Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau

Everyone down the wall has a story about and a longing for ‘Font’. That fabled land of magic and soulfulness, where shafts of sunlight shimmer through peaceful, leafy canopies to dance across the surface of never-ending boulders littered with wholesome, mouth-watering problems.

It is the biggest and most developed bouldering area in the world. At the end of the 1800s, Aldolphe Joanne, the president of the Club Alpin Français, invited foreign visitors to visit the sites of Franchard and Apremont. In 1900, the Club Alpin Français organised a meet to ascend “the Gorges d’Apremont range” and then go to Larchant, whose huge rocks constitute the “usual practicing area of the Paris Section of CAF”.

Several Bleau boulders or routes are named after famous climbers of the beginning of the 20th century: Prestat, Wehrlin, Maunoury, Gaché, Labour, Paillon, Souverain, and the famous Pierre Allain, the inventor of the smooth-sole climbing shoe. At the time, people would climb in Fontainebleau primarily to train for mountain climbing.

The first guidebook appeared in 1945, written by Maurice Martin, providing a map of blocks and routes with their names and ratings. But if you have a phone and don’t want to take it with you Topo Guru the climbing app can be your partner. We have every boulder location with GPS coordinates and photo. And you can buy just one sector if you want. Don’t need the whole „book”.

The first thing you notice about Font however, is that everything looks the same. The same straight roads flagged by recurrent forest leading to another cross road or roundabout, whereabouts a confluence of yet more rule-like roadway lurk, waiting to whisk you off into yet more similarly regimented woodland. Traffic thunders by as a sense of stale repetition sinks in. Where’s the magic? You’d be forgiven for thinking that your first visit to this celebrated venue was a damp squib of an experience, especially given the high frequency of professional ladies touting their ware’s in every other layby.

But with most car parks providing just a short walk-in its not long before the forest of Fontainebleau reveals to you exactly what you’d hoped for.

In order to become a true Fontainebleau master, all manner of techniques must be mastered. Crimps, gastons, undercuts and perhaps most importantly, slopers, all play a part in the genetic make-up of many Font problems. If you don’t know where to start, Topo Guru can help you. It is the sloper – a hold that relies on open handed pressure and an inward squeezing of the arm to emit friction and torque on the rocks surface – that separates the majority of font problems from those in other venues. It’s a beautiful bouldering place to develop your ability.

For a beginner, the safety and comfort of the introductory boulders offer enough of a challenge, whilst the serene surroundings supply more than necessary pleasure to the senses to provide a welcome respite from climbing.

Landing are something that newbie boulderers should take into account, as the lack of ropes in this sport mean that a fall from just a few metres can result in a case of sprained ankles. The big difference between bouldering indoors and outside is that out in the natural world one must learn to top out by mantling over the summit of the boulder, a process which focuses the mind expertly and requires sound footwork – or if you’re anything like me, precise and well practiced use of the knee to help me over the top!

Where there is popularity, however, there is also an issue of environmental impact. The volume of traffic to Font boulders has naturally accelerated the ageing of the rock on certain problems, particularly to those in the lower grades, and respect and understanding must be applied to climbing methods in order to secure the future of the area as a world-class bouldering venue.

Whether you’re new to the world of body tension, deft precision and cranking hard or have the callused hands and achy elbows of a veteran Bleausarde the magical, sun-blessed forest of Fontainebleau will always welcome you in wondering and send you away contended. And, of course, should it rain there’s always the magnificence of the French food and wine to fall back on.