My time in Fontainebleau has come to an end and as I sit on the ferry back to England I am left to contemplate the last two months and what it has meant to me.
I have experienced some immense lows in my own personal climbing and battled through mind games to come out a stronger, more mature person; I have reacquainted with old friends, got to know newer friends in more depth and met many others for the first time; I have tried, failed and climbed some of the best boulder problems in the world, and after not visiting the forest properly since 2010 I have rediscovered the magic that lingers between the trees.
There is so much I could write about, that actually picking something is proving quite difficult but I have settled on narrating the trips highs and lows in the context of six boulder problems. Picking just six was hard but each of these boulders represents something more than just a climb.
Atresie – 8A
This was the last of the BIG 5 at Cuvier Rempart for me, and much harder than any of the others in my opinion. I have always found myself at this boulder on slightly damp days, those days when you think it’s dry but in reality it’s probably a mixture of desperation and optimism telling you that. This boulder represented much, much more than just another tick; it was a change in the wind for me on this trip.
I had trained hard, I was going to come to the forest, dispatch a few boulders that I had unfinished business with and then get stuck into the really hard stuff! How wrong I was, in reality, I had over-trained, which had effected me physically and mentally and I hadn’t climbed enough, leaving my movement far off the pace required in the forest of Fontainebleau. This, coupled with poor weather over the first few weeks, and I was really struggling to get into the groove of climbing here, putting me on a downward spiral.
In fact, thinking back I was probably the most effected I had ever been by my climbing performance, as ridiculous as it sounds for someone on a two-month long trip in one of the best bouldering destinations in the world, I was in a dark place and I just wanted to go home.
Topping out Atresie was the beginning of the light for me, the reward from three days of hard work on my mental game, countless discussions with friends and frantic reading of ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ by Timothy Gallwey. Yes the send itself was great but it was how I carried myself during the session and how I felt and reacted on the failed attempts that really meant something to me. The morning of the send was preceded by three days of rain, and in this time I flipped my trip upside down. I knew that I had to do something about my mentality, I was acting like an ungrateful idiot and that was effecting my enjoyment but more importantly others enjoyment of the trip. Over these rainy days I had countless discussions with friends on how they deal with these feelings in their climbing or life, because at the end of the day, we all go through them. My sounding boards for these discussions were Mina, via text, as she was in India, and Jimmy, Rob and Rhys. Each of them played a crucial role, from listening to me moan to directing and stimulating my thoughts in a more positive direction.
At the end of the three days I felt ready to embrace the challenge of possible disappointment and to not let it affect mine, or others, trip. I wish I could tell you it was plain sailing after those three days, but it wasn’t, I had to work hard and I still got frustrated, and annoyed, and disappointed but I think, and I hope others would agree, that on the whole I dealt with these feelings in a more mature, progressive manner that allowed me to get enjoyment even when the outcome wasn’t to my liking.
Yes it was great to send Atresie, and standing on top of the boulder felt tremendous but the reason this climb sticks out in my mind is because of the mental change that I had made.
Partage – 8A+
I am not sure that this climb needs much introduction; it’s one of the best lines in the forest and probably the world. A tall, proud arête with moves that require a fine balance of power, precision and position. This was another climb that I had tried on previous occasions, both times happened to be at the start of snow fall and so keeping shoes dry was almost impossible leading to slipping and sliding, fumbling and falling and a hastened retreat back to the gite.
A good spell of weather had arrived, in fact there were almost too many good days in a row and in fear of missing out and with the ever-encroaching wetness on the horizon I ended up climbing on all five glorious days! On the fourth day of the five, with already oozing skin, I went to try Partage. After an hour or so I had it all sussed and managed a few good goes from the bottom but my skin was dangerously close to the line of no return, using my new found woosa and self-control I called it a day.
The next day was a funny one, it was our last day before more rain was forecast but I didn’t really know what to do with myself. As the light started to fade I got a sudden itch and with about an hour of daylight left I was back standing beneath Partage. This seemed just about enough time for more carefully spaced attempts or maybe it would just go first time.
I have to say that first go joke almost became reality but mid way through the last hard move my left hand blew off and I hurtled backwards, bound for the only boulder nearby, cat like reflects from my spotter took much of the impact from the fall but I definitely felt it the next day. As the light faded, along with my skin and my muscles, I refined some foot beta and just as the golden evening sun was saying it’s farewell I managed to execute everything as close to perfection as I could and let out a raucous yell of excitation, relief and pure ecstasy at standing on top of that beautiful feature. It was one of those rare goes that from the first move I knew it would end in success!
