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Committed #3: Save Bouldering

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
As Europe's bouldering community grows, Christian Merlau is striving to provide education in order to preserve the fragile natural places boulderers impact.

I started climbing in the late 1980s, back when only a few people crawled through the woods searching for climbable rocks. My first time visiting Fontainebleau was in 1991, and we shared the Franchard lot with just one other car, which sounds ridiculous thinking about how it looks like now. There were no climbing gyms then. But in the mid-‘90s, as gyms sprouted up like mushrooms, a new generation of climbers grew up: indoor climbers.

I love bouldering, and seeing the growing interest in the sport, I participated in opening a bouldering gym so I could make a living doing something I am really keen on. I saw firsthand that even if only a small percentage of the new indoor climbers went outside, there would be a noticeably higher number of people showing up at the usual bouldering spots. And thinking of the big number of bouldering gyms all over Europe, I knew this would have an immense impact on outdoor bouldering. As the gym’s store manager, I saw a lot of people showing up, buying their first chalk bag and pair of climbing shoes; some of them bought crashpads, too. They had never bouldered outside of a gym before, but they were going to try it and had hardly any knowledge of how to behave outdoors.

Seeing this, I decided to make a poster showing the essentials of what to do and what not to do when bouldering outside. I wrote the list, designed the poster...and left it unprinted. Who was I to tell people how to behave? How could I put myself center stage and educate others about what's wrong and right? I did not want to be that guy. But in the end, my concerns about the negative effects to outdoor bouldering drove me crazy. At the urging of my lovely wife, I posted the image on Facebook.

It was a good decision, and the post was liked and shared, so it became widely spread within a day. The guys from, a German climbing news website, shared it,and. my friends from NIHIL and MadRock Europe shared it, too. Seeing the interest, we decided to try to make more out of it, to spread the word, making people aware of the issues outdoors: parking, fires, camping, chalk, brushing, night bouldering, garbage. And this is how SaveBouldering was born.

The risk of restrictions on bouldering or even closures of whole areas isn't just a worst-case scenario. It's happening right now. In Germany, Austria, Spain, Switzerland and all over Europe. All because people—new, unaware climbers as well as long-time but ignorant climbers—are not behaving in a manner that will guarantee access for ours and coming generations of climbers. Avoiding the wrongs isn't rocket science, it doesn't take too much effort. There is no reason why anyone shouldn't act responsible. Bad behaviour reflects on all of us. So even if you do the right things, seeing others doing wrong is a reason to remind them of their responsibility. Be nice but assertive! This concerns us all.

Time will tell what we can do for our sport, how we can pay back to the environment we love to be in and love to play in. Hopefully we can raise awareness and in doing so preserve the life we love.

—Christian Merlau

To find out more about SaveBouldering, visit