On his last day in the forest, Taylor McNeill checked off “the number one boulder” on his life list—The Big Island (8C/V15) in Fontainebleau, France. The 26 year old from Boone, North Carolina had dreamed for years about climbing in Font, and The Big Island was his main inspiration.
“Font is one of the most unique places I’ve ever climbed,” McNeill tells Rock and Ice. “I quickly found out you can’t muscle your way through most problems. You really have to focus on your feet and body positioning.”
The Big Island, first climbed by Vincent Pochon in 2010, adds a lower start to Dave Graham’s The Island (8B+/V14). McNeill put three days of effort into The Island early in his three-week trip and was able to climb the problem in two overlapping sections, but the friction-dependent climb felt “nearly impossible for me in the heat,” he says.
Waiting for cooler temps, McNeill explored other area classics. “Nearly everything I touched was amazing,” he says, “but there’s a few problems that really stood out: L’œf (7B/V8), Imothep (8A/V11), Bleu Sacré (8B/V13),” and of course, The Big Island.
McNeill describes The Big Island as: “Perfect rounded slopers, big spans on fairly decent holds, with loads of body tension.”
“It sits all alone up on a hillside,” he continues. “It seems rare that you feel alone in Font, since a lot of the areas are so crowded, but this boulder really has a special, secluded vibe to it.”
On his final day in the forest, “prime conditions” set in. McNeill took The Island to the top on his third attempt (his fifth session working the problem overall). He then went for the lower start of The Big Island.
“Those [intro] moves are maybe 7A+ (V7) or so, and don’t really seem to add much difficulty,” McNeill says. “The Island has such a strange start that by the time you’re on the wall you’ve probably exerted the same amount of energy as if you had just done the low moves.
“The Big Island starts standing on the ground and is definitely the more obvious start in my opinion.”
After two goes that day, McNeill sent The Big Island for the problem’s 14th known ascent. Three other Americans—Chris Schulte in 2013, Griffin Whiteside in 2015, and Jimmy Webb in 2016—have also climbed The Big Island.
McNeill, who says he’s bad at crimps but loves compression climbs, adds, “I do think style plays a huge roll. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll ever find another problem that fits my style as well as The Big Island did.
“I feel like it was made for me.”