A few days ago I headed up to a new bouldering area dubbed Fontainfawr, after its supposed similarities with the amazing forest in France. It’s name to be honest is where the similarities end. Whilst it is a great climbing venue, to even mention it in the same sentence as the hallowed forest is somewhat insulting the french climbing mecca.
Naming aside, the climbing is definitely worth the journey if you can time it to avoid the midges that frequent the boggy hillside. We had a northerly breeze which kept most of them at bay. There was a few things that make me question the climbing here.
First off reading the mini topo guide I noticed that they ask you keep the noise to a minimum. Fair enough, not everyone wants to here you curse after falling off that 6b for the 8th time. But also ‘Leave No Trace as the block lie on the edge of a nature reserve’.
This second one is where I became rather taken aback. First the blocks have been very heavily gardened, removing years of moss and vegetation. The work involved must have been immense and taken days, and whilst I can only thank the developers it kind of leaves me uneasy given it is on the edge of the nature reserve, I wonder whether it is inside or outside the reserve?
That leave no trace also doesn’t seem to extend to the large blue gym crash pad barely concealed under a large boulder or the construction of a permanent wooden ‘landing platform’.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that in the mountains boulderers might spend a few hours ‘landscaping’ the boulders to make a flatter patio. I guess I have come to accept this as well, and have even rejigged a landing myself in the past, although it was more like moving a small rock than shifting something that makes the Atlas Stones look like child’s play. It seems to be an acceptable practice, as unless you know the area really well, you probably won’t notice that the area has been flatten into a nice patio by some community spirited boulderers.
However, I am not sure I agree with the landing platform here, which is essentially a wooden platform like some north shore cycle track but made out of wood from B&Q in the middle of the forest. I am not sure the Bleaussard would stand for it, but I might be wrong. Maybe I am just not up with current practices in bouldering. I just can’t help thinking that if I turned up and built a decking below the roadside face of the Cromlech or the Plantation boulder in Stanage I’d get linched. Yet in this place where we are being told to leave no trace by the developers, a landing platform and in situ mat is fine.
I guess the debating point is whether the platform is a step too far, or are these boulder suitably obscure that they are immune to what might be consider ‘normal practice’. It just strikes me the platform is there so they could climb a few extra problems without the potential for a nasty fall. There certainly feels like some double standard going on. Especially as there is absolutely no reference to it in the mini guide.
I guess the question I am trying to ask is where is the line in the sand when it comes to not only developing new areas but also landscaping landing zones? I give you this video from America to kind of illustrate the point, although it is worth noting the frame wasn’t constructed of fallen wood.
Whatever your thoughts the venue is well worth the journey, maybe you’ll see the platform and you will almost definitely use it and probably the in situ mat. The Grand Fissure is perhaps one of the best recent 7c lines I have seen in North Wales, although not seen a lot recently, I might even get fit again for it.
I am not saying what they did was wrong, I am big enough to know that not everyone will agree with my thoughts when it comes to bouldering ethics. I will certainly be using it when I go back. What I am wanting to do is simply open up this for debate. As there is no mention of the construction or in-situ pads in the topo, yet a wish for us to ‘leave no trace’, simply not mentioning the elephant in the room doesn’t remove it. How far should we go to landscape a landing when bouldering? Where is the line in the sand?