TIGARD, Ore. — Taylor Anderson stood face to face with a problem she had never solved.
The angles on Anderson’s face sharpened as she studied the faux-rock face before her. With her hands, she began mimicking the movements she hoped would lead her up that wall.
In bouldering, a type of climbing that uses no ropes, the routes up a rocky slab are called “problems.” The one Anderson hoped to solve at a Tigard indoor climbing gym was a doozy.
The 21-year-old from Vancouver would have to grab a series of holds, some no bigger than a half-inch, with her fingertips. As she pulled her petite frame up the wall, those finger holds would become tiny shelves for her feet.
Fifteen feet above her was her goal – the top of the wall. On a few occasions, the route would force her to lunge nearly sideways to reach the next hold. Near the top, the wall lorded over anyone below it in an intimidating inverse angle.
But this was good practice for Anderson, who works at The Source Climbing Center in downtown Vancouver. On Saturday, she will return to The Circuit in Tigard for what is billed as the largest single-day bouldering competition in the nation.
More than 400 climbers from 17 states will take part in the Portland Boulder Rally. A $10,000 prize purse is up for grabs in the Open division, which will include some of the sport’s best.
Anderson is the defending champion in the Women’s Advanced division, which is one step below the Open division. On this day, she was trying to scale a V8-rated route for the first time.
Anderson’s comfort zone is more in the V6 range, with larger holds and less challenging angles. In competition, the best climbers try routes between V10 and V12, which have pebble-sized holds that sometimes aren’t reachable unless climbers launch themselves in an all-or-nothing maneuver.
As she approached the wall, Anderson tried to steel herself for the solitary challenge above her. But she was not alone.
Dave Borgeson got her attention with some words of wisdom. As he approached, he tapped his forehead above his right eye.
“You’re going to do this,” he told her. “Because in your mind you’ve already reached the top.”
Accessible to all ages
Borgeson will also compete in his second Portland Boulder Rally on Saturday. But the 52 year old from Vancouver has no visions of winning.
Last year, he finished last in the Masters division. This year’s goal? “Next to last,” he said.
But not all victories are based on trophies or standings. When Borgeson first put his hands on a climbing wall five years ago, he was portly, afraid of heights and had never pursued an athletic hobby. But he was eager to share an activity with his son, so he gave bouldering a try.
Today, Borgeson is 25 pounds lighter and more active than he has ever been. While heights still make him nervous, he has learned to manage his fear well enough that he and his wife, Karla, went skydiving to mark their 30th anniversary.
“I’ve seen him build more confidence,” Karla Borgeson said. “It’s not only him being more athletic. It spills over into everything.”
Borgenson’s pace is deliberate as he scales routes ranging from V2 to V3, but that hasn’t stopped him from entering as many competitions as he can find.
What keeps him coming back?
“The community,” he said. “People are cheering for somebody they’ve never met. When someone reaches the top, you get to witness their moment. It’s an individual sport, but you’re not alone.”
Borgeson and bouldering are a good fit. It is perhaps the most accessible form of climbing. There is no complex or expensive equipment. Though bouldering is not without risk, you won’t encounter a situation where a life depends on a belaying rope.
“Bouldering was always looked at as practice for rock climbing,” said Royce Porter, the head route setter for the Portland Boulder Rally. “It was a means to an end. But it started to gain popularity because it’s easier to get into. It’s a more social, relaxed experience.”
Bouldering’s popularity is reflected in the growing number of gyms in the Portland-Vancouver area. Ten years ago, there were only two. Now there are seven.
The Source Climbing Center in Vancouver is sending a youth team to compete at the Portland Boulder Rally.
“It can be really easy or really hard and anyone can do it,” said Matt Slayton, who is general manager and part-owner of The Circuit, which has three gyms in Portland. “It feels the same way when you accomplish a climb, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.”
Going for it
Back on the wall, Anderson’s climb was at its make-or-break moment. Near the top of the wall, she had to lunge to reach a smooth rounded hold, a type which usually gives her trouble.
The fear started to creep in. Anderson was 10 months removed from a bouldering fall that left her with broken bones and torn ligaments in her ankle and heel. That injury stopped her from climbing for three months.
“Every time I feel like I’m a good climber, I expose myself to a route that’s not really my style and get immediately humbled,” she would later say. “You really have to force yourself to try something you’re not good at.”
So Anderson went for it. She stretched past the point of no return, launched toward the hold and grappled it with her chalky, calloused hand.
Supercharged with energy, she pulled herself up to where she could reach the wall’s top. With a grunt and a grimace, she pushed herself atop the wall. When she raised her arms in triumph, they shook with adrenaline and fatigue.
Neither Anderson nor Borgeson will take home any prize money at the Portland Boulder Rally on Saturday. But that’s not why they’ll be there.
The reason why could be seen on Anderson’s face, still beaming 15 minutes after that route went from problem to solved.
If you go
■ What: Portland Boulder Rally, billed as the largest single-day bouldering competition in the U.S.
■ When: Saturday, Oct. 3. Climbing and festival begin at 8 a.m. Finals are at 7 p.m.
■ Where: The Circuit Bouldering Gym, 16255 SW Upper Boones Ferry Rd., Tigard, Ore.
■ Cost: Festival and early rounds are free. General admission viewing for finals is $5.
■ Info and webstream: http://portlandboulderrally.com