This is the story of my first trip to the bouldering mecca Fontainebleau. Located just outside of Paris, France it is home to some of the most famous boulder problems in the world.
When I started climbing I had a pretty narrow view of what outdoor climbing was all about. I traveled to Thailand for my aunt's wedding and that’s where I got my first introduction to climbing as a sport. Upon my return I was psyched to see what climbing was all about. The first months were filled with jugs and jugs on the overhangs. Soon enough I was pushing myself to get to that next grade, the next challenge.
On one route I found a hold that looked like a big brain. Everyone called it the boss and it was supposed to simulate rock at this place in France called Fontainebleau. As the time passed I soon learned more about Font. My mentors in climbing would always say that Font is the place to test yourself. After several years of climbing, training and traveling I got my chance to see what Fontainebleau is all about.
Arriving in France, as with all foreign countries, I was a little culture shocked. Paris is a crazy city with crazier traffic. After about an hour of trying to find our turn off we made it to the highway to Fontainebleau. With just a short drive out of the city you find yourself in a beautiful countryside full of vast fields and thick woods. For our accommodations we stayed in a Gite or holiday home and if you’re visiting Font with a group it is most certainly the way to go. Once we were settled it was time to climb.
Bas Cuvier, a name synonymous in the bouldering world, was the first sector that we visited. This area is right off the highway and is home to some of the oldest climbs in the forest. The boulders are all in very close proximity to each other and are situated above lovely sand landings. Something that is very different from any other area I have visited is the circuits. These are groups of problems that are to be done together in sequence from one through some times the mid forties. With all these numbers a guide book is almost unnecessary. For the first few days of climbing I climbed on anything and everything that looked good. This is, I feel, the best way to experience a new area and especially one as vast as Fontainebleau.
The next place that we visited was the Franchard, an area that is farther away from the main highways and far quieter than Cuvier. Every place that we traveled the boulders were amazing. There are so many boulders that are covered in elephant skin and because of the unique features of the stone it makes almost every problem fun. One of the boulders that we climbed on consisted of two sloping arêtes. The first, Tranche De Lard, a layback and the right arete consisted of terrible slopers with large feet. Once the holds got better you had to leave the big feet behind and stand on what felt like nothing. A perfect opportunity to use my Anasazi Lace-Up Blancos, that when it comes to edging, never fail to impress. Completing these two problems while they may have not been the hardest were some of the most gratifying of the entire trip, both a test of body position and technique.
After a week or two of getting used to the stone and the style of climbing it was time for business. The first climb that I set my sights on was Le Carnage 7b+. This problem sits right in the heart of Bas Cuvier and is a mega classic. The start is a great sort of dyno. Because of the poorness of the starting left hand pocket (the hand that stays on the wall) it makes the move very subtle and again makes body position far more important then strength. On my first attempt I tried to muscle my way through the move and popped off and went straight to my butt. But alas as I found the subtlety of the move I soon found myself at the top of the boulder and one of my goals for the trip in the bag. Feeling good and high from the send I decided it was time to attempt another one of my goals: a flash of the La Marie Rose. La Marie Rose was established in the 1940’s as the first 6a in Font. For only a 6a it is difficult to say the least. The top slopers are the worst holds I have ever felt on such a low grade. Anyone who gets to the top of this bloc has definitely earned it. As I embarked on the climb the first thing I realized is how slippery the feet were (I guess that’s what 60+ years of traffic will do to a climb) but I was determined to top this bad boy out. After gaining the upper slopes I was very nervous that I was going to get spit off but I put into practice some good ol’ American Pullin’ and found the top holds and topped out! Quite the struggle for a v3!
A few days later I found myself at Cuvier Rampart, an area know for its difficulty. There laid my final goal for the trip, Noir Desire 7c. While not being the hardest line I felt that it would be a good goal that was within my ability and I had a good chance of finishing. The weather wasn’t the best for nasty sloping dishes being that the sun was pointed directly at the boulder but I figure it was as good a time as any. As I set off through the beginning the moves didn’t feel so bad and then I got to the crux of the boulder: After gaining a good left hand and a big right hand pinch you heel hook next to you right hand. Then you turn the pinch into an undercling and then do a very large pull to a sloping dish. I fell on this move a few times then on my third try from the start I stuck the move and then found the next move to be not so easy. You have to match the dish and do another hard pull to gain the next dish. Feeling content with my progress of the day I decided to climb it in better condition and proceeded to climb on other boulders and play for the rest of the day. Little did I know that soon there would be no gas and making it back to Cuvier may not be possible!
