Interview: Chris Schulte Sends The Big Island (V15)

posted by dpm on 03/11/2013


35-year-old Chris Schulte has been climbing for about fifteen years, most of that time devoted to becoming a world-class boulderer. He's known for his quiet, introspective attitude toward climbing outdoors, as well as his ability to squeeze his way up the world's hardest compression problems. Understandably, Schulte has taken a fondness to the boulders of Fontainebleau, France, an area that requires subtlety on slopers and squeezing power. He's taken many trips to Font, and just recently was able to complete what many consider the hardest problem in the forest. The Big Island (V15), a lower start to Dave Graham's The Island (V14), was established by local Bleausard Vincent Pochon in 2010. Since then, it's been repeated a handful of times and maintained its reputation for both difficulty and beauty. It was a long term goal of Schulte's to send this amazing boulder so after his ascent we asked him a few questions.

Chris Schulte on Partage Assis (8b/V13) in Fontainebleau, France. Photo courtesy of Chris Schulte

DPM: Tell us a little bit about your progression as a boulderer?

When I started climbing, I was much more psyched on roped climbing: ice, mixed, trad... I wanted to climb big mountains some day, and bouldering was something I did when I had no partners or to get stronger for trad climbing. After a while, I met some good folks who took me under wing and imparted what I think is a great philosophy in regards to bouldering. For years I didn’t have any idea of what things were graded, which was kind of a gentle way to progress I think. The first bouldering trip away from my hometown was to Little Cottonwood Canyon and Joe’s Valley, and I climbed a good handful of V9s and V10s. I think that was about 1999. After that, I was pretty much a boulderer. Travel was so nice; I could go and see these great places I might not have seen otherwise, and bouldering was a good way to do it, since you kind of sit in place a bit, walk a bit, rest a bit. It’s a nice way to get to know an area. Travel motivated me a lot; I wanted to be able to climb the amazing lines I saw. All the same, I was really lucky with where I lived because there was a great deal of rock to discover, clean, and hopefully climb, which really ended up shaping me as a climber and as a person.


DPM: When did you first travel to Font? When did you first see The Big Island?

My first trip to Font was in 2004. I stayed for almost three months, and camped out the whole time. It was amazing. There was amazing weather the whole time and I got to climb some amazing, world-class problems.

I didn’t see The Island until a couple years later, on my second trip. Dave had just done The Island the year before, and I was psyched to go and check it out. I did a couple of the moves, but didn’t think I had the reach to do the first crux throw to the sloper.


DPM: When did you start to realize that "squeezing" is your style and how did that drive you toward an ultimate goal of The Big Island?

I think it happened by accident! Early on in my bouldering, I injured my left index finger pretty badly- detached a pulley at the distal joint. I could bend it sideways and it would just keep going. I didn’t know anything about injuries at the time so I just kept climbing, switching to slopers. To me at the time, hard and cool bouldering was small holds: crimps and monos... Kind of funny to think about these days.

The Big Islandwas never really a goal for me. I knew only that I could reach between the holds, and didn’t really think I could climb it. It was an obvious goal from the point of view of style, but it never really seriously took hold of me until a friend of mine, Lucas Menegatti, did the second ascent. He decided I could for sure do it. I went one evening with a few friends, nothing serious, and did most of the moves. The next session, I did the rest and starting doing links. This was during my last trip to Font and I hadn’t planned on getting embroiled in a mega project at all. I wanted a vacation from trying hard- to do some classics, dig the forest..

That didn’t happen.

I spent the rest of my trip freaking out, getting up before the sun and driving out there to try to get it cold enough to link, getting close all the time, never doing it. It was super stressful, for me and everyone I was with. My girlfriend and I ended up extending our trip to go to Switzerland, to try and have a vacation to recover from the vacation!

Schulte on The Big Island (V15). Photo courtesy of Chris Schulte.

DPM: How many trips have you devoted to The Big Island?

Two trips, probably 30 sessions, maybe more. It’s really at my limit- not so much because of the moves, but because of the spans, which is kind of heartening!


DPM: Do you see this as a highpoint in your climbing life? I've heard that this was your "life goal" project. How does it feel to have sent it?

It’s definitely not what I’d call a high point, for a lot of reasons. Obviously I want to keep climbing, to keep trying hard problems, ‘cause that’s what I like to do. It was incredibly satisfying, but in many ways that aren’t all nice. It was frustrating enough that I’m relieved to be done with it. The line was amazing to link, and I have great memories associated with it as well, but it was pretty frustrating for me, battling with the conditions and the beta, not being able to do it the way others did. As far as being a “life goal project” well, there are a lot of those, and the list is always evolving. Though it’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve done, I’ve climbed a number of things that were more rewarding and pleasant experiences.


DPM: What other hard problems have you done in Font this year?

My second day out, I finished off the sit start to Partage 8b, which I’d tried a bit the previous trip. I’d come close to making the FA, but missed out on it, and instead did the second this winter, about a month after the FA.

In between the really shit weather, we had some great, great conditions. I also got to climb Elephunk (8b), the Realist (8a+/b??), and a few new 8a’s. I had a great trip to Switzerland too, with 2 weeks of absolutely perfect weather, and got to finish up a lot of things I’d come close to on the prior trip.


DPM: What will you focus on for the rest of your trip?

Now, I have only ten days left, and the weather has been kind of shite!! I’m hoping to have a few good days before I go home; I want to go try this tall, hard 8a/b that’s pretty far back in the woods, and also go try an 8b+ that’s also pretty far back there that’s only seen one repeat. It’s one move, and then easy V8 from there, so that one move is pretty nuts.


Look for video of Schulte climbing The Big Island in the near future. Until then, here's a few other videos of Chris climbing. 

Click the image for video of Chris sending Big Worm (V13/14) at Mt. Evans, Colorado.

Click here for video of Chris Schulte climbing at Independence Pass, Colorado.

Click here for video of Chris Schulte bouldering in Colorado's high country.