Fontainebleau

April 26, 2023

Written by Clara Soh

My first time visiting Fontainebleau I was that totally clueless American who knew nothing about bouldering in Europe. Actually, I had spent less than a half dozen days bouldering on actual rock and was on my way from Paris to Ceuse to go sport climbing. Since Fontainebleau is just a short hour from Paris, I decided to make a quick stop.

(Image) This way to Fontainebleau

The first thing I didn’t understand was that French bouldering grades are very different than French sport grades — spoken out loud they sound the same and I was a rope climber through and through. My casual sport warm-up grade is around French 7a (5.11d), and when I pulled onto (or I should say tried to pull onto) a Font 7A (v6) boulder to warm up, I didn’t even leave the ground. Over two days, I climbed maybe a grand total of 50cm before realizing there is a huge difference between 7a and 7A. This seems so obvious to me now, but as a relatively beginner, US-based climber and bouldering novice I was completely clueless.

The second thing I didn’t understand about Font was that the style can be highly technical and completely cryptic, especially for a first-time visitor. While Font has endless bouldering across a huge range of styles, many of the problems seem to lack any kind of positive hold and instead are a series of undecipherable slopers relying more on body tension, position, and technique over pure finger strength. And let’s not even discuss the infamous mantel top outs because I never once found myself topping out any problems on my first visit.

(Image) Sea of terrible slopers

(Image) pulling on a credit card crimp when you can’t figure how to hold the sloper

Fast forward a few years, with a few bouldering trips to Hueco, Rocklands, and Red Rocks under my belt and I finally made a dedicated bouldering trip back to Fontainebleau. As least this time I was prepared to be humbled and set my expectations accordingly. I was also lucky enough to meet up with friends who were familiar with the area and were about my size. I’ve learned that compression problems can be very morpho, and climbing with other women who have around the same wingspan means that we can share beta and work problems together. The amount of climbing in Fontainebleau can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to decide where to go among the endless forest of boulders.

(Image) 7-6-5 Franconia, 8-6 Bavaria (retour) 7A+/v7

Fontainebleau itself is the name of one of the numerous villages and the forest where many of the boulders are found. However, the bouldering itself is spread across a vast area, and there is climbing all the way from Bourron-Marlotte to the south and Barbizon to the north and beyond. The climbing is so vast and endless that in 2 weeks I was barely able to scratch the surface of the bouldering. I did however, manage to sample a good percentage of the boulangeries and patisseries scattered across the region.

(Image)  The longer you stay, the worse your climbing might get

The rock itself is sandstone, and dynamic moves to open handed friction slopers can be really tough on the skin. I made it through 2 weeks of climbing with only 3 rest days using a steady mix of Rhino repair and Split+ but it’s probably a good idea to take more time off. You can take a quick hour train ride to Paris, explore a plethora of hiking trails, or visit the local swimming pool on your rest days.

(Image) Tactics for holding slopers and high humidity days

Local beta

  • Gites can be rented in any of the many surrounding villages and there are three official van parking spots in the area. Please note that this past spring many of the unofficial van bivies were closed due to trash, human waste, and visitors generally not being respectful of the environment. Fontainebleau is akin to a national forest and home to protected species of flora and fauna, so climbers are lucky to have access.
  • Bleau.info is a nearly comprehensive list of many of the boulders in Fontainebleau, and bettybeta.com is a great resource for smaller climbers looking for problems that may be less morpho.
  • The rock is sandstone, and like many places, it’s important to let the rock dry completely after rain.
  • Many shops and stores close at mid-day for an afternoon lunch break, and may only be open 3-4 days a week so you have to plan accordingly for your pastry runs!
Clara Soh
Author: Clara Soh

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