Bouldering first appeared in the late 1800’s more as a training method for larger ascents. In the early 20th century, the Fontainebleau region of France began to establish itself where some of the first “bleusards” (boulderers) surfaced. The earliest recorded “send” of a boulder was in 1908 by Jacques Wehrlin, who climbed a 3 in Fontainebleau called Fissure Wehrlin. In 1913, a 3+ was completed by Jacques de Lepiney and was named L’Arete de Larchant.
Pierre Allain, one of these first “bleusards” went on to invent the specialized smooth soled shoe specifically for rock climbing. He climbed the first 5C (V2) named L’Angle Allain in 1934 and in 1946 Rene Ferlet climbed the first 6A(V3) La Marie-Rose, both in Fontainebleau. In the following years, a 6B (V4) and 6C+ (V5) would be completed in the same region.
One very notable and accomplished woman of the Fontainebleau region was Catherine Miquel. In 1989, Catherine became the first female climber to send V8 “Le Carnage”. Subsequently in 1996, she became the first female to send V9 “Miss World” and then in 1997 to achieve V10 “Halloween”. She then proceeded to complete V11 “Sale gosse assis” in 1998 and V12 “Liaison Futile” in 1999.
Today, Fontainebleau is one of the most popular bouldering destinations in the world. The boulders are all very clearly marked with:
First rock of the route: white painted rectangle with the route number and grading identified
Arrows: to indicate the direction of the climb, positioned at the navel with all holds within reasonable reach allowed
In Canada and the United States, it is more customary to use a guidebook to understand the grade and boulder sequencing, retaining a more natural environment.
Bouldering is now a business for some countries, who rely heavily on climbers to come visit the area to support their economy. Alternatively, some areas which used to be open to bouldering are now either restricted to certain seasons or banned altogether due to environmental degradation due to over-crowding.
Joining in on volunteer trail building, contributing to clean up events and being the first to choose another destination if it is looking too busy are all ways in which you can help promote the longevity of this sport. World class destinations like Squamish in Canada, Hueco Tanks in the US and Fontainebleau in France all receive well over a million climber visitors each year!