Central Park Bouldering
December 15, 2001
I recently went to New York City to see my girlfriend, Angela. Like any good climber I figured I would sample the climbing while I was there. Mid morning on Saturday, we climbed off the subway at Columbus Circle (58th St. and 8th Av.) to meet some friends at the south entrance to Central Park. Within a half a minute of walking into Central Park we came across Rat Rock. The well-traveled boulder was well chalked and it looked like there was an endless combination of problems and eliminates on a small amount of rock. The cold crisp air lent decent friction to relatively slick schist. Still the friction I am used to at the Red has made my footwork sloppy and it took me awhile to make progress. The weather has smoothed the top of the boulders making the top outs slick sketch-fests and adding some spice to the climbs. There are some nice problems in v0 to v2 range but the harder stuff shut me down. Pretty soon some locals come by and start warming up on holds I would just blow off of. Then this small older Japanese man comes along and does this massive traverse to warm up using incredibly bad holds. He moves so precisely and smoothly and he is still in his street shoes. After warming up he walks off to another section of the park. I asked somebody if that was Yuki, the “grandmaster of central park” and they said it was. I was so impressed and psyched to have seen him climb.
We climbed for another 30 minutes or so and then decided to head to another section of the park. We walked over to Cat Rock next. It was truly bizarre. A little cliff buried right in one of the busiest areas of the park. Hundreds of tourists everywhere, music from the ice rink playing, giant sky-scrapers looking down over the corners of the park. And yet there was a group of climbers there like you would find at any crag. And when you climbed you focused and the world around you went away. When you popped off and hit the deck the world flooded back in. Not unlike hearing the world again after swimming underwater.
The first climber we saw at Cat Rock was Yuki. He chose it because it is in the sun until 3pm and sheltered from the weather. We figured he would have no interest in our weak attempts at easy problems. But the second he saw us struggling he started giving us beta in a non-ending stream of broken English. He showed us amazing problems, one after another. If we were struggling he would walk up behind us push our hips over to the left or show us exactly where to put our feet. All of the sudden moves that seemed extremely hard became easy. I was beginning to understand the climbing there. The holds were bad and the feet were slick but if you were in the right position you could make moves on almost nothing. It was truly technical climbing.
Yuki wasn’t just helping us, but was helping everyone, and figuring out some new eliminates with some really strong guys. The bouldering in New York City might not be world class but it is really good. And the scene makes it seem world class.