Black Diamond athlete Chris Schulte spent another season climbing in France’s Fontainbleau, one of the world’s most historical and iconic bouldering areas. Here is the report and video Schulte put together that showcases two amazing problems, Elephunk (8B) and The Realist (8B/B+), both of which he did on the same afternoon.
Despite the vast history of climbing in the forest, the development of new lines and areas continues at a never ending pace. It’s not at all unusual to read about someone you’ve never heard of opening a new area or circuit of thirty or more problems not fifteen minutes walk from the car. With the size of the forest, it’s no surprise that a great number of problems go uncleaned, unclimbed, unnoticed, or forgotten. As such, the story of Fontainebleau carries on in the same vein it has, unexhausted, for over one hundred years.
As with any area, problems come into vogue now and again, and are resurrected from obscurity with the passage of time. On a prior trip, longtime local developer, photographer, and luminary Stephan Denys showed me a beautiful, forgotten project in the woods behind a now famous “new-school” Font classic, Elephunk. Perpetually wet and slithering up from an evergreen pit, the undone line was buried by dusty memory until Nalle Hukkataival cleaned it up during a cold spell the following season, and was rewarded with the first ascent, naming it The Realist. It is a beautiful line: a curving prow with pinches and pockets on the left and perfect slopers on the right. For my tastes, one of the best. Beautiful compression climbing, just the right height, and a technical topout. Grade completely irrelevant. Some say this, some say that. Go see if you must know, or if you can’t say no.
A morning came well below freezing where I suddenly turned around from my eyes-closed drive to the Project for the trip, suddenly heeding the call of something different. It’s easy to put all eggs in one basket for a trip until they’re cracking against each other. This morning I set the basket with one huge egg aside and just went climbing. I’d come close to Elephunk before, the trouble being the odd finger lock in a seam that is always dripping water. With temps at -5 degrees Celsius, I figured I might check it out. Too frozen to drip! After an hour, it was done, and I crashed through the thicket to the pit, where I found the Realist grey and dry like I’d never seen! A couple hours of truly enjoyable work saw me on top, grunting at the last move. It’d been a bit since I’d done two projects in a day, and the morning was just getting on into lunch.
I feel like we learn things in climbing in layers. Over ten years ago, I figured out how to try Hard. A few years later, I realized, no, THIS is how you try hard. And so on. The lessons I’ve been learning in layers lately are all about letting go. Again and again these little bits are revealed to me in my life while climbing, and this winter/spring season in Font and Switzerland I still look back on with more than a little wonder, even confusion. It’s a tiny mystery to me how giving up, how not trying anymore makes things happen. Sure, it makes sense if you just toss it off like an overheard catch phrase or salty mantra. Maybe in a few more months, or years, the actual mechanics will reveal themselves, and it’ll be one more tiny thing to dork out over while bouldering alone in the woods.