Lengendary Boulder Problems: The Island and The Big Island

Pochon on The Big Island 8C | V15 Vincent Pochon on The Big Island

The (Big) Island is a legendary compression problem located in Fontainebleau, France. It features a prow-like roof that climbers must hug with arms and legs to create enough friction to stick to the rock.

The last great problem in the forest

The first ascent of The Island was done by Dave Graham in 2008. The problem had been shown to him years before and described as “the last great problem in the forest” (people have been climbing in Font since the 19th century and the chances of discovering good new lines is way thinner compared to relatively new areas like Rocklands or the Grampians).

After the first ascent, Graham proposed the grade of 8C | V15. Since then many others have climbed The Island and it seems the consensus is that the problem more on the 8B+ | V14 side (translation: it’s “just” extremely hard).

Here’s an excerpt of the film The Players, courtesy of BS Productions, featuring the first ascent:

Dave Graham – The Island V15 from BS Productions on Vimeo.

The Island vs The Big Island

So… if that’s The Island what’s with The “Big” Island?

The Big Island is a low start to The Island, it adds two moves to the sequence done by Graham and the first ascent was done by Vincent Pochon in 2009. The Big Island is still a standing start (some say a sit-start is possible but no one has done it yet) and it is considered 8C | V15.

Here’s Pochon sending The Big Island:

The Big Island 8C from Grimpeabloc on Vimeo.

Why was anyone tempted to add two moves to what was already an amazing boulder problem? Because the original starting position was seen as “unnatural” by some. As can be seen in the video of the first ascent, Graham started by pushing himself into the wall, with his left elbow pressing on a nearby rock. Some climbers thought it would be possible (and desirable) to start standing on the ground right beneath the boulder. In fact, by the time Graham did the First Ascent, Pochon had already started projecting what eventually became The Big Island.

Comparison of the starting positions to The Island and The Big Island (click to enlarge)
Comparison of the starting holds to The Island (left) and The Big Island (right). On The Big Island the left hand starts where Graham put his right hand and the right hand is slightly lower than Graham’s right foot.

One video to explain it all

In 2011 a video about “the bouldering game” was released. It tries to explain, among other things, the paradox of bouldering, where everyone can set his own rules and define his own problems while, at the same time, there’s a lot of fuel being burned about ethics, where to start a problem, who climbed what, how he climbed it, what grade it is and so on.

To exemplify that, the video describes the issue with The (Big) Island, it’s two first ascents and the starting positions. An interesting reflection to extract from the video is that had The Big Island existed before, no one would have started from the rock (therefore The Island would not exist).

Here’s the video:

As always the question lurking in the background is “Does any of this matter?”. I guess it doesn’t really matter. But some people (like me!) find this stuff interesting and I think as long as don’t lose perspective and get carried away by this (to some extent) pointless details it’s all good and worth talking about.

Now you know

If you started standing you’ve done The Big Island, if you’ve done it from the rock it’s “simply” The Island. Don’t worry, if you’ve done either of those you can call yourself a great boulderer and be sure you’ve climbed one of the most iconic boulder problems in the most famous bouldering area on Earth. So tons of credit to you, to the guys who found and cleaned the problem, to the guys who did both first ascents and to everyone that came after to perform on that amazing piece of rock (people like Nalle Hukkataival, Jan Hojer, Paul Robinson, Michelle Caminati, James Webb, Lucas Ménégatti…).



  1. Victor Karlströmer says:

    “One video to explain it all” link does not work, can you please upload another? sounds super interesting

Speak Your Mind