While we were in France there was a strike going on and the labor unions hold a great deal of power. They shut down all the gas shipments in France so it was quite rare to find a gas station with gas. With 50 kilometers worth of gas left we had to set our sights a little closer to home. We were staying at the Masion Bleau a Gite complex, the best Gites for anyone traveling to Fontainebleau to climb. Luckily for us 3km away lay Buthiers Rocks an area that is home to several classics including the ever daunting Partage. On our first visit to the area it seemed not very impressive, come to find out we were in the wrong spot! Buthiers is an awesome area with plenty of boulder for all abilities. After wandering for a bit I decide to set my sights on La Coccinelle 8a. After warming up I spent a few goes figuring out the moves and it felt possible contrary to my first impression of the problem. I rested for a bit and then I felt a breeze and knew it was time to go. I pulled on my 5.10 Teams cleaned off all the holds and went for it. Soon I found myself on the last hard moves but then my foot slipped. For a brief second I thought I was up and out of there but I was still on the wall! I then composed myself and topped out the boulder! It was an awesome feeling being on the top. La Coccinelle was the hardest climb that I have ever completed in one sitting. It made me feel like I could accomplish more than I had previously thought and gave me a significant boost of confidence.
With enough days to count down on one hand it was more Buthiers for us. This time I decided to put effort into a climb called Atomic Playboy 7c+. Atomic is possibly the best looking traverse in the forest. It is an impossible looking seam on perfect stone. The air was crisp and dry perfect conditions for such a climb. The first time I pulled off the ground it felt impossible I couldn’t figure out how to leave the jug behind and embark on the slopes. After some refining I figure out how to do the start and hold the nothings. After a break and a few attempts I gave it a strong go and fell 3 moves from the end.
The next day we heard that a gas station 25km from our gite had gas and after some discussion it was decided that we should just go for it. If we made it and there was no gas we were stuck so it was quite the risk. Luckily we got gas after a 45 minute line and it set the mood for the rest of the day. I was psyched and ready to go. We headed to Atomic Playboy I warmed up on the last moves just to make sure they were wired and sent first go of the day. The psyche didn’t wane either. We had gas and chalk. There was nothing left to do except climb. For the rest of our last full climbing day we decided to make it over to Bas Cuvier. When we arrived I wanted to climb Le Bicep Mou 7b+ the first roof climb in Fontainebleau. I always enjoy climbing historic climbs because not only their significance to our sport but to see how ruff it must have been to do these things in boots! After a few tries I found myself on top of yet another amazing boulder.
On our last day in the forest it was time for some unfinished business. The sky was looming above us threatening with rain but I really wanted to try to finish my list and send Noir Desire. When we arrived in the parking lot the air was cold and it was very evident that rain was coming, so I grabbed our stuff and warmed up quickly then headed up to the problem. First go I made it through the crux and still felt good. I got ready for the next move and fell. On the next two goes the idea of finishing the problem seemed bleak to say the least. My confidence from the previous days was melting away with the skin on my finger pads. It was at that moment that I told myself “No you are going to get to the top of this boulder. You traveled halfway around the world now do what you know how to do.” At that moment I chalked up and started away move by move. I then found myself at the move that had been putting me down. It’s in moments like this where its not about how strong or well rested you body is. Even though I was tired and sore my mind took over and I soon found myself at the top of the boulder. YES!!! I was very excited to have climbed such an awesome line and complete my goals. As we packed up the rain could hold no longer and no more than 5 minutes after sending the problem it began to rain. It was the most prefect ending to a climbing trip and is a moment that I will never forget.
As my first trip to the Mecca of bouldering Fontainebleau drew to a close I found myself as content as ever with myself. I had pushed my limits, learned how to move with the rock and also surprised myself. Going on a trip like this also made me take a look at what I was doing with my life and realize that it’s all as it should be. Nothing makes my happier then just a day floating around in a boulder field. It’s not about the number or grade of a climb but the experience you take away from it. In my opinion Fontainebleau is the most prefect bouldering area. Go there and check it out for yourself but forget about numbers and enjoy the magic of such an amazing place.