Thu 18th Apr - Mon 22nd Apr, 2019
Members: Dan O’Brien, Nils Elgar, Jared Kitchen, Emily Thompson
Guests: Greg Nunn, Izy Somers, Girish Ramesh
So, that went well. In the 15 years or so your correspondent has been visiting Fontainebleau, this year was the first time without a day lost to rain. Barring one enormous thunderstorm on the Friday night we didn’t even see much cloud.
Thursday 18th April
The advance party comprised Nils, Girish and myself. We arrived at the campsite in Grez sur Loing at 5.45am. After a swift 3-hr power nap and breakfast we settled on Apremont Bizons. Apremont is one of the largest areas in Fontainebleau with 19 different areas scattered around the forest and massif near the small village of Barbizon. Boasting a Red circuit (TD) and an Orange circuit (AD+) it was a great place to start. The we climbed the first 14 problems of the Orange, most of which had good landings but some seriously slopey footholds. Some problems involved long traverses and required some teamwork to point out hidden holds. Of particular note was problem 7 which could reasonably be described as a steep walk across a slab. You progressively lose height until to have to turn a corner and then mantle out. Problem 10 also kept us busy for a while (with a break for lunch). The crux reaches in the middle and the slightly high steep finish gave the problem more of a route-y feel. Next visit we might not start at the beginning as the whole circuit is actually 48 problems long – amazing to think we did less than half of it!
Friday 19th April
Emily, Jared, Greg and Izy arrived and the temperature cranked up even further. We decided to try a spot in the heart of the Trois Pignons forest to try to keep out of the sun. No chance. 91.1 does have some shady spots but is mostly a sun trap. The Yellow (PD+) and Orange (AD+) circuits provided the bulk of the entertainment with dozens of problems climbed. Jared also found interest on the (very high in places) Red circuit (TD). Landings were mostly good but Izy fell awkwardly on her second problem of the trip hurting her foot. Luckily Greg had brought a hammock which Izy put to good use for the rest of the afternoon.
One particularly exciting moment came when a small child managed a highball Orange before her parents discovered that the only descent was down a steep wall using a chain. The KMC helped out by providing additional bouldering mats and spotting effort as the girl was helped down the chain by her dad who had climbed up halfway.
As the toasted team headed off to bed the clouds gathered and the first flashes of lighting appeared. The storm eventually passed right overhead bringing huge claps of thunder and torrential rain. It lasted about an hour and resulted in some adjustments to Jared and Emily’s tent. It was the only rain we saw on the whole trip.
Saturday 20th April
Saturday saw us back in the forest at the relatively shady and varied Diplodocus. It had Yellow (PD), Orange (AD) and Blue (D) circuits and mostly good landings. The first problem of the day however did require a leap to another boulder for the descent which certainly woke everyone up! Jared found an excellent blue problem using pockets which had a few ascents until we noticed a blue line eliminating one of the holds adding a grade and (in reality) subtracting from the quality. Jared climbed it anyway. Girish got focussed on a long blue traverse (Le T.G.V., F4) and after a few attempts managed to stick the slippy footholds on a middle section. Unfortunately the pump set in before the next big rest and he fell off. Unable to get his feet to stick reliably again (searing heat the likely culprit) the problem had to go on the list for a rematch on a future trip. Dan climbed a steep and slippery hand-crack (La Fissure des Boulangers, F4) because he likes weird stuff like that while Emily found her way round chunks of the Yellow circuit.
After lunch we changed venues to Rocher du Potala with it’s popular Orange, Blue and Red circuits. Jared, Nils and Dan enjoyed the delicate Astérix which required some fancy footwork and palming for it’s stingy grade of F4. Jared also managed a very crispy F5+ named La Clé du Mystère. As we tired, our thoughts turned to a BBQ back on the campsite. Another fantastic day!
Sunday 21st April
Sunday dawned bright and clear but slightly cooler. The team decided to spend their remaining fingertips on a trip back to Apremont, this time to the Gorges area. We had a sociable morning on the Yellow circuit completing the first 17 problems, some of which had some horrible landings and made us work pretty hard for grades that apparently hovered around F2-3.
