they are just “standing around” not paying attention.

It’s the responsibility of a climber to organise good spotters for himself. A seasoned boulder rock climber knows how to assess the risks when falling, where does he need to position the spotter, he can even redirect his fall himself.

But the most terrifying and dangerous falls occur unexpectedly, when the climber slips on a mould or a piece of rock breaks off and catches him off the guard. It is in these moments when the positioning and quick reaction of a spotter can literally save a life.

Do you think bouldering will become the next mainstream sport?

I wish that bouldering will become a popular sport available to more people. But at the same time, I don’t want to see the tranquility of the forests disappear, or find so many boulders damaged by frequent use past repair.

I can’t stand what’s being done to nature by the large numbers of climbers heading for the most popular bouldering destinations. Last year I visited Magic Mood after eight years and was absolutely horrified by what I’ve seen. The trees were gone, there were paths crisscrossing the whole forest, the erosion was very significant and the most popular boulders were so “polished” by many hands that they became impossible to climb. It makes me very sad.

What’s it like in Slovakia?

In Slovakia, we actually need more people bouldering and practising on the rocks, because the rocks keep disappearing under a layer of moss. I believe that there is a bright future for bouldering here. We have the potential. We have great locations. What we are still missing is enough enthusiastic climbers with experiences who would cultivate them.

What’s your favourite bouldering destination at home and abroad?

Končitá is our national gem. It has everything a great bouldering location needs: high concentration of boulders, different levels and easy access. There was a time when I spent all my weekends there. I’ve experienced Končitá and its amazing transformations during all four seasons. My favourite location abroad would be Fontainbleau, however cliche it may sound, it’s undoubtedly one of the best bouldering spots in the world.

What is on your wishlist of destinations?

At the moment, I am intrigued by Scotland. I’d also like to check out the Swedish granite near Stockholm, the Spanish granite close to Madrid and also the US and Australia.

If you were to choose your favourite boulder rock of all times, which one would it be and why?

One of the ascents that I’m very proud of is the Illusion 8A in Končitá. It’s a complex boulder that truly tests your skills. It’s all about your strength and stamina. It doesn’t get any easier as you’re approaching the finish line, you really have to wait to celebrate until you touch the top edge. During ascents like this, it’s a real challenge for both your body and mind.

What’s the story of the online portal boulder.sk?

Boulder.sk was founded by five friends from the climbing centre Boulderoom as a platform where to share our climbing experiences ten years ago. I was the main contributor from the very beginning so when everyone got too busy to maintain it, I took over. I like to share my love for bouldering with other people. I publish climbing videos, write articles and news from around Slovakia.

Then came along the feeling of responsibility - I feel responsible to share my experiences from bouldering in Slovakia with the rest of the world, also because there is so little information about it out there.

By Ivan Capko & Vlado Linek
The original interview was published in the climbing magazine Horolezec, Issue#2/2018

Oliver Vysloužil

Oliver is a boulder rock climber with all his body and soul. He's been promoting it and organising outdoor events for over 10 years. He is the co-founder of the website boulder.sk where he regularly publishes articles on climbing & bouldering guides. He lives in Bratislava