Charles Albert bouldering barefoot in Fontainebleau

Interview with French climber Charles Albert who, bouldering barefoot, has climbed up to 8C in Fontainebleau, France.
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Charles Albert climbing barefoot at Fontainebleau in France, on his La Révolutionnaire
Neil Hart
French boulderer Charles Albert shot to fame recently with his repeats of some of the hardest boulder problems at Fontainebleau in France. These include the 8C La valse aux adieux prolongée and, just the other day, Le Pied à Coulisse 8C at Rocher Gréau. What is striking is not so much the impressive speed with which the 18-year-old full-time climber has repeated these testpieces (it’s worth remembering that 8C+ is currently considered the upper limit of today’s bouldering), but that he has done so barefoot, choosing to boulder without climbing shoes, rubbing only chalk on his toes to secure perfect friction. While climbing barefoot is certainly nothing new, Albert has without a shadow of doubt taken things to a completely new level. And perhaps he’s even getting close to new horizons, as he evidently climbs far better barefoot that with climbing shoes on (for the record, with shoes so far he’s sent “only” 8A boulder). The time had come to get to know Charles Albert, nicknamed Mowgli for his penchant for the magical Foret outside of Paris and its stunning sandstone boulders.

Charles, let’s start with Fontainebleau and your relationship with this forest. It’s a magical place, presumably not only for its climbing though, right?
The forest of Fontainebleau is probably the only big place near my house where I can be alone and where nobody tell me what I have to do. It’s here that I find freedom. That's the main reason I like the forest.

You’ve become famous now, having repeated 8C barefoot. To many people this sounds totally incredible… also to you? Did this surprise you?
Well I’d already done several 8B and 8B+ barefoot before, so I wasn't surprised I could climb an 8C, no.

La valse aux adieux prolongée (8C) barefoot

Let’s go back a step: why did you start barefoot climbing? And what were the first sensations like?

I did my first 8A with climbing shoes and at the time I was always climbing with the same people but as I grew I got stronger and tried some new challenges, like skipping holds or climbing barefoot to make the problems we were trying even more interesting. The first thing I noticed when I climbed barefoot is obvious: you lose huge power in our feet that you have to compensate with your arms and your fingers. This usually makes you unable to do a move in the same way as you would with climbing shoes, so you have to climb the problem differently.

You persevered. Why? What are the advantages of climbing barefoot?
Climbing barefoot is cheaper, more natural, more instinctive. But also more complicated. For instance, it trashes your skin, but I see that as cool since it makes the climbing more interesting, it reminds you that your body has a limit. The same is true with cold temperatures: my feet get numb, this can be a real problem.

What about climbing techniques?
Toe hooks and heel hooks are harder barefoot because you can't just put your foot and pull like a freak, otherwise it’s too painful you could even hurt your bone on a heel hook. Having said that, some problems are easier barefoot because you can wedge your toes in cracks and holes.

Any other disadvantages?
The only disadvantage is the French climbing federation doesn't let you do competitions barefoot!

Out of interest, do you ever climb with shoes?
I sometimes climb with shoes when I get out of Fontainebleau because some rocks are just too painful otherwise.

L'abbé résina (7C) blindfold

Last question Charles: apart from climbing barefoot, we’ve seen you’ve even sent 7C blindfold… And often you don’t have a bed of crashpads below you, but instead just a tiny pad, nothing more…
Crashpads are heavy and remove most of the danger. I like to climb with that fear of the fall, so I only use a crashpad when it's really necessary. Climbing isn't just a number followed by a letter. You can do whatever you want, like climbing blindfold, barefoot, down climbing… Search for the flow in your moves. There are as many challenges out there as you can imagine.

Ouroboros (8B) piedi nudi

Link: Facebook Charles Albert

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