After lunch (and a sneaky ice cream at the café in the car park) we moved across the forest to L’Elephant. This absolutely classic area has been visited on prior KMC Font trips but, with its extensive circuits (some very high) and generally good landings is too good to miss out. Jared, running around like a kid in a sweet shop ran, eventually settled in a central area with some steep problems. Nils and Dan found a steep slab (La Tortue, F4+) to work on which went after a few attempts at the tough pull to get off the ground. Jared, Girish and Greg focussed on a highly frustrating looking mantle shelf on a steep wall. I’m not sure it is possible to get closer to finishing it without actually finishing it than Girish got.
Jared aborted an attempt on La Cœur (F7a) which was very slippery in the heat and the sharp handholds were painful on worn skin but then managed swift ascents of La Vote Michaud (6c) and Le Médaillon (F5+), both on the Black circuit. Greg and Dan spent some time faffing about on the bottom of a technical slab on the Black circuit (La Dalle Fléaux) which demands precise footwork, stiff shoes and, in Greg’s case, some innovative bridging to get started!
While Jared was finishing off his remaining fingertips on a very steep prow (that I couldn’t find in the guidebook), Girish, Greg and Dan ended their session on an arête on the Blue circuit and after a team ascent
Back at the campsite, tired and crisped up by the sun, we took advantage of the pizza van (which had some of us waiting until almost 10pm for our pizzas) and started packing up.
Monday 22nd April
Jared and Emily set off early for their ferry and the slightly cooler morning motivated those who remained out of bed quickly and throwing their possessions in the car – there was a chance of getting some climbing in before lunch and we were not going to miss out!
We selected Bas Cuvier. It’s a classic roadside venue with some very famous problems. More importantly, it is on the way home and near to an enormous Carrefour Hypermarche to pick up some “duty free”! We spend the morning on the start of the Orange circuit, doing 8 problems on that and selecting convenient Blue problems as and when. Highlights included a two problem link up that required down-climbing a particularly slippery slab twice and a wall with very sharp holds that Greg and dan had done on a previous trip – it was a great leveller as there re a few sequences available and it is about as hard for the tall as the short!
Back in the cars, the team started the long slog back to the UK. Traffic was light and the ferries were punctual. The drive back was sponsored by caffeine and chocolate and ended at 12:30am on Tuesday.
Overall an incredibly successful trip to the forest. I can’t wait to get back there. One additional note is that Carol and Bertrand, the proprietors of the campsite are retiring this year – having been a consistent presence since my first visit to Camping Les Pres in 2006. They have been fabulously friendly on all my visits and I hope they have a long happy retirement! We’ll see if the new managers are as welcoming next year when we have the next Font trip. You owe it to yourselves not to miss out next time.
The UKClimbing.com article on how to improve your bouldering explicitly lists one place you must visit – Fontainebleau. After a fallow year in 2018 the Font trip is back with avengance. We're going to go at Easter.
Located about 70km south of Paris, Font is arguably the centre of European bouldering, with hundreds of venues and thousands of problems. The rock is hard sandstone and very varied; from friction slabs to rounded slappy problems; from sharp aretes to steep powerful walls and roofs. The unique nature of the bouldering in the forest, with its clusters of boulders neatly organised into colour-coded graded circuits from the easy (Yellow) to the ridiculous (White) mean that the climbing is accessible, easy to follow and there is something for everyone, everywhere. The nature of the circuits also make bouldering at Fontainebleau a very sociable experience. I absolutely love it and have been about a dozen times – the only issue is that no matter how many problems you get done you always return with more objectives than you arrived with!
Where to Stay
I propose a loosely organised trip similar to the summer alps trip with core days and people free to come and go as they please. The best option for accommodation is camping and Camping Grez which has excellent facilities (showers, washrooms, BBQs, the ability to have a campfire) and doesn’t cost the earth (around £8 per night on average…) It is located south of Font in a small village with a shop and a bakery and is at most 15-30 minutes drive from all the climbing areas.
The easiest way to get to Font is to drive and take the ferry. You can get ferries for about £90-£120 (the earlier you book the better) and then with three people in the car the cost of fuel is easily shared. It is also easy to get there on the train but once you are there getting around isn’t really feasible on public transport. As it is the Easter weekend I will be taking an extra day off and driving down on the Wednesday night, climbing for four days and heading back on the Monday (likely after a light bouldering session in the morning!)
If you are planning on coming please drop me an e-mail and click the “Intend to Attend” button on the website. In March I’ll make a group booking of the campsite for those who have confirmed and then try to group people together for transport (which you can then sort out between yourselves). After the group booking there is obviously nothing to stop you deciding to come but you will need to sort out your own camping.
Below are some useful links