"The line is directly in front of you, right before your eyes. You can read it and discern a specific shape. It’s like a musical score, composed by nature, erosion, water and wind. These elements have molded holds in the rock, which can be used to form a bouldering line."
What fascinates you about bouldering?
The terrain is fantastic. Developing a boulder requires a certain level of creativity when searching for a line. Above all, however, it involves opening yourself up to your environment by adapting yourself to a shape made by nature. I’m fascinated by this, and I feel it more intensively when I’m bouldering than when I’m route climbing because of the greater sense of affinity with the terrain.
The line is directly in front of you, right before your eyes. You can read it and discern a specific shape. It’s like a musical score, composed by nature, erosion, water and wind. These elements have molded holds in the rock, which can be used to form a bouldering line.
What does it take to find a good bouldering line?
For all intents and purposes, you don’t actually need anything at all. I believe the lines are already there. They are predefined by nature and our task is simply to uncover them. It’s down to us to develop good instincts and to open ourselves up to this dimension.
With that in mind, I believe that climbing is an excellent way of feeling at one with your surroundings. You learn to become aware of what’s around you. Many climbers come from urban areas. Climbing gives them the opportunity to discover the natural world. I believe this is one of the most important aspects of our pursuit. We’re not only here to exploit nature’s resources and to enjoy practicing our sport. Instead, what really matters is building a relationship with our environment and treating it with respect.
Which types of rock are particularly suitable for bouldering?
Very old rocks generally have an abundance of holds because they become very rough over time and, above all, as a result of erosion. This isn’t the case with younger rocks. Some rocks, such as those in South Africa, date back to the Pangea supercontinent and are among the oldest in the world. Erosion has given them a wonderful shape. The same can be said of Norway, where the rock is made of extremely old granite that has been heavily eroded and is therefore covered in lots of interesting holds. The stone in Hueco Tanks is also very old. The rock and its age play a hugely important role in determining the quality of climbing.
What other factors make a bouldering area appealing?
That’s a difficult question. No two areas are the same so really it’s a matter of personal taste. I think enthusiasts initially choose a region because they are interested in the boulders or climbing opportunities there. At first, they pay particular attention to the rock, but as time goes on they develop a deeper connection with their surroundings. This is how climbers gain an intimate knowledge of a region, and, for me, that’s an especially attractive part of our activity.
I used to focus much more on the act of climbing itself, but over time I’ve learned to open my eyes to the beauty of my surroundings. Most bouldering areas are absolutely spectacular, with their own unique identities and charm. From Fontainebleau to the Grampians, climbing destinations are incredible.
Do you know how many boulders you have opened?
I think the figure stands at several thousand, a few hundred of which were very hard problems between 8a and 8c. I don’t know the exact number and, to be honest, keeping tally isn’t really important to me these days. Numbers were meaningful to me for a while, but I don’t feel that way any more. Now, it’s the quality of the experience that counts the most.
There’s no denying that I still come away with a deep sense of satisfaction after a successful day’s climbing, happy in the knowledge that I’ve conquered some difficult terrain or achieved something. But that’s not my main objective when I go climbing. And I think that’s precisely why I’m still successful at it. Climbing for climbing’s sake is simply great; it’s not just about performing to a certain level. Otherwise, people would come to a point when they feel they would have to stop. After all, you can’t climb at the top of your game forever.
The really rewarding part of climbing is that it helps you to get in touch with nature. Every day is different and teaches you a great deal. In fact, there’s always something to be learned from climbing, even if you’re not tackling the hardest grades.
It may sound pretentious, but overall I believe that my ambitions as a climber are very strongly motivated by art and not just by sport.
Which boulders have a special meaning to you? Are you most likely to remember the most challenging projects?
Not necessarily. The hardest ones may well be memorable, but that’s because many of them are astonishingly beautiful. While the aesthetic of the line is important to me, what I’m most likely to remember is the flow. The flow of climbing. The feeling of everything flowing from start to finish is simply extraordinary.
Difficulty doesn’t come into it, as feeling this wave is always a mind-blowing sensation. Only when climbing do I gain this experience in this particular way. I simply love the flow of a brilliant climbing line.