3 June 2015

The Fontainebleau Cram, 27-31.05.2015

It's all about cramming when it comes to Fontainebleau.

Into cars, you cram people and things - tents, bouldering mats, snacks. Into people you cram enthusiasm and determination. Into the time you have available you cram sessions at the many spots around the forest, and at each of those you cram as many climbs as you have the energy for. Into any spare time you happen to have available you cram food, drink, banter, merriment, relaxation.

The relaxation part.

Like last year, the drive was shared with Bryn - I'd not be unhappy if I never had to do the whole drive to Font myself again - though I took the UK this time while Bryn took France. Joining the two of us and Cosmo in the car was Ellen, Cosmo's friend and junior climbing superstar in the making (note to selves: next time you happen to travel with a junior, get a letter from their parent, lest you come under the withering gaze of the passport inspectors...). Smooth sailing, as it were, to Folkstone, where we met the rest of the gang - Geoff and Mike were known to us, and Mike brought with him Niomi, John, Amanda, and Ed. We managed to lose them pretty quickly once we got to France (or did they lose us?), and barring a sleeping Geoff at a service station (the peaceful angel, we just couldn't disturb him) we remained disjointed until we landed at La Musardiere.


When I first arrived in Font two years ago, Pete led our group to Chateauveau. When Bryn made his first visit last year, that's where I steered him. As it was then, so it was this most recent trip - it's close, it gives a marvellous taste of the different kind of climbing Font can offer, and it offers a great preview of the wider forest through spectacular views at the top. My highlights were slabs, both delicate and monstrous, and the lowlight was Niomi twisting her ankle thanks to new shoes on a descent. Thankfully it wasn't enough to kill the trip for her, but it clearly took the edge off things for her. Her determined efforts over the next few days are testament to her character.

Geoff trying to split the rock in two so that sleepy Bryn falls down!

It didn't work.

Day two, Gorge Aux Chats. Measured against my visit here in 2014, I must have progressed a little, as more climbs in the opening area fell, in part thanks to good beta and shouting from the team. But not enough of them - I must strive for improvement before returning. By the time we reached the top area, my toes were swelling in the French heat, crammed into my climbing shoes, who bite back hard. Forcing myself through the climbs was arguably the best option (including a fine highball crack at the blue grade) but moving between them was something of a frustrating hobble. So it was again in the evening, as we crammed a bonus visit to a spot in - we had been looking to investigate 91.1, but Roche Aux Sabots caught our eyes and lured us in to revisit a few favourites from last year, as well as to investigate the odd new gem - a highball crack with a top which seemed to actively push you outwards defeated both Bryn and myself, though Ed managed to see it off for us.


Our second morning at the campsite rolled around, our third day out in the forest. To this point, I'd been feeling a bit disconnected and distant, my mind on friends and family at home. I expressed this to Bryn, and that helped. Or maybe it was just a natural turning point, about halfway through the trip, I could relax more and just let it happen. Or how about... new rock. Yes, we made it to 91.1 following the previous night's distraction. More technical slabs stood out, more toe pain after lunch slowed things down (handy excuse though, eh?) and much trekking through the woods led us out to the beach, where we tickled a boulder or two, but mainly loosely played petanque and crashed out in the sun. Or shade.

Now, La Musardiere is a campsite of leafy charm, heightened by the visit of a boulanger most mornings, and a pizza van on Saturday nights. Fear of ordering pizza in French had led me to avoid using this van in previous years, but this time I was determined. Plus, we had a couple of better French speakers with us, so, you know. On our way back from 91.1, Geoff checked that the pizza van would be around for a while and we went back to camp to unburden ourselves. When we returned to the pizza van, we found that they weren't taking any more orders - something about the chef's daughter's 'spectacular'... something. Undeterred, we regrouped. Menus from the kiosk, and a scouting party of me (behind the wheel), Geoff, Amanda (the two best linguists), Cosmo and Ellen (the enthusiasm of youth) forayed into Milly. There we found a tiny pizza takeaway, with a kitchen no bigger than a cubicle. The quality of pizza seemed inverse to the size of the kitchen, and once we returned to camp we enjoyed an epic pizza session around the lack-of-campfire (prohibited, you see), missing only Bryn, who had eaten earlier (I think the French may have struggled with 'Sans fromage, s'il vous plait') and gone for a wander. Wine, ale, pop, chocolate, and Bryn's return saw the night out in good style.

I make no apologies.

For the final day, I woke early enough to do the pastry run, Bryn and Geoff having sorted it previously. Heck, I even went back for a sneaky second helping after missing out on the kind of pastry I wanted first time ;) Once that was out of the way, we folded up our camp and slotted it into the cars - yep, pretty much that efficiently - and left La Moo behind us. One last session before facing our journey home, Franchard Isatis would give us our send off, a group of substantial stones only a rock's throw from the car park. We only had a couple of hours to kill, and Bryn gets the finder's fee for the highlight of the day - a blue traverse leftwards along a slab to a top-out from a distant arete. Took some doing - worked by me, Bryn, Geoff, Amanda and John - and it took me the longest, but I got there, fingernails and all, and how rewarding was it? Very. Ellen was off flashing a red problem, but I wouldn't swap that for overcoming my blue nemesis... much.

A team photo to finish off, then the rains came in a timely fashion as we drove out of the car park. The drive back through France was almost as smooth as the way down had been - a misreading of the slow to speak satnav took us on a tour of Charles De Gaulle airport (Concorde!) - whereas Eurotunnel was a nightmare, with huge delays and suggestions of child smuggling. Once back in the UK, the gang (sans Geoff, who had gone to explore more of France with other friends) reconvened at Cambridge services... and then, once home, online to share a raft of photos and related banter... Hopefully we'll share more climbs in future.

For my part, I followed up the trip with a day of recovery and a visit to The Depot, where I signed up for a pass - The Depot will now be part of my journey home (when we're not otherwise at a crag anyway), and in cramming more climbs into my days and weeks, I hope to be able to cram more - quality and quantity - into my next Fontainebleau trip. Time will tell.

More photos here, and hopefully Bryn's take on events will follow shortly.
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