For three P.E.I. athletes a rock wall isn't an insurmountable obstacle, it's a puzzle.
Jeremy Cadence, Emilie Maquignaz and Evan Young practise bouldering, a climbing discipline less about how fast you climb or how high you get, and more about figuring out how to get to the top at all.
"Bouldering, as opposed to rope climbing, is focused on fewer, more technical and more difficult moves. It's usually several, powerful and highly technical moves in a row culminating on top of a boulder," Cadence said.
Participants usually climb a maximum of about five metres, or 15 feet, without rope or harnesses. It can be done using small natural rock formations or artificial walls.
In competitions, climbers are presented with a series of bouldering "problems" — climbs of varying complexity — which they must complete or solve to get a higher score.
"I love doing puzzles and things like that," Young said. "It's the problem solving. It's not just the physical game, it's figuring out what works for your body, your body type. Everybody's got a different type, everybody's got a different wingspan, everybody's got different strengths and weaknesses."
The Tokyo Olympics recently introduced mainstream audiences to bouldering, as it was one of the disciplines that made up the new Summer Games event of sports climbing.
Cadence, Maquignaz and Young will be reaching a different milestone for P.E.I.'s climbing community this fall: they'll be the first Islanders to compete in a national bouldering competition.
"Being a part of this is just a fantastic experience," said Maquignaz, who's the sole woman on the team.
She said the event will be a learning opportunity for the three climbers, as they'll be competing against more experienced athletes, including some who are at the Olympic level.
They'll have lots to learn from the individual athletes as well, as the team says each boulderer has a very personal style.
"Every climber is going to read the route that's set in a different way, so you're kind of expressing yourself in how you climb it," Young said.
"The way Emilie climbs is really slow. It's very controlled, very thoughtful between movements. There's lot of flexibility involved with that, a lot of careful body position. Whereas the way Evan climbs and I more personally climb as well it's usually bigger moves and big powerful throws catching very small holds, usually moving a little bit faster on the wall," Cadence said.
The team has been training for the competition, which will take place in Ste. Foy, Que., on Nov. 27 and 28. But their preparation has been limited somewhat by the lack of places to practise bouldering on the Island.
"We don't have any bouldering facility, and there's only one rock-climbing facility in the Island," Maquignaz said.
The team usually trains using their respective setups or at the Red Rock climbing gym in Stratford, taking trips outside the province to climb outdoors whenever they can.
"When you come to a place like Prince Edward Island, with sandstone and not much natural resources to go bouldering outdoors, it does take that next level of dedication to get this style of climbing in. But it's something that we're passionate about," Cadence said.
The team hopes they can raise more awareness about the sport on the Island with their participation in this competition, and that more climbing gyms eventually start operating in the province.
For Islanders interested in getting into the sport, the team said having a lot of muscle is not a requirement.
"[At Red Rock] you get people that are, you know, regular gym-goers. They're fairly beefy people, and they aren't very good at climbing because they're so heavy. They're super strong but it doesn't necessarily equate to being able to hang on to small holds trying to support all that extra body weight," Young said.
"Climbing is really interesting in the sense that you only get better at it the more you climb."