Sunday, 26 February 2012

Fontainebleau - the first trip of 2012

It has been a while since I last wrote on this blog. I started the year with all the good intentions of writing multiple posts a month, but this, it turns out, has been very difficult to uphold. My schedule has been insane. I've been so busy, I've barely had time to pay the bills, let alone write blog posts. That's not really an exaggeration either. You'll be glad to know, I have paid my bills, hence the internet access I'm now afforded to be able to write this. 

The last five weeks have been intense. I haven't spent too much time at home during the weekends, and weekdays tend to be spent working or climbing. This culminated in a short trip to Fontainebleau, France, last weekend. Thursday to Monday, to be precise. This weekend is the first opportunity I've had to share the experience through the medium of the written word.

So. Fontainebleau. I love Fontainebleau. I think I've written about that in the past. I try to visit the bouldering mecca a few times a year, if I can. This was my first trip of 2012. The familiar jaunt across the channel, the drive through northern France, past Paris and into the rolling fields and woodlands of the Fontainebleau region. 

We were so psyched to be going back to Font that we chose to catch a 2am Thursday ferry, after working a full day on the Wednesday and spending 4.5 hours in the car, getting to Dover. We landed in France at around 5am (time goes forward an hour there) and began the next 4 hour stint south. Rolling into Font at around 9am and, we immediately set out for the boulders - having had very little sleep. Unfortunately, our high levels of motivation were not met by rock climbing conducive atmospheric pressure, as a low front had moved in and brought heaving rain with it. We later found out it had been raining all week.

The woods around Bas Curvier (summer 2010)

Undeterred, we went to Rocher au Sabot. Nothing was dry. Except for a single line, in the trees, on the embankment, near a prominent problem called Zen. It wasn't Zen. That was soaked (despite being an overhang, a thick fog and condensation had drenched everything). It was up the hill; a dyno line for which we never found out the name. Unbelievably, this was dry. It was a 7A dyno but this mattered not. We wanted to climb. Despite absolutely no warm-up except trudging around the woods, we donned the shoes, chalked hands, and started jumping. In the end, this came to no avail. But at least we got on the rock.

The next day, more lines had dried enough to be climbable, but the conditions were still not great. Puddles filled holes, condensation still clung to the rock, and the sandstone seeped and wept from every orifice, big or microscopic. We made the most of what we had, however, and ascended a few nice problems around L'elephant. I don't want to start listing those sent, but I will quickly mention one that I did not send, if only because I'd like to climb it one day, as it's possibly my least suitable style of boulder problem, so if I manage to overcome that it will be quite an achievement for me. Anyway, it's rather famous. It's named L'coeur. And as the name suggests, there is a heart shape carved out of the centre of a large wall. From two deep pockets and good footholds, you have to use crimps on the heart to arrange your extremities in such a position that allows you to reach a slot/seam that drops vertically from the top of the wall. I have rather large fingers, and crimps just don't suit me. I struggle to pull hard on them and, therefore, got shut down by this problem. One day I shall return. 

Heavy rain blighted the third day. Actually, it wasn't heavy rain, as such. It was quite fine, but incessant. It just never stopped. We knew there would be no climbing so we went to Franchard for a walk around and to tease and torture ourselves by looking at boulders that we wanted to get on. I think we were walking and running and jumping and crawling around for two hours, because by the time we got back to the car we were both wiped. We did find around 15-20 boulders we desperately wanted to climb, though. It was like putting a kid in a candy store but stopping the little rascal from eating anything by sealing everything in massive jars. We never went back to Franchard on that trip, but we will definitely return to conquer some of those gems. We spent the rest of the day in Fontainebleau town, speaking with Tourist Information about the weather report (it wasn't good) and considering the option of going home after only one good climbing day.

Having come to terms with the fact that the trip may be a write-off, we wolfed all our food that evening, drank all our beers and a bottle of wine and passed out in a drunken haze. The next day we rose from slumber later than usual, pulled from the land of nod by bright light blasting through the windows. The sky was clear blue. Not a cloud in sight. The ground was still wet, but it looked promising. I, admittedly, was very sceptical that anything would have dried after the torrent of precipitation that had swarmed the area the day before. But we packed the car and headed for Bas Curvier. To my surprise, the car park was a flurry of activity. Dozens of boulderers throwing mats on their backs and brazenly powering into the woods. I was still pretty sure that nothing would have dried properly, but we followed suit and were soon among the familiar rocks and trees that make up one of the most popular areas in the region. I still couldn't believe when I started feeling the rock and holds and discovering that, actually, they were dry... and friction was excellent!

Andy on L'angle Allain - the world's hardest 5+?

It was so busy at Bas Curvier (Sunday) that we simply wandered around for a while, checking out lines, and watching people whizz up one of the best 6As I know, La Marie Rose, before embarking for the Rampart area, further along the trail. I wanted to show Andy a problem called L'angle Allain, one of the best 5+s I know, which was a fair way up the hill but would constitute a good warm up. We stopped occasionally, along the beautiful walk through the woodland, checked out lines and observed the odd climber. The boulder we were looking for is a sculpted, sharp arete, polished and clean. It is possibly the hardest 5+ I've ever done, because technique is everything, making it relatively easy or insanely difficult for the grade, depending on if you know what you're doing... I rarely do. It took me a few goes to repeat it again. After that, we completed a few other problems in the Rampart area, including the handsome line of Duroxmanie, before returning to the main venue, Curvier itself. Quieter now, as we had passed into early evening, we dispatched a few more boulders and found a line or two we must return to. Finally, we arrived back at the car, exhausted but happy after an excellent day of bouldering.

The next day was much the same, with gorgeous clear skies and sunshine. It was our last day, as we had to get the late ferry back, so we returned to Rocher au Sabot to get on a few problems we had observed a couple of days prior. I was rather sore from the epic day at Bas Curvier, but managed to scale a few problems here and there. By early afternoon, we were both done, and the realisation that we had 12 hours of travel ahead prompted us to call it a day. Despite the weather, we still sent lots of problems and had a great time. We also pretty much achieved the goal we had set, to climb a 7A a day. I had hoped to get on one or two 7Bs but the damp and other factors had put hold on that - or at least delayed it until next time. I've said it before, and I will say it again: I Love Fontainebleau. The boulders are so good, so varied and such a joy to climb. 

I got home, to Sheffield, at 4am Tuesday morning, totally exhausted. The drive up the M1 was accompanied by only a Punk Rock show on Radio 1, four cans of Redbull and a chicken slice. I made it by the skin of my teeth, as the old cliche goes. Collapsing on my bed, I went to sleep with a smile, dreaming of the next trip.