How do I get there?
To those that know, Fontainebleau needs no introduction. A bouldering mecca for over 100 years now, Font, or Bleau for non-Brits, is the original destination developed for climbing training. I have been to Font before with friends driving from London. This is pretty simple. Get the Eurotunnel across and drive a few hours to the forest ~60km south of Paris. I had never flown in before however. I landed in Charles de Gaulle from Copenhagen after lunch. From here the RER train takes about 30mins to get to Gare du Nord. A change from this train to another on the green ‘D’ line south to Gare de Lyon takes 10 minutes and the train comes at least every 15mins. One ticket bought at Charles de Gaulle gets you to Gare de Lyon for €10. Getting off at Gare de Lyon, go up to the next level to the over-ground express type trains. Another ticket for €7-8 will take you to Fontainebleau Avon in 40mins or so. This is a very pretty and popular tourist town with a surprising number of good, if expensive, bars and restaurants. The Château is well worth a visit and the S’cape outdoor shop right next door is worth popping into for climbing supplies, gas, an extra hammock etc. If you’re planning on hiring a car (a wise idea), staying on the ‘D’ line train to Melun instead of changing to get to Avon looks like an equally plausible option and probably cheaper than hiring in Paris.
The changes from the airport took a bit longer than I expected and I arrived in Fontainebleau Avon a bit later than expected. There is an Ibis hotel and a supermarket just five minutes’ walk from the station. Seeing as it was impossible to contact a single taxi driver, it being a Saturday evening, I booked a room for about €40. The next morning I got a taxi to Musardière camp site (€30-40 depending on whether you secure the price before you get in!) I chose this camp site mainly because it is closest to some major climbing areas. Within walking distance is Les Trois Pignons region, the biggest region in Font. Since I didn’t have a car this was the only campsite I was going to get much climbing done from. It is a large site and mostly comprised of motorhomes. It does have a large forested camping area next to some very nice facilities. A well-equipped block with toilets, sinks and coin insert washing machines. It even has large swimming pool. This does of course come at a price and you will be charged per night for your tent, the number of people in it and any vehicles. Without any car this cost me about €10 a night. It’s a good family orientated place with a strong cohort of climbers present in season, but not one I would have used for a long time if I had had a car. There are also many other camp sites to choose from.
What book is best?
There are a couple of guide books I would recommend for Font. The first is the Fontainebleau Fun Bloc. This packs in 7000+ problems graded between 1a and 8c, at all of the popular areas in the forest. The up-side of this guide is that is has photos of almost all the problems and good maps. I would therefore recommend this for people less accustomed to the forest and who don’t know their way round so well. The second book I would get would be the Fontainebleau 7+8 or 5+6 depending on your grade preference. These have become the tick list bibles for boulderers. They provide more descriptive detail on the routes themselves and are more compact with a much cleaner style. The maps are much vaguer however so, if you can afford it, get a couple of different books between a group of friends if possible. You will soon find your favourite! Another good web resource is Bleau.info for a more comprehensive guide.
Sweat and polish.
I did not go to Font at the right time to climb hard. Going in early August is a silly time to go, unless you’re quite happy spending time sunbathing and climbing when it’s cool enough to prevent the endless struggle against hopeless friction and gravity increasing heat exhaustion. I must admit it was satisfying to lazily wander around, climbing easier lines and taking in some vitamin D for a while however. One my third day I decided to have a go at my project from a couple of years ago. It’s an impressive vertical face with the route up relying on a polished rail and a series of small crimps. At 7b+ I knew it was within my range but totally against my usual style. I pushed it a bit hard on the crimps but made progress on the crux. Overcoming challenges is a part of climbing. At the end of it all I remember what I have learnt and take away the positives. Most of the time I don’t dwell on the frustration. It can take a minute to reflect on, but not sending a project rarely effects my mood later that day. Maybe I should work on it not effecting my mood in the short term as well, but I use this time to focus and replay what I have done to learn from it. Climbers never really stop thinking about climbing.
The next day my foot slipped on an overhanging line and I tried to stabilise myself using my two finger pockets. This meant I tweaked a finger which put an end to the day. I should have been more careful on the polished rock in hindsight as my fingers were compromised and recovering from the day before. One of the side effects of Font being so popular is that a lot of the climbs in classic areas are very polished. If you look closer however there is still a lot of rock in good condition and of fantastic quality, capturing Font’s powerful yet technical style. Thankfully the tick list is not the ‘be all and end all’. I enjoy myself whenever I am doing anything related to climbing and you can always adjust your style to accommodate a slight injury if you’re careful and a bit clever with what you do.
Old memories, new challenges.
Seeing as I didn’t get many decent photos on this trip after I decided to have a little time to think and relax, the next couple of photos I am sharing are from my first Font trip. I had less hair and bouldering sparked an enthusiasm in me which I still drives me today. Graviton and l’Oblique are two of the classic 7a’s which are often peoples first Font 7a’s. Jet Set is situated between the two and well worth having a go at for the powerful finishing move.
For the rest of my time in Font on this trip I unfortunately had to curb my enthusiasm for sending harder projects. It’s not worth busting a finger more permanently and jeopardising next year’s holiday. Instead, I explored the forest and took advantage of the circuits marked up to hone a bit more delicate technique. I couldn’t tell you what exact climbs I did. I can tell you I spent many happy hours shuffling my crash pad around boulders and using up a lot of chalk. I took my time to enjoy life before my climbing summer came to an end, before the reluctant migration to indoor plastic. Next time I do go to Font it will be in autumn or early spring for the better conditions. Having been to Font alone and with friends, I think that the benefits are disproportionately weighted in favour of going with as many keen boulder-junkie friends as possible, the more the better! I also don’t think I would go without a vehicle again as it’s too much hassle and I want to be able to do more exploring.
Font sparked my passion for bouldering that I hope lasts a lifetime. Having now been there a number of times, I want to focus my attention on bouldering in other places if I can. The next time I go Font it would be nice if I had improved enough to tackle some of the harder classic problems in the forest. I will never say no to a trip to Font however and I am training like a man possessed in preparation for more adventures! A big thanks to my old friend Akin for the photos of me five years ago and I hope to see all of my old friends soon! For any other information regarding Font, check out the UKC page.