‘Well I knew I was coming in to the trip week as a kitten, so I was just hoping to climb every day and have fun. The only thing I had in mind before going to Font was a problem called Satan I Helvete 8b, but due to the shit weather, I didn't even get chance to try it.' Tom.
In early February of 2010, a group of UK climbers went to Fontainebleau on a six week siege, sending test pieces and training for the upcoming bouldering season. What follows is an account with interviews of some of the guys who went, from an albeit slightly shorter than planned trip.
We arrived in Font at Maisonbleau, after a flurry of emails and organisation to meet up with Ned Feehally, Dave Mason, Tom Newman and Adam Watson amongst a crowd of us, all eager to crush, go big and send. Most of the guys were in Font for a period of about 35 days, only 16 of which it turned out were fit for climbing. The initial plan was to stay in Font for about six weeks, however the weather early in the year can be wholly unpredictable and when it craps out, it can do for days.
Custom Beastmaker for the Maisonbleau woody.
The accommodation which we'd sorted out with Neil and Chris at short notice - a self-contained courtyard of gites, is situated near the small town of Malesherbes, close to the popular bouldering spot of Buthiers. With problems like Appartenance 7c and Flagrand Desir 7c, the roadside location means minimal effort to get on rock and it's even quieter if you go at night.
Ned Feehally on Flagrand Desir 7c, at Buthier Tennis, during an evening's session with use of battery lamps. The weather during the trip was so atrocious that it was necessary to maximise the dry spells and get some sends.
During the trip we managed to get out with the guys for a few days out on the rock, however with snow, rain and cold winds mixed in to a few days of good warm weather, the sends were scattered and sporadic.
I spoke to Ned in retrospect regarding the trip. 'I had vague plans of what I might try before I arrived in Font, but nothing was set in stone. I didn't want to throw myself at hard problems with no chance of doing them, wasting rare dry days. After a few days I realised I was climbing quite well so I began to think about some problems I might be able to do. I ended up creating a very optimistic tick list which I tried to work my way through. That way there was always focus and days weren't wasted.'
Shadows cast on one of a few dry spells in the forest during the trip.
Speaking about specific problems that Ned was psyched to get on. ‘The big 5 are all total classics. (Big Boss 7c, Fourmis Rouge 7c, Tristesse 7c, Big Golden 7c+ and Artresie 8a) They are big, intimidating, and very hard. It used to be the big 4, but after Tyler Landman's rampage last year, Atresie, is considered the 5th, it is easily as good as the rest. Doing these in a session is an amazing achievement. I kind of wish I hadn't done Fourmis Rouge in 2009, because this could well have been on the cards this trip. Still, a great set of boulders, I really enjoyed climbing them.
Keith Bradbury produced a video of Tyler Landman's Font siege in 2009, Between The Trees, which has rapidly gained cult status amongst the climbing fraternity. Check out Uncle Somebody for info on the DVD and download.
James Blay of Wild Country takes on Tristesse 7c, at Cuvier Rempart with James Pearson providing the spotting.
Ask a boulderer sniffing in the 7b's and thereabouts, what their dream problem is and more often than not the response will likely be Karma, going at a stiff 8a+ the aesthetics of the bloc and the precision and body tension needed to complete the problem make it one of the most sought after ticks in Font.
Ned filled us in why it's such a dream send. ‘Karma is just amazing. It's the problem that I most wanted to climb in the world, ever. I first saw it on The Real Thing about 10 years ago and I wished that one day I would do it. It is a classic hard font problem, requiring a whole lot more than just basic strength. It's a real beauty. ‘
Check out the video of Ned and the guys all sending L'Aplat du Gain 8a, at Le Calvaire and you'll notice that the route had to be dried out during and after showers to allow a team ascent, a solid effort from all involved.
Reflecting on his ascent of Karma, Dave Mason added; ‘Karma for me is a super classic and so it has always been in my mind to climb it. It was a perfect day, the sun was shining, we brushed the snow off the boulder to reveal pristine rock conditions and to stand on top of the boulder felt soooo good!'
In an extract from the Moon blog Dave wrote, ‘...my skin was thinning, my left arm was losing its lock and my right shoulder was aching from the intense pressure put on it, but I wanted this problem so much. I put my boots on, chalked my hands and jumped for the starting jug. I locked up for the right hand intermediate and went again, hitting the hold perfectly I put my heel on and rocked up, I was suddenly at the sloper. Getting this I rocked a little more and went again to the jug! Matching the jug, I sorted my feet and topped out. I couldn't believe it, everything had happened so fast and I was stood atop Karma! This was the best feeling that climbing had ever given me, I sat in the sun and grinned...'
