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Can We Really ‘Leave No Trace’?

Being a complete newby to Instagram, every time I read a post I find myself alarmed by the attitudes of some friends of friends. I am not one to take a stand against people personally, or fight fights on the internet, but one post recently made me address the responsibility we have over our playground. Should we help to inform the ill-informed? I have no intention of naming or shaming anyone in particular, but in airing the issue for constructive discussion, maybe we can enlighten a few who feel themselves beyond reproach.

In the post in question, a friend of mine commented that she was going to leave one of her projects because it was in a zone designated by the ONF for regeneration. She felt that the benefit to the forest was of greater importance than her personal enjoyment of this one block. One reply really made me think. It was wholly correct in many respects.

“I strongly disagree with this. I can leave no trace. I am an animal of this planet, I didn’t ask to exist. I have the same right to be as the other animals do. Ofc I would respect more the protected areas, but as long as you keep your peace of mind … there are billions of damaging actions to the nature not comparable to what you are destroying”

He is right of course, we are all animals, and we do all have a right to be here. And yes, there are many more damaging actions that we all do every day than climbing. I feel, however, that we all have an obligation to do whatever we can to minimise out impact. We are indeed animals, and if we arrived as such, naked, barefoot, without chalk or crashpads, just like any other animal, maybe we too could truly ‘leave no trace’.

Yesterday I went out climbing to an area I had not been before. It is a little known and charming part of the forest with few walking paths, but not many boulder problems. When I arrived at the block I wanted to climb I was somewhat taken-aback.

The soundtrack is somewhat silly I know, but I was truly shocked by the state of the ground around the boulder. No, there was no rubbish, no nasty toilet paper or material evidence of human activity. The evidence was, none-the-less, obvious. With our mats, our shoes, our bags, and often our butts, we do leave a trace. Every time we scuff the ground we cause a little bit of erosion. It is unfortunate that this problem is on an incline, and the pads will inevitably side down the hill, but the fact is the same under every problem, for everyone who uses a mat, puts it down, moves it into place, and picks it up again.

I am not for a minute saying that we should not use pads. I am not saying we should not scrub boulders clean of moss before we climb them. I am a climber, and I love my sport! What I am saying, is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot ‘leave no trace’. With this in mind we must respect the land authorities of the area in which we climb. Here in Fontainebleau it is the ONF, and when they deem an area to be in need of rehabilitation, we need to listen. They are the experts, and they are not telling us to stop climbing. We still have huge areas of forest where we can scrub off the moss and the lichen. The ONF go to those areas and they stabilise the ground for us climbers, to reduce the erosion under our climbing problems. When they say “not here, this area needs to be left alone’, we need to respect that, and take our shoes, mats and butts elsewhere.

What do you think?


Dani P., June 10, 2019

I agree 100% - and I think it's a very important topic you talk about!! If we want to conserve this wonderful forest as a climbing area (and that's our interest), we have to respect such guidelines. RESPECT BLEAU! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Helen Dudley

Mum of Sebastian, 11, and Theo 8. Living in Arbonne-la-Forêt.

After making transitions from trad, to sport, to motherhood, Helen now lives in the Fontainebleau area dedicating as much time as possible to bouldering and playing in the forest with her two boys.