Milly-a-Foret Climbing Festival wants sustainable bouldering in Bleau

We are not alone in the climbing world. There are many organizations taking steps forward, making a difference in the industry. Frequently, we are introducing our ideas into a climbing festival by organizing a Clean Up or speaking, but sometimes we are already aligned. The brand new Festival of Sustainable Bouldering in Milly-A-Foret is one of those and we would like to tell you more about them.

There are many names behind the event, who are both passionate climbers and locals from the town Milly-la-Forêt. The festival celebrates a century of climbing in Fontainebleau forest, but also wants to spread sustainable practices and take better care of the forest.

A sustainable climbing event

Who are the people behind Festival Escalade Milly?
The festival started with a lucky encounter between a dynamic local team of counselors and a new climbing business in Milly. Locals always saw many boulderers around, but didn’t know how to approach them. With The Big Island managers, they started to find answers and decided to work together to better welcome boulderers and to inform them about this territory, beyond just bouldering.

How did the festival get started, and what can we expect for the first edition?
What to expect? A rich program with almost all local passionate boulderers trying to bring something to this event, and in addition a real opportunity to discuss and meet other boulderers and people living and loving this area. There will be many opportunities to boulder: during the outdoor competition in the new crag, initiation at the new crag, bouldering discovery within the festival village with 3 different walls, slackline, bouldering cleaning workshop, discussion around bouldering impacts on the environment, Bleau history, bouldering injury, and the results of the photo and video competition. Did I tell you about Catherine Destivelle book sign and the opportunity to learn how to clean a boulder?

What is the idea behind the festival being sustainable? Why does it matter so much?

Because bouldering gym numbers have exploded in Europe in the last 10 years, and even if only a small part of indoor boulderers become outdoor boulderers, its still an increasing number. That impacts our a limited and fragile resource: a sensitive forest and its biodiversity. With more indoor boulderers, we see more people, which means simply more erosion of the soil and the boulders themselves (by climbing with sand on shoes or when boulders are wet and the risk of breaking grips). New boulderers also tend to have some practices which may impact the environment: amplified sound, artificial lights, waste from the camping van outside of camping areas….and climbing outside of authorized areas or opening boulders wherever they feel like it, not respecting the landowner and the environment dynamic they disturb.

Climbing is much more popular than it was a couple of years ago. Do you see the effect of this on the forest of Fontainebleau?

As per above, yes. Soil and boulder erosion are obvious signs, but wildlife dynamics need more monitoring. Especially with the more recent trends of night climbing and climbing in protected areas.

Why should climbers take care of their environment?

Is it even a question in 2022, why would we care about what allows us and so many others to be alive, happy and to realize selfish egotic dreams or sometimes just a bit of wellbeing? I think we all know we have to care for what we love, we have to care for the future, and we have to care for others.

But beyond that, the forest mostly belongs to the government or local government and has never been created or maintained for the sake of boulderers. Current costs greatly outweigh benefits, all the more than the forest is going through a major health crisis (drought, climate change) although it seems most boulderers only see a free gym and forget that the environment they want to change in the rest of the world is just in front of them when they are bouldering…they just have to turn off their speakers, fans, lights, they just have to brush their chalk, they just have to sometimes spend time working for the forest and not just with the forest.

What is to you the most enjoyable about climbing and particularly outdoors?

The “flow”, the bubble of freedom and nature, the union between the environment, my body and my mind. I don’t climb for performance only, I climb to breathe, and it’s most enjoyable outdoor.

What would you like to tell new visitors to the forest?

The forest was here before you and will be there after you, but the little you can do can contribute to this future, so please look at the forest, learn, respect and take the time to realize it’s not a climbing gym and demand our care so that our children can also enjoy it one day.

Why should climbers join you on May 6-8 for the festival?

To have the opportunity to give life to who we are, Bleau bouldering passionate, and to share our curiosity, passion, and desire to make our activity an integrated activity to this place, in the long term.

More info can be found here.