Adam Watson takes on Fourmis Rouge 7c, at Cuvier Rempart.
But despite there being specific problems that stand out and everyone who goes having their own tick lists and aspirations, none can deny that there is a magic about the forest of Fontainebleau.
The aesthetics of some of the locations in Fontainebleau seem the epitome of simplicity, as is this example at 95.2.
Adam Watson put words to the question, what is it about Font? ‘Everything about the place, the boulders, the quality of the rock, the style of the climbing, the amount of climbing of all grades and the fact that if you are trashed you can still go out and climb loads of amazing easy blocs. It's the forest and how beautiful it is, the lifestyle, there's just too many things to list. I have been to font 17 times which is more then I have been to any other climbing area and I am still as psyched as ever to return. When I first went to Font I was 12 or 13 and could only climb on the 6a's and 6b's, I remember watching climbers trying some really hard looking problems and thinking they looked impossible, I enjoy going to Font now and being able to try the same hard problems, even more if I succeed.'
Conditions can make a huge difference to the 'feel' of the forest, winter brings a freeze far removed from the warmth of Spring and shirts-off bouldering.
Dave Mason added. ‘Everything about Fontainebleau is good; the features of the rock are amazing and the movement on the climbs seems to be better than anywhere else. The climbing requires so much, it is not just about pulling hard on positive holds or teetering around on smears. It takes all the aspects of climbing and features of other rock types and combines them in a jumble to create rock perfection!!'
Tom reminds me, ‘a very, very wise man once stated that ‘the beers and the pastries are good', but I think the climbing's quite good there as well.'
James Pearson stabs at Carnage 7b+, Cuvier, in the snow.
Ned responds to the question of what is Font's allure, ‘...sandstone is my favourite rock to climb on. The texture is just right - rough enough to be grippy but without tearing your fingertips to pieces. The holds are wonderfully shaped and comfortable, just made to be climbed on. The climbing is very complex, relying on perfect footwork as well as strong arms and a strong body, but the focus is on movement rather than strength. You have to be able to make the holds work in your favour, and generally they do not if you simply pull on them. The complexity of the climbing makes it very hard to climb near your limit as there is so much to figure out. This makes for frustrating times, but ultimately leads to greater satisfaction when you finally get up your problem. Also the problems are high quality across the grades. You can climb world class boulders however good (or bad!) you are. Many other venues have only a very limited supply of high quality problems, and often these are only at the higher grades.'
Tom Newman hugs Extra Balle 7b+ at Apremont Envers during some good weather.
But regardless of what you feel about Font, everyone has a favourite location, whether it's for the quality of the problems or merely the atmosphere of the area. We asked Ned what his top location was in the forest.
‘I am loathed to say it but I think Cuvier Rempart. We ended up there so much (it's very fast drying) that I got totally bored with it, however it has a huge number of very hard and intimidating (not to mention world class) problems and despite all the visits, there is still so much for me to do there. I barely scratched the surface.
Other than that, it is nice to go to the smaller, quieter areas. There is so much in the guide book that I had never even heard of. It was good to spend time looking around new areas although every new area means another 4 or 5 problems to put on the list!.'
Rocher St Germain is home to Megalithe 7c+, where Dave Mason gets ready for the dyno.
Font has been and will no doubt remain, on top of the list as one of the must-do destinations for boulderers all over the world, however the impact of thousands of climbers going to the area has a very real consequence. Impromptu campsites create litter problems and are combined with campfires and the associated issues, impact on the flora of the area is a constant battle and don't even get started on the problems of chalk and resin... Take a leaf out of nature's book and respect the forest.
The sister article to this Font Reflection is available here- Fontainebleau - What Is It?
-The one-stop-shop on all info Font related is Bleau.info check it out before you go.
-Thanks go to Chris and Neil of Maisonbleau for sorting us out with accommodation for trip. Despite the locale of the gites, the great facilities, use of bouldering pads, indoor training room and atmosphere, we'd still recommend staying there! Check them out at Maisonbleau.com.
All Images: Dave MacFarlane-planetFear
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