Yeah, what happened to the bouldering circuit? Nowadays, the mighty 'project' reigns supreme. Projects, projects, projects. It's one of the most common words you'll hear out in the boulder field or at the crag. "Did you do your project man?" Singular feats of peak performance have trumped the ensemble experience.
I've tried to think of an analogy from another outdoor sport. The emphasis in climbing on projects and difficulty reminds me a bit of the emphasis--and marketability--on single, super-difficult tricks in skateboarding or snowboarding. That stuff does seem to sell, that's for sure.
In the French birthplace of bouldering, a circuit of boulder problems is such a common tradition that they're physically coded and marked on the boulders themselves. Visit Fontainbleau and you can't miss them: they're painted in vivid color with arrows pointing up. Depending on the color, you'll find an appropriate circuit for kids, hard men and women, and all levels between. Just pick a color and follow the arrows. If you're lucky, follow a local too.
I was in Font once, bouldering in a spot which roughly translates to 'Valley of the Dog.' It's a flat, sandy expanse littered with perfect boulders and home to the famous roof problem, Le Toit du Cul de Chien, a French version of Blowing Rock's Roof of Death. I had the chance to follow an unassuming Frenchman on a red arrow circuit. Over a few hours, we went from boulder to boulder, linking red arrow problems in a continuous flow. True to form, he kindly pointed out flaws in my beta, which I must admit now was really a great help. I didn't send the hardest thing I'd ever done, but that wasn't the point. Climbing uninterrupted wore me out, and left me with a great feeling: the simple satisfaction of moving over stone for an extended period of time.
Now, I know circuits aren't totally dead, and that a few climbers still nurture and practice their favorite local link-ups. Tom Moulin's recent guidebook for Red Rocks bouldering actually goes as far as describing a whole handful of bouldering circuits for different areas. It would be neat to see more guides in the states do this, but cool and unique as it is, collectively shared circuits are the exception. No one really talks about circuits anymore, and for a more recent generation of climbers, it seems like the idea is either forgotten or meaningless.
Ironically, while running a good circuit is easily more fun that flailing and falling on a pad all day, the truth is doing circuits builds a fantastic training base for taking it to the next level on that one, single hard-for-you climb, i.e., your precious project. For those who remain fixated on performance, and uninterested in this pitch for a flowing hippy trip through the boulders, keep that in mind.
Maybe I'm way off though and there's pent-up love for the circuit out there. Care to tell your favorite circuit spot? Mine's the Long Wall at Grandmother.