Sunday, 6 April 2014

April bouldering trip to the Forest of Fontainebleau

There are different kinds of Fontainebleau trips - although this is true for any climbing trip. If, like the average climber, you only have a finite amount of time in that place, you can approach your week or two weeks in one of a few different ways. You may be like a kid in a candy store, jumping on every boulder problem you lay your eyes on and tearing through your skin in two days, spending the rest of the trip managing what thin tips you have left. You may have a single, hard boulder problem in mind, and return to it day after day to piece it together bit by bit, until you either send it or go home disappointed, with a tick list as short as a gnat's arm. Or you may, like me and fellow Font-trippers Leigh-Anne and Mike on this latest trip, work a handful of different problems every day, ensuring they are satisfyingly hard but easy enough to climb relatively quickly.

Our lovely Gite in Poligny

We only had a week - 6 days worth of climbing after you factor in the travel. That's not a great deal of time, really. And if you spend two days travelling, you want to see a lot of the place you are travelling to. We visited 10 different Fontainebleau areas during those six days. And I climbed 19 different boulder problems, all of which were brilliant. That might not sound like a lot to some, but it felt like a lot of climbing to me, especially after factoring in all the effort put into those I didn't complete. Some of them were flashes and some took a few hours to work out. One or two I had to return to the following day, finding them after a hard day's slog and only having the energy to work the moves. However, what was important was that I came away with a real sense of accomplishment and a deep desire to return to the Forest.

Coming toe-curlingly close to latching Smatch (7B) on the last day
Normally after Font trips I come home with spent tips - a few of them harbouring flappers - and elbows that throb with repetitive strain aches. However, the 20+ degree heat we endured, and the 95%+ humidity, meant that lots of patience was needed during the week. It also meant that it wasn't worth putting in the effort on really hard projects, other than to find them for next time. I tried La Gaule (7C) for 15 minutes but after each move my hands were slipping from the relatively good fridge hugging holds, leaving dark brown sweaty stains on the rock as I crumbled to the floor. Therefore the majority of the week we spent in the 7A-7B range, ensuring quick sends and completing projects I had tried when I was younger.

Hanging around in Fontainebleau
Some of the highlights include:

  • Hibernatus stand (7B) - Dame Jouanne. Starting with the left hand side pull and right hand pocket, stab at the slopping jug. The 8A version (matched left side-pull) is one to go back for.
  • Uzbek (7A) - Dame Jouanne. Given 7B in some guides, but the internet consensus seems to be on 7A. I'd agree with the latter, having climbed it 2nd go, after fumbling footwork on the first go.
  • Zen (7A) - Roche Aux Sabots. One I'd been keen to try for a while. It's a lot of moves (for a boulder problem) leading through a roof, into a techy arete. Very hard for the grade - felt more like 7A+, especially compared with Bioethique right next to it.
  • Plastikman (7A) - Franchard Isatis. I really struggled with the last move here, but the bottom felt bomber with a solid knee-bar (which destroyed the skin on my knee). Hard one for me.
  • Extorsion De Fond (7A+) - La Canche Aux Merciers. Some say 7B but I think more 7A+ as it only took 2 goes. My kind of thing, though, being a bit of a powerful one move wonder.
  • Beatle Juice (7A+) - Franchard Cuisiniere. I tried this when I was younger and really struggled, so it was nice to go back and finish it. See the video below (apologies for the footage quality).

  • Science Friction (6A) - Apremont. A hot and sweaty send of this classic slab. Still 6A in my book, at least it is with a stiff pair of shoes. Climbed it many times now.
  • Vin Rouge (7A) - Isatis Centre. Felt quite easy to me, but I do like a good dyno. It's not a very long one, but coordination is king, as you're jumping off smears and two large undercuts.
  • Surplomb Gauche (7A) - Isatis Centre. Another toughy for me, being as the top out is a true Fontainebleau scramble, if you finish left (no foot jugs!). My only tip, don't wear shorts! Ouch! Did the 6A+ to the right as well, which is well worth it. Start low though, on the good slopers. Starting high on the pocket and jug makes it 5B.
  • Voiture A Beas (6A) - Isatis Centre. This is a lot more fun than the book has you believing. The top out is quite scary in the warm, with hands sliding precariously off the good, sloping edge.
  • L'Oblique (7A) - Roche Aux Sabots. It was raining this day but this boulder was miraculously dry. All the moisture in the air meant it was a little touch and go for the top out, but a good climb. Also did the 6C+ traverse underneath and the hardest 6A+ in Fontainebleau (Rien De Bon), which took more goes that L'Oblique.
Mike on Deux Faux Plis En Plats Reel and some guy pouting in the foreground
And that was it for me. I did a few easier bits and pieces. I tried a few harder ones, including Magic Bus (a 7B+ roof) and Deux Faux Plis En Plats Reel (a short and powerful 7C), but I found the heat difficult to overcome.

I was mighty impressed with my comrades for the trip. Leigh-Anne has been battling illness for several months now, but still managed to push into 6C territory, with a couple of sends in the grade, including No Mojo, at Roche Aux Sabots, and La Nez, at Canche Aux Merciers. She also made a very impressive flash ascent of one of the tallest boulders in Fontainebleau, Dalle A Poly at L'Elephant. She completed her entire tick list for the trip, with an impressive 19 sends to her name.

Leigh-Anne cruising another great 6A at Franchard Cuisiniere
Mike also had the Font trip of his life, pushing his grade into new territory and ticking off a few boulders that thwarted me, including Fleur De Rhum (7A+) at Apremont and La Coquille Stand (6C) at Hautes Plaines.

For those of you planning your own trips, I would highly recommend all of the above boulders. We had meticulously picked and chosen our problems for the week, so as to get the most from it, and each and every one had great movement and was a joy to climb. 

Psyched for the next trip now!

Second blog with lots of great photos from Mike coming soon!