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Bleau Blocs – Introduction

In May  2021, Vertebrate Publishing released a new book that, in my opinion, is a must-have for anyone planning a bouldering trip to the Fontainebleau forest – “Bleau Blocs” [1]. What may have initially been intended as a beautiful yet simple photo album turned out to become a fantastic anthology of Bleau’s crème de la crème boulders. Although it’s not a typical guidebook, it’s just what you need to look at Font from an entirely different perspective.

Fontainebleau – The Bouldering Paradise

The forest of Fontainebleau, also known as Font or Bleau, is a vast wood situated about 70 km southeast of Paris. Considered the cradle of bouldering, it is believed by many climbers to be the best bouldering area in Europe, if not the entire world [2]. Although that opinion may be disputed, Font certainly is the place where bouldering history was forged. After all, it was here that in 1946 René Ferlet climbed the first Fb 6A La Marie-Rose, wearing the protoplasts of the modern climbing shoes [3][4]. And it was also here that in 1984 Jacky Godoffe established the world’s first 8A, the legendary C’était demain, which even today remains a formidable challenge and one of the most seldom repeated problems in the Forêt de Fontainebleau [5].

Video 1: La Marie-Rose 6A [4].

The Eye of the Fontainebleau Forest

Climbing in Bleau started already in the XIX century, and the area initially served as a training ground to prepare for bigger climbs. Since then, according to the database of bleau.info, over 30 thousand problems in 269 areas have been established [6]. The numbers can be intimidating! So how do you navigate your way through a maze of trees and gorges to find the most exciting boulders, matched to your climbing abilities and style? Here’s where “Bleau Blocs” will definitely come in handy.

The author is Stéphan Denys, a climber and a photographer who spent nearly 40 years discovering every corner of the wood and earning himself the name of “the eye of the Fontainebleau forest.” To catch a glimpse of Stéphan’s talent, you can visit his vast online photo gallery [7]. In his book, you will find detailed descriptions of the 100 finest boulder problems in Bleau, accompanied by high-quality photographs and inspiring commentary. Although you’ll encounter several extremes here, such as The Big Island 8C or La Force du Destin 8B+, the chosen boulders are not necessarily the hardest ones [8][9]. Instead, they are the most aesthetic or extraordinary blocs, spanning across the full range of difficulties. Still, if you’re a seasoned boulderer, you won’t be disappointed – most of the problems showcased in the book lie in the 7th-grade range, with some 6s and 8s but very few 5s.

Bleau Blocks Alien 7C Fobtainebleau bouldering

Figure 1: You can find some detailed beta by studying Stéphan’s photographs – Alien 7C /source: “Bleau Blocs” [10].

Bleau Blocs – How were they formed?

But what now is the Fontainebleau forest millions of years ago used to be a sea with rocky banks formed by sandstone ridges. As the water retreated, the cliffs began to break up due to erosion, giving way to masses of rockfall on the sandy slopes. Due to how the ridges broke up, the boulders of Font possess a characteristic shape – rounded at their upper edge, with a lip-like flange at the bottom [11]. The massive sandstone blocs, sometimes round and bumpy, occasionally sharp and chiseled, give rise to a plethora of beautiful and challenging problems. 

Considering the magical setting, the fantastic quality of the rock, and the fact that landings are typically soft and sandy, it’s no wonder that the forest of Fontainebleau is recognized as bouldering heaven. Unfortunately, on the flip side, this magic sandstone paradise is becoming a victim of its success, and calm areas where you can truly appreciate the serenity and beauty of the surroundings are becoming scarce.

Bleau Blocs – Book Format

Each of the remarkable boulders presented in the book is provided with a brief paragraph that gives you the line’s location and explains its character, featuring tips on how to best tackle the climb. In addition, each bloc is adorned by beautiful photographs, which are the highlight of the book. Some of the illustrations picture climbers negotiating the fine sandstone features; others strive to capture the natural beauty of the majestic slabs besieged by swarms of ancient trees.

Bleau Blocks Opium 8A Fontainebleau boulder

Figure 2: A sample of what the book offers for each selected boulder. Opium 8A [12] /source: “Bleau Blocs”.

The search for new boulders can resemble a quest for the Grail, the quest for the perfect problem to be discovered.

Stéphan Denys

The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to one of the forest’s main areas:

  • The National Forest
  • Trois Pignons
  • Larchant and Nemours
  • Buthiers and Essonne

The names of the areas and sectors in the book don’t always correlate with the names at bleau.info. However, at the very end, you can find a convenient map indicating the location of each climb, which should render exploration of the forest effortless.

Bleau Blocks Haute Prestation 7C Fontainebleau boulder

Figure 3: Sloping slabs with minuscule holds – the essence of Fontainebleau climbing, plus a demonstration of advanced Star Wars style spotting techniques using the Force. Haute Prestation 7C [13] /source: “Bleau Blocs”.

Bleau Blocs – Summary

Deny’s work lets you taste the very spirit of Font, as you become engrossed in a compelling urge to go there and crush some of the problems, even if they’re only the easiest ones. Don’t be fooled, though! Although some of the lines do require brute strength, climbing in Fontainbleau is mostly very technical. There are many articles on how to get stronger, but how do you acquire the technique and the subtle finesse of a ballet dancer [14][15][16]? That comes with experience, and the only way to gain it is to visit Bleau yourself! 

