For me, bouldering has been an ongoing process of leaning, and re-learning... and re-learning.. A process of repetition, shaving away mistakes in technique, paring off weakness through familiarity or proficiency, and making the movements and the mindset second nature to such a degree as to seem absent.
I’ve now spent over a year climbing on the amazing boulders that texture the forests around Fontainebleau, France. Six trips have brought me to a familiarity with the place that gives feelings of homecoming, of purpose, and balance. Over this time, the forest has shared a fair few of its secrets: the tricks of tension between moves, the heightened sense of the elusive, wildly variable and ever-so-crucial conditions, and perhaps most important of all, a hint of how to think and to be that works for me.
The condensed experience of bouldering is one that concentrates the focus, the will, and the desires, and a host of other parts scattered around your belfry. These strange players in the theater of the mind are often at odds with each other, and can act to your detriment just as readily as they can ensure your success. To herd these wildcats is like chopping and boxing smoke. There is enough going on with bouldering externally, and to top it all off you have to fight against the melange of disorder that you are creating all on your own.
Time and trial trains up up in so many ways: we begin bumbling up blocs and top ropes, and our fingers and big muscles get strong. We travel and expand our palette, and learn balance, standing in stillness where once we clawed like a cat trying to fight its way out of a bathtub. Resistance, compression, contact strength, “snap”, endurance... All these items manifest and mature over time, and it’s obvious to us where we improve: a one arm pull-up (obvious marker), a fight through a numerical plateau.. We feel these things, and we have tools and devices to gauge them, such as grades or other tests of proficiency, like slabs or mantles or loooong routes. The mind also has its milestones an markers, far less obvious and apparent to no one else. The beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Every now and again, I’ll have the fortune to pass one of these markers along my way, and I’ll have a new understanding of what it means to Try Hard. Time passes, and wait, here it is again: NOW I understand how to Try Hard.. It means something completely different than it used to, but I can only communicate it in those same words, now plump with new meaning.. Kind of like grades, I guess?
Perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned from my time in Font is the path of Letting Go, and I’m always happy to come across signposts that show me I’ve come a little bit further down the line. Perhaps it’s the movements that are found on those round holds and shite feet- subtle and tense yet flowing. Perhaps it’s a place where the pulling, the power that makes you grab and gather holds in sequence, just doesn’t work as well. Perhaps it’s just the weather, and you’ll go nuts if you don’t relax into the rhythm that is set by these woods! All in all, I’m reminded of a mindset you hear of in some martial arts: the first part is building, building, building. Adding. Adding to knowledge, to strength and power, adding to hours spent. Next comes the pairing away- the removal of all unnecessary things, thoughts, movements, feelings. It’s an impossible balance, but it’s real, it’s what I’m looking for in climbing... and what a treat to come to a milestone or a crossroads now and again, to show you how far you’ve come, to charge you up for the next leg of your long journey to wherever you are going!