The Magic of Fontainbleau – Paul Highams

Here’s a question for you: Why do so many climbers including many whose fame has taken them all over the world, say Fontainbleau is their favourite place to climb?

I thought I’d share with you my experiences from font and the joys of bouldering and see if there is interest for a club trip to font in the future.

Fontainbleau is a town about 45 minutes south of Paris and can be reached from Calais in about 3.5 to 4 hours. So even if you add on the ferry or eurotunnel the journey time is about the same as North Wales and Cornwall and less than the Lake District. You need to add on the cost of the channel crossing and about 40 euros in tolls, but split between 4 in a car this is not too much.

Fontainbleau is famous for many things apart from climbing, there is the impressive Palace home to louis XIV. The area around Fontainbleau is also the weekend get away for the rich from Paris, similar to the Cotswolds for the rich of London. So there are lots of interesting things to do from Artists communes, local cheeses, vineyards and breweries.

Of course the food is superb and there is a great choice for all tastes and budgets. Fontainbleau has everything from pizzerias to fine dining with the belgian bar highly recomended. The Grand Cafe by the carousel does super strong coffee and pain-au-chocolat to kickstart your day and a few doors along you can pick up a ready made baguette. All this means you can travel light, there are several campsites across the forest, catering for tents, camper vans, caravans and some have chalets for rent. We have stayed at a great site on the outskirts of Melun run by a dutch family, their site includes swimming pool, showers and toilet block, outdoor table tennis, bouncy castles, shop on site and pizzeria so it is great for families.

But all this doesn’t make Font one of the must visit destinations for climbers alongside Yosemite etc.

There are several things that make the Font forest a climbing mecca, these are the beauty of the area, the choice of climbing and the quality of the rock and the climbing. The Font forest is 108 square miles and has over 150 climbing areas!, this gives a wide choice of crags in the sun, in the shade, short walk-ins for convienance and long walk-ins if you are after solitude. More unique things about Font are the concept of circuits and the grading system.

First lets explain circuits, french mountaineers used Font for training and set circuits of problems to train their stamina and strength. The circuits are graded by colour from white, yellow, orange, blue, red, white/black in order from easy to hard. Each problem is numbered and painted on the rock in the correct coloured paint, small dots and arrows  in the same colour are used to guide you to the next problem, but a guidebook is also useful with a plan of the boulders. The number of problems in a circuit can vary from 20 up to a massive 75. Many people try to complete a circuit within their capability, but if there are 40 problems in a circuit averaging 5 metres high that is 200m climbing which is equivalent of 10 routes at Stanage, and you’ll be climbing harder than you do when leading!

Other people choose to try individual problems of maximum difficulty and these can take many attempts spread over hours, days and even years.

And on your rest days from climbing you could head over to Disneyland Paris, only 45 minutes away, head into paris on the train to see the sights, the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc etc. There is also a network of trails through the forest for Cycling and Walking. For families there are plenty of activities and the kids can try some bouldering on special white kids circuits with easy routes on lower boulders, the adventure of following the trail of dots and arrows being part of the excitement along with the actual climbing.

The photos below show a flavour of the problems and climbing at Font, if you fancy a club trip there, please use the comments below to show your interest (remember to login to be able to add comments).

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