Reviews

BETA BOARD from Escape Climbing - Introduction

Escape Climbing was founded in 2006 by Ryan Angelo, a climbing enthusiast who needed holds for the woodie he'd built in his barn - so he decided to make his own. Since then, the company has been enjoying considerable success and sells not only holds but also wall supplies, all sorts of climbing accessories, T-shirts, and most importantly, hangboards [1]!

Early this year, Ryan very kindly asked me to try out what I think is one of Escape Climbing's most iconic products - the BETA BOARD. Detroit Rock Climbing Company originally developed the BETA BOARD design (DRCC) somewhere around 2011, at least that's when the majority of reviews and discussions around the board date back to [2][3][4]. Back then, it was named the V5.12 Hangboard, a clever way of saying that it's suitable for both boulderers and sport climbers around the V5 and 5.12 levels, which is around 6C/+ and 7a+/c in Font and French scales.

In 2017 Escape Climbing purchased the design and changed its name to BETA BOARD. Over the years, this characteristic fingerboard with a futuristic look resembling a sci-fi work of art has acquired legendary status. So let's dive in and see if the BETA BOARD lives up to its reputation!

Video 1: BETA BOARD from Escape Climbing – test video [5].

BETA BOARD - Individual hold description

Although the BETA BOARD looks minimalistic at first glance, it offers a good variety of training holds. The hangboard is divided into four training zones: pinch, incut, flat, and sloper, moving from the outside towards the inside, as shown in Figure 1. The difficulty increases from top to bottom across three levels in each zone, making the board easy to navigate. Let's now take a closer look at each specific hold.

BETA BOARD Hold Layout

Figure 1: BETA BOARD hold layout.

Hold 1: Thin Pinch

I practically don't use this position. Mainly because your hand rests against the wider bottom part of the pinch grip when you hold it. In addition, you can let go with your thumbs, and you'll likely still be able to hang on by compressing the board with your shoulders.

Hold 2: Wide Pinch

When it comes to pinch training, this is my favorite position. What's important is that it doesn't allow you to let go with your thumbs by compressing the holds with your hands from the sides. That ensures that your pinch grip is always fully engaged. You can experiment and grab the holds only partly or leave some fingers out to make it harder.

Hold 3: 38 mm (1-1/2") Mini-Jug

Great for doing pull-ups, warming up, and for some beginner endurance training drills or BFR.

Hold 4: 29 mm (1-1/8") Incut Jug

That's an unusual and versatile hold. On the one hand, you could use it as a shallower jug, but I find it helpful in developing 2-finger strength because of its varying depth.

Hold 5: 12 mm (1/2") Incut Edge

I think that all the holds in Row 3 will pose quite a challenge on a V5 climber, and the Incut Edge is the easiest one. Although it's 12 mm deep, the way it's incut and textured slightly reduces its active surface. I don't think I would dare to use it for heavy MaxHangs, but it's excellent for Density Hangs, any kind of Repeaters, or BFR protocols at reduced body weight. It also works well with Emil Abrahamsson's protocol. Just remember to chalk up before you hang because it does get a bit slippery.

Hold 6: 38 mm (1-1/2") Flat Edge

It's an easy flat edge that you can use for all kinds of endurance drills and pull-ups.

Hold 7: 29 mm (1-1/8") Flat Edge

That's one of my favorite and most versatile holds. For a V5 climber, it'll work well with pretty much any protocol, including Density Hangs, MaxHangs, Bechtel's Ladders, and Repeaters. Advanced climbers may use it as a rest hold when doing endurance drills. You can grab it using half-crimp, full-crimp, and open-hand positions.

Hold 8: 12 mm (1/2") Flat Edge

This one is pretty tough! But if you're into improving your open hand positions, I think this hold could be pretty helpful. Just as Hold 5, it can get pretty slick if your fingers are sweaty.

Hold 9: 50 mm (2") Sloper Edge

This easy sloper is best used for assisted one-arm hangs. When you hold it with both hands, your thumbs get too close together, which is awkward and carries the risk of a shoulder injury.

Hold 10: 31 mm (1-1/4") Sloper Edge

Medium difficulty sloper best used for assisted one-arm hangs for the same reasons as explained for Hold 9.

Hold: 11 mm (1/2") Sloper Edge

This hold is excellent for training open hand finger strength. However, I think it can be pretty tricky even for V5 boulderers unless they specialize in fingery climbing. As with the two other slopers, the hands come close together, but there's a bit more room in this case. And because you're unlikely to use heavy loads, the risk of shoulder injury is also more negligible.

Training two finger pocket finger strength on the BETA BOARDS

Figure 2: Training two finger pocket strength on the BETA BOARD Hold 7.

Reversed orientation

Since the BETA BOARD has a gritty texture both at the upper and bottom surface of the holds, one might get the impression that you could get an entirely different board if you put it upside down. But, unfortunately, that's not truly the case. If you reverse the board, the pinches become practically unusable. In addition, since the bottom rows are now the widest, the top row is inaccessible. Of course, you might use the middle row if you absolutely want to, and the bottom row is fine, but it doesn't differ much from the original setting,

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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