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’s a right of passage for climbers everywhere and to not have experienced it leaves you with a feeling of exclusion from a rather smug clique – motivation enough to go, if not just for the exquisite bouldering.
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 carriageways 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. Amongst the magic of the forest, coloured circuits of rock lie in wait, ready to draw you deeper under their spell. Embarking on one of these circuits is one of the true pleasures of bouldering. As you follow small coloured arrows and numbers around the rocks, time becomes irrelevant and the pressures of life are lost to a world of focus, sequencing and shared experiences with friends old and new. The simplicity of bouldering and the enjoyment and calm that it brings is realised here more than in any local wall.
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. 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.
For us mere mortals however, 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. The higher areas such as 95.2, 91.1 and Cul de Chien even offer beach-like surroundings, where sand provides excellent landings and the pretense of a beach holiday, without the hours sat bored on a beach towel.
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!
The very fact that we are able to experience this inspiring venue at all is down to years of work by the original Bleausards, taking it upon themselves through passion alone, to work at and rationalise the hidden Problems into the openly accessible park-like area that exist today. With interest from the climbing fraternity being registered as early as 1900 there is a real sense of history to Font, manifested in the physical markings.
On the rock but more so in the act of simply standing still for a moment between the tress and boulders of the forest and imagining what must have gone on before. It was not until the 1940s that the circuits seen today were properly established and the iconic numbered, coloured, arrows sprang up across the more significant areas. The development of the circuits and improved access to the forest has clearly done wonders for the sport of bouldering by attracting climbers in their thousands to the region, which is why it is just as well that there are so many problems to chose from.
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!!