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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Tout a Blocs

By Kenny Stocker | 06, Jul, 2006

Bouldering festival in the French Alps.

Every year in late July / early August a normally sleepy village at the foot of the big Ecrin mountains attracts more than 300 bronzed dudes looking for the little blocs. They shuffle around some of these blocs in the midday sun, cursing their tight shoes and dipping their hands in the little sacks around their waist. If you find yourself there and wondering what is going down, don't worry, the chances are it is TAB time.

This annual event which back in the day was known as 'l'Open des Ecrins' has since 2003 been know as 'Tout a Blocs'. The event attracts a few hundred pad people to both L'Argentière-La Bessée and the higher village of Ailefroide. Tout a Blocs is a multi-faceted event incorporating competition, films, performance, bouldering and of course partying. Supported since its inception by the Commune du Pays des Ecrins 13 years ago TAB is the grandaddy of bouldering events in France.

The investment by the Pays des Ecrins in Tout a Blocs and other events such as the winter Ice Fest shows a willingness to develop and balance tourism with nature. The 4 days of this climbing festival have become an important meeting point for the local community, alpinists and holiday makers all sharing a passion for the mountain environment. Its success confirms the need for a particapative climbing event in this beautiful area.

Despite its age Tout a Blocs has not stood still, the festival has stayed fresh and listens to the suggestions of its participants. In 2005, under the guidance of the festival big cheese Francois 'Babar' Lombard the organisation decided to change the rules of the game and offer a true climbing festival accessible to all.

Tout a Blocs format

  • French championships
  • OPEN championship open to ALL, at every level
  • Final runs into night simply for the spectacle!
  • Dyno comp
  • Exhibition climbing and climbing workshops
  • Festival of short films (Pro and Amateur)
  • Cultural exhibitions in collaboration with local partners

The first two days include qualifications for the final of the French Bouldering Championships in L'Argentière-La Bessée. It is a chance for young climbers and amateurs alike to test themselves and aim for the elite category. It is also an opportunity to meet and climb with some of the top names in the sport such as Daniel Dulac and Jerome Mayer.

The film festival on Thursday night provides an opportunity to kick back. These short film (max 10 mins) will have already been the subject of a preselection before being projected on a large open air screen. Its summer and its all about being outdoors and enjoying yourself. There is always a prize for the best films to encourage further development and stimulate artistic work that will continue to help us dream through their imagery.

The Tout a Blocs Open takes place on Friday on the same plastic blocs used for the French Championship. As the name suggests it is open to anyone who wants to enter! It lasts all day so you may even have a chance if you partied hard the night before. The Open final takes place in the evening amongst lights and a relaxed atmosphere.

On Saturday the festival leaves behind the fast pace of the competition scene and moves up the valley to Ailefroide. The concept is centred on the pleasure of friendship and climbing, and as such is rich in exchange, meets, demonstrations and idle chit-chat at the foot of the blocs. Ailefroide is a marvellous site for this type of meeting, where the ambience is silent and relaxed. Whether individually, as a group or a family (more than 300 participants in 2005), here immersed in the forest, along side fast running mountain streams the granite boulders lie within a short walking distance of the camping site. In the evening there is a soiree organised by Petzl, a prize draw, artistic performances and a floodlit exhibition climbing amongst the blocs.

The area

The area is well known to British climbers, offering a wide choice of limestone sports routes, granite, long alpine classics and stunning ice falls in the winter. Thanks to its many valleys it also attracts kayakers, trekkers and rafters. It really is a paradise for outdoor sports. You may well be in the area anyway so it is worth checking out the details and supporting Tout a Blocs.

(Images S. Deny)

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