8 October 2013

Font of all knowledge

And so it has come to pass that I have the honour of being the first on this blog to report on a little bouldering spot known as Fontainebleau.

What can this competent climber tell you that isn't already known? Well, I shall try to make clear to you what I didn't know before I went, that became clear to me while I was there.

But first, a Dramatis Personae for the weekend. Pete and Kirsty, the organisers of the trip. Andy, Joey, Paco and Rich, colleagues of theirs at Harrogate Climbing Centre. Krissy, Andy's fiancee. Giovanni, Louis, and me - plain old regular climbers. Other players in this drama were Kirsty's Mini, Andy's van - and my Volvo, a late recruit to the convoy when Andy's van was found to sit a little low on its suspension when crammed with climbers. Lastly, La Musardiere campsite near Milly La Foret, a candidate for 'Cool Camping' if ever there was one, surrounded by the forest and full of cats, and a great spot to strike out from.

This leads to the first thing to make clear - there are bouldering spots everywhere. I knew there were thousands of problems to be found, but that didn't convey the nature of things. Thousands of problems would make for several Brimhams all together, I had told myself and others before the trip. Even better, Font is several Brimhams scattered around. Together, they would be unmanageable, but scattered around they become handy ticks within ticks - France, tick. Font, tick. Chateauveau, or Gorge aux Chat, or 95.2, tick, tick, tick. And these all within walking distance of the campsite, each a worthy crag in its own right, each good for a day's worth of bouldering.

Next - it might be bouldering, but it can be a very different game from the UK scene. I'd heard tell of painted indicators of routes, and these were there to be found, true. But they were sufficiently understated as not to ruin the scene. Also, they took the form of circuits, once more aiding with manageability. More pointedly, this transformed the experience. Although some sections - the harder stuff, usually - played out in a similar fashion to Almscliff or Caley sessions, much of the climbing became giant games of 'Floor is lava', even as far as marking steps on the low rocks between boulders. These circuits made for a more intense workout than your average crag, as the desire to keep the momentum going was key. Also, in a similar way to a climbing competition, you find that you apply yourself to the problems in different ways, with less of a sense of it being okay to slip up.

Finally, the forest was beautiful. Expansive views from the top of Chateauveau, delicate mosses (for climbing around, not up...) at Gorge aux Chats, and hilltop beaches at 95.2, all with the erratic boulders scattered delicately throughout. Were you not a climber, you would still reap wonders from this magical forest. To be a climber as well, even one at the back of the group like me, was blissful.

As to the climbing, Chateauveau was a hot and exciting yellow circuit up a small valley, with that stunning view at the top and a handy descent down the middle path on my unicycle. Gorge aux Chats was the most conventional session, as there was no yellow - easy - circuit for me to blitz. There were some yellow problems, and I managed one or two blues as well, at least once we moved to the top half of the area. 95.2 had a dazzling yellow circuit to get us started, taking us from the forest floor all the way up to a grotto of sand and rock, where many cultures of climbers came together to tackle the quartzy blocs.

So, although we barely scratched the surface, hopefully that's of some help to those who have heard of and considered Font but haven't made their way yet. On the other hand, I hope it hasn't spoiled it for you. A perfunctory comment - I'm sure you'll still find much there to surprise and delight. And here is a late remembered surprise that we found - on the drive in, we spotted an indoor bouldering centre! So, you know, at least if it rains...

When can we go back?

Chateauveau - A monster problem conquered in the distance.

Gorge aux Chats - Booshin'.

95.2 - Photoshoot.
More photos here.
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