Elite climber, 17-year-old Ben Burkalter of Homewood, shares his climbing story and insider tips

Ben Burkhalter climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Sam Weir

Saturday, August 24 is Global Climbing Day. To commemorate the occasion, we spoke with one of the sport’s elite athletes, Ben Burkhalter, who happens to live right here in Birmingham.

Burkhalter is only 17, but he’s making waves in the climbing community. More info about Ben, climbing and where you can celebrate Global Climbing Day tomorrow is below!

More than a hobby

Ben Burkhalter, a senior at Homewood High School, started climbing five years ago. He was initially motivated to try it after watching American Ninja Warrior. “Everyone doing well on that show was a climber,” he said.


Bouldering at Little Rock City in Chattanooga, TN. Photo by Michael Rosato

However, Burkhalter’s reasons for climbing soon changed. “I got less passionate about Ninja Warrior itself and more passionate about climbing.” 

There are several types of climbing, including sport climbing, trad climbing and bouldering. Burkhalter specializes in bouldering, which is exactly what it sounds like–climbing boulders. You don’t need a rope for this climbing style, but a crash pad is a good idea.

After spending hours climbing every week and traveling around the country to climb, Burkhalter said it’s become more than a hobby. “My life is centered around it. I’m totally obsessed with it.”


Hard work pays off

Burkhalter’s time spent climbing has certainly paid off. He’s ranked on global climbing website 8a.nu as the third best junior climber in the world. He recently climbed a V15 boulder. (If you have no idea what that means, here’s the breakdown from Ben):

“There’s a grading scale for difficulty of boulder problems–V0 to V16. V0 is not very steep, the wall angle is forgiving and the hold size is big. You can get your whole hand over the hold. As the grade increases, holds become smaller, moves become larger between the holds, and it gets harder.”

Climbers rank boulder problems as they complete them and form a consensus on what the grade should be. “The more people that climb it, the more solidified the grading becomes,” Burkhalter explained. 

Boulder problems also have interesting names–the V15 Burkhalter climbed is called Blade Runner, in part from the size and sharpness of the holds. Imagine climbing up a ladder of credit cards glued to an overhanging wall. It’s in Rocky Mountain National Park. 


According to the climbers I know, only a handful of people in the world can climb V15, so Ben’s accomplishment is no joke. In fact, he’s so good that a couple of climbing gear companies sponsor him.

Bouldering at Little Rock City in Chattanooga, TN. Photo by Michael Rosato

What’s next?

“There’s always climbs I want to do,” said Burkhalter. He wants to continue to climb V15 and, ultimately, V16.  “I want to push myself and push the sport, too.”

Intrigued?

If you want to see if climbing might be for you, check out Birmingham’s climbing gyms–First Avenue Rocks, Birmingham Boulders and High Point Climbing and Fitness. Birmingham Boulders in West Homewood is Burkhalter’s gym of choice. “I’ve been to gyms around the country, and I think it’s one of the best training gyms I’ve ever been to,” he said.


Burkhalter at Birmingham Boulders. Photo by Tim Foote

Birmingham is also very close to world class outdoor climbing. Burkhalter’s go-tos are Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover and Horse Pens 40 in Steele. 

Burkhalter climbing at Rocktown in Georgia. Photo by Brian Boyd

“If you try it, you’ll like it. I’ve never brought someone along who didn’t have fun doing it. Even if they don’t get into it, they won’t regret it. It’s really addicting–you just have to try it.”

Ben Burkhalter

Celebrate Global Climbing Day

You can see what the hype is all about tomorrow, August 24, at Birmingham Boulders and First Avenue Rocks–both gyms are offering $5 climbing day passes. Birmingham Boulders will also be hosting Climbing 101 clinics every thirty minutes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and handing out North Face swag. 

When: Saturday, August 24 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.


Where: Birmingham Boulders, 136 Industrial Drive Birmingham, AL 35211

Who wants to give it a shot?!