So expect your skills in balance and footwork

The Climbing Bible – Introduction

When Vertebrate Publishing invited me write an honest review of their most recent release, “The Climbing Bible”, I was quite thrilled [1]. Vertebrate is known for many successful publications, such as Jerry Moffatt’s “Revelations”Pete Whittaker’s “Crack climbing” or “Rock Athlete: The Story of a Climbing Legend” by Ron Fawcett, to name only a few [2][3][4].

The authors, Martin Mobråten and Stian Christophersen are renowned Norwegian climbers with years of coaching experience. In 2018 Martin repeated Daniel Woods’ Spray of Light 8C in Rocklands, which earned him a place among Norway’s top boulderers [5]. In the video below, you can see him in action on Bonderomantikk 8B [6]. Stian consistently sends 8B problems and is a certified physiotherapist who has worked with the Norwegian national team [7]

Video 1: Martin Mobråten on Bonderomantikk 8B [6].

The Climbing Bible – Content overview

The book is divided into six chapters that address different aspects of climbing.

Chapter 1: Technique

This chapter includes information on the fundamental climbing techniques, such as fronting, flagging, or hooking. The authors focus on the principles of efficient movement and explain the importance of proper foot placement and balance. After reading this chapter, you will become familiar with the most common grip positions used in climbing. There is also a short section dedicated to crack climbing, in which the principles of jamming are briefly laid out. In addition, the chapter gives some general advice on how to climb in different rock formations, how to clip the rope, read routes, and set your own bouldering problems. There are also some very practical tips on choosing climbing shoes, depending on your climbing style and climbed rock formations. 

Chapter 2: Physical training

This is the part of the book that I was most looking forward to reading. However, I found it a bit too short for my liking. The authors begin by explaining the importance of finger, arm, and upper body strength, and why “just climbing” may sometimes “just not be enough.” Then they quickly move on to describe the most effective training routines for finger strength. A lot of attention is devoted to different variations of deadhangs, and a basic training progression is explained. However, don’t expect any details related to exact load calculation or muscle recruitment. It’s just the elementary stuff that can let you safely begin finger strength training. One of the highlights of this chapter is an interview with Eva López, where she talks about her MaxHangs methods and gives hints on how to prevent progress stagnation [8][9].

In the next sections, upper body strength training methods are explained, but the topic is limited to a couple of paragraphs on pull-ups and lock-offs. The following part of the chapter is devoted to how bouldering can be used for strength training. The discussed methods include maximum intensity bouldering, pyramids, and Moonboarding. What I liked was the quick campus boarding course with pictures of Magnus Midtbø executing the drills. The strength training part is concluded with a section on core training that describes a fair deal of routines to help you keep a good body position on the rock and maintain pressure on the footholds during steep climbing.

After strength comes endurance training, and this section is a bit more comprehensive. Both the mental and physical aspects of endurance are discussed, and the most effective methods of endurance and power endurance development are described. You learn about ARC (Aerobic Energy Restoration and Capillarisation), circles, all sorts of interval training and deadhangs. Even the McClure method is mentioned, which I found quite effective in the past myself.

The final part of the chapter is devoted to mobility training – an essential aspect often overlooked both by beginners and seasoned climbers. Good mobility can help you climb more efficiently, e.g., by letting you keep your center of gravity loser to the wall. What is also crucial, drills such as the lotus, splits, or the rotating shoulder press can help you stay injury-free, which will let you focus on the continuous strength development of your prime movers.

 

Figure 1: One of the many beautiful illustrations adorning the book/source: “The Climbing Bible”.

Chapter 3: Mental Training

The strongest climbers are not always the best climbers. Confidence, the ability to make quick decisions, focus, and ways to overcome stress play a significant role in defining the fine line between success and failure. In Chapter 3, you can read about the SMART principles, about daring to try, and daring to fail. How to overcome the fear of falling? How to stay motivated? Why are rituals and visualization so important? All these questions are thoroughly answered to help you unlock your full climbing potential.

Chapter 4: Tactics

I liked this chapter a lot, primarily because it’s full of practical tips on the basic stuff, such as choosing your shoes, taking care of your skin, or warming up. There is also a very interesting section written by Magnus Midtbø on his struggles with redpointing Neanderthal, a challenging, long, and steep route established in Santa Linya in 2009 by none other than Chris Sharma [10]. I had no idea that Magnus ever attempted that route and put so much effort into working it. Here you can watch a short video documenting his tries [11]. The remainder of the chapter focuses on different strategies for on-sighting, flashing, and redpointing routes and boulder problems, as well as aspects related to climbing competitions. 

Video 2: Magnus Midtbø vs. Neanderthal 5.15b (9b) [11].

Chapter 5: General Training and Injury Prevention

Whether we like it or not, practically all climbers get injured at one point in their career, and over 60% of climbers suffer from chronic injuries [12]. However, general strength training is one of the means to minimize the probability of getting hurt.

The chapter starts with an explanation of the advantages of general strength training. The routines discussed include bodyweight

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