Ad fontes

I wrote a post under this title about ten days ago, but while publishing it the text disappeared like a trench soldier in the no man’s land of interweb. All that was left was the title. That just might have been the greatest blog post in the world; this is but a tribute.

The novelty idea was, and is, to write about more recent experience though the title, as I will later explain, refers tightly to the past. And from (not so distant) past I need to start.

We had spent the last December and first half of January in sunny Spain enjoying warm weather around the south coast and having relaxed time also in Catalunya. Then, we decided it’s time to return to France. We felt it’s the least we can do to show solidarity to the French in the wake of the barbaric terror attacs earlier that month. Also we had run out of gas and didn’t have connection for Spanish gas bottle. Plenty of reasons.

The general atmosphere as well as the weather on the other side of Pyrenees was gloomy, or maybe we just wanted to see it that way. One case or the other, winter was with us for the first time of our Expedition. We even encountered some snow and decided to skip the initial plan of crossing the Central Massif to the west coast, which we hadn’t yet seen. Along the plan I had to say goodbye to the classic limestone crags in the Millau area: Gorge du Tarn etc. Instead we followed the wineyard-dotted valleys of Rhône and Loire and slowly made our way towards Paris and, of course, Fontainebleu.

Through rain and wind and white wine and rain we fought our way to Île-de-France to find us in: more rain. Leaving Spain started to look like a bad call. In fact, the French seemed to cope just fine without two Finnish Charlies there to console them. But we endured and for us baguette-lovers France is rather easy country to endure, even in pouring rain.

The weather left me plenty of time planning my climbing in Fontainebleau. Though in Finland I had spent my climbing mostly on boulders (my then home town has plenty of blocs), during our trip the focus has been on roped climbing. I hadn’t properly bouldered in about eight months so I tried to keep my aims low. But you always end up hoping that this time you’ll send at your top level, no matter how unlikely that might be. So of course I started eying 7th grade problems having had my most glorious bouldering feats of the past in the low 7s range. With the route names as my only guideline besides the grade (it’s raining, remember; I’m not going to actually see the boulders) I bumped into this interestingly named problem Retour aux sources, 7a in the 91.1 area.

Back to the sources. Or Ad fontes, as Renaissance humanists would have put it. Could there be a more fittingly named route for a historian to climb? The war cry Ad fontes! epitomizes the whole practice of academic or, really, any type of historiography (=history as we write it). There simply isn’t any history for us to know without the sources, fontes. No need for further planning; this is going to be the first 7 I send in Fontainebleau.

The weather eventually turned better, just in time to prevent me from turning into desperate deeds like looking for dry roof problems. Well, that would have been a bit too far fetched to start from, as I came to notice. Meekly I begun with low grade challenges and, as anyone who has ever climbed in Font knows, also these were determined to teach me a lesson or two before letting me top out on them. Few days of trial and (mostly) error, circuiting and projecting in Trois Pignons confirmed two things: 1) I was out of bouldering shape; 2) I still like bouldering. It’s going to work out, right?

A small boost of confidence on a prow-ish Flipper 6b, which is a really satisfying problem with compression and hooks and stuff. Couldn’t help thinking that I used to flash this grade back home and now it took two sessions + about dozen tries. But still it’s going to be ok, yes?

Somewhere during the initiation process I actually had to go and see my main objective, the Retour, and deemed it a beautiful if bit too powerful line for my taste. Good holds (well, one more like soap but that’s a giant shelf) and big moves. Worthy projecting, I was still convinced. Had few half-hearted tries on the initial moves, but decided to come back few days later for proper projecting.

The day few days later started with rain, not too surprising, but afternoon sun had dried the route when I got there. Some Dutch there on the same line – popular, it seems – so I warmed up (=failed) on a neighbouring bloc. And finally, late in the afternoon I set my hands and feet on the Sources. Pretty similar to historians work this bouldering, really. You’ve got the raw material (sources/holds) which mainly remain as they are (though sometimes holds break and archives burn down). You have an initial plan what to do with the material, but usually it ends up totally different. And you fail ca. 95 % of the time. I knew what I was doing. Still I didn’t mind the help brought to me in the form of few young Finnish blokes who were easily convinced to project the Retour with me. I hadn’t yet worked out the top when they appeared but they found a sequence to it quite easily, convincing me that it’s doable. One of them sent the problem in few tries and they caried on, but armed with the complete beta and now my wife there to spot me I had no excuses. Ad fontes! First try a bit shy, falling at a well rehersed midmove. Second try, perfect. All the individual moves done as well or better than before. No flailing higher up. I only raised my feet where I knew they need to be and stepped to the top. This is why I love climbing. This is why I love life. When everything just drops to place (oops, bad metaphor) and the movement flows seamlessly from beginning to end. That’s sprezzatura, the art of doing difficult things in an easy-looking way.

I knew I’m back in business.


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