The Fontainebleau Pillow Book

It’s been so long since I wrote my last post and there so much going through my head that I don’t really know where to start. Instead, I’ll start in the very middle of all the ideas that I had, just note down the most important points for you to consider. I call it the Fontainebleau Pillow Book because it all relates to the six weeks we spent in France and because I’ll follow the literary example of Sei Shōnagon, an 11th century Japanese author who noted down her thoughts categorising them as “similar things”, or “things of beauty”. My categories may be a little more pragmatic but hopefully you’ll enjoy them. I’m keen to hear your thoughts on all those things as well, so be sure to leave a comment.

On rock

I used to think that Magic Wood had the best kind of rock. Now I’m convinced that Fontainebleau sandstone beats it any day of the year. (Well, maybe apart from the summer when the alpine gneiss stays nice and cool while sandstone is sweaty and gross.) Magic Wood is bouldering for dummies. Strong, but dummies. Font is full riddles. I’m not the most brainy of climbers, so I’ll probably continue to give my best performance in Swiss, while enjoying the Fontainebleau spanking.

On emotions

An encounter with a careless piece of rock can elicit a panoply of emotions. It doesn’t even need to be Everest or El Capital, an average sized boulder will do. I’m starting to think that for people who, like me, struggle with understanding their own emotions and most of the time feel empty and careless, rock climbing is a crash course in emotional intelligence. It amplifies and clarifies emotional states, making it easier to define them and learn how to control them. From every challenging boulder  you can walk away not only as a better climber but as a rounder, better human.

On age

We’re used to thinking that to excel at any sport you have to start as a kiddo. Luckily, bouldering is still such a young discipline that we’re most likely nowhere near human limits. If just over a year of training can get me to where I am today, who knows where I can be at forty! Especially that at nearly 31 years of age I feel stronger, fitter and more in control of my body than ever. It’s a little exciting and a little terrifying to see at what point progress will become impossible.

On being selfish

Where there is ambition there’s also self-centredness. It’s ok to put your own needs first and negotiate with others on how to keep everybody as happy as possible. The key is to strike a balance. You will feel better for it. At least I do. Unfortunately, my main problem is just feeling really passionate about what I want and not noticing the needs of others. Again, an opportunity to learn.

On friends

A real friend is somebody who can accept you as you are but at the same time won’t just take your bullshit. I’m really lucky in that through climbing I continue to meet those people. The support me and help me to grow. Some of them are as selfish as I am and trying to find a happy medium is challenging for us both. It’s like a lesson in not being a dick while at the same time standing up for yourself. While not being a dick (note to self).

On flow

So far, it’s happened to me a handful of times. Once, a couple of years back, when I was running to call rescue for friends lost at Gogarth. Usually in climbing, after I have already given up and when I’m giving it the last attempt just to memorise the moves. This trip it happened once, when I pulled off something that seemed impossible. Not because of the difficulty of the climb, but because in a fit of rage I attempted it over and over again, falling off every move within five minutes. And then, without resting, with tears still on my cheeks and messing up the crux move, I Just. Stayed. On. I wonder where my limits would be if I could tap into that state without wrecking myself beforehand.

On grades

Have you seen “Rampage”? In the last scene, very young and very stoned Chris Sharma says that bouldering grades make no sense. In this moment, he connected his spirit to the universe and spoke the one and only truth. Like, seriously, how can we try to pinpoint the difficulty of a climb if it’s going to be attempted by my 6 foot friend and by me? We differ in hands size, flexibility, technique and a million other things. Grading the rock is like trying to label a human being with a grade. The V grades are at least a little more vague with only 15 steps on the difficulty ladder but the Font system is not feasible. It’s nothing but a nice tradition and a guideline.

On rage

Judging from his Instagram profile, Daniel Woods seems to be wrong about many things, but he definitely knows about two. One: he’s got this climbing thing sorted. Two: it’s all about rage and tranquility. Some people are good at rage (me), and some are good at tranquility (my friend Dylan), but combine the two and they will take you to the top of the hardest blocs.


For now, that’s it, thank you for reading. Soon I’ll write a little bit more about flow, both from my own experience and from what I read around. I promise it will be a more coherent post!

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