It was the perfect ending to five days of glorious weather in which I had turned my trip around; day one had been Atresie and day five had been Partage with other great climbs in between. The next few rain days would be a lot different to the previous weekend and that turnaround felt good, I was proud of the work I had put in and this had culminated in climbing a truly wonderful problem that I had struggled with on previous occasions; time for a few beers and an extra burrito at tea!
Gecko Assis – 8B/+
This was the one; this was the boulder that I wanted to do more than anything else this trip but I knew very quickly that I wasn’t in the right shape, or at least I thought I knew. These feelings meant that I actually didn’t try the problem until four weeks into my trip; the session, however, ended up being a pleasant surprise. I managed the stand in a few attempts and had quickly done the sit into the stand but with thinning skin and not the best conditions I called it a day; after all I had a month left and if I put all my “eggs” into this boulder I knew I could do it.
Sitting here at home I still know I can do it but this trip just wasn’t the trip for it. I actually only tried it on one other occasion with a similar outcome to the first, I could do the stand and I could climb into the stand from the sit, still positive but not much progress. Then other things got in the way; weather, split tips and a dislocated ankle meant that this would have to wait for my next trip.
I am disappointed to not have done it but I am happy to know that I can do it, and this change in my headspace is really refreshing and actually pretty uplifting. I know I’ll return to Fontainebleau as many times as it takes to climb the Geck as, in my opinion, it’s one of the best problems in the world; a perfect egg shaped boulder, situated in a beautiful part of the forest with a mixture of strength, technique and subtlety required in order to climb it. The holds are non-holds, you can’t brute yourself through, the positions are there but barely and when that all comes together it will be a special feeling!
Snak – 7B/C+
How many of you have heard of this boulder? Even the Font connoisseurs out there, it’s a 7B nestled away between Cuvier and Cuvier Est, probably two minutes walk from the most climbed boulder in the forest, Marie Rose. It’s a perfect example of Fontainebleau bubbles, made for squeezing and mauling and whaling our way up! The reason perhaps why you haven’t heard of it, and the reason I have this boulder in my list, is that it’s a huge sandbag! I have climbed 8B in Fontainebleau faster than this one and for me that is a huge part of what climbing in the forest is all about, getting shut down on stuff you assume you can do. After you get over the initial ego bashing it feels great to get stuck in and suss it all out.
Ma Que Bella – 6B+
Another major part of my trip was seeking out hidden gems and areas that were seldom visited by other climbers. For me this solitude in an area is really refreshing, especially when compared to a Saturday at Cuvier, and it makes you realise how much incredible rock there is in the forest. With just a bit of research and work you can spend whole days climbing on wonderful boulders and not see another sole.
Ma Que Bella could be one of the best problems I have ever done and it’s 6B+, making it very accessible to a large number of people and this makes it even cooler in my opinion. The fact that it’s an 8 metre high slab with the crux at the top may reduce it’s appeal but if you like techy slabs and a bit of spice then this should definitely be on your list.
It was a sunny Saturday and I was climbing with a bit of a Fontainebleau mentor to me. I first met him at Isatis about 8 years ago and we have been friends ever since. His climbing style is the complete opposite to mine and over the years I have learnt a lot from him both in Font and on the gritstone. His knowledge of the forest is immense and his patience, support and enthusiasm for others climbing makes days out a real joy.
On this day our roles were slightly reversed as I managed to tech my way to the top first and he had backed off at the point of commitment a few times. I like to think my encouragement, belief, and berating if he hadn’t done it, helped him push on and do the business a few tries later. It was great to see his joy at topping out and his enthusiasm, which has waivered over the past few years, return and with this I hope we will go on to have many more days out on the rock together.
Respire – 7C+
I tried this boulder on my first day in Fontainebleau this trip, thinking it would be a nice quick send, maybe even a flash, to get into the swing of things. I then proceeded to try it on my second day, and my sixth day and then again on my last day. Each session was at least an hour long, some closer to two and with that it became the problem I had put the most effort into, not only on this trip, but also on all my trips to Font.
It all revolved around a left heel hook that isn’t that tricky but for some reason I just wouldn’t trust it, and time after time I would back splat onto the mat. I thought that by the last day my movement would be improved and I might just go and wallop it but once again, this wasn’t to be the case.
L’Angle Parfait (7B) at Dame Jouanne had previously been my longest siege in the forest but now Respire takes that title until I discover something else that thwarts my efforts. This boulder really illustrated to me how personal grades can be. When I actually climbed it, it didn’t feel that hard and none of the moves were individually that difficult and yet it took me a long time to put together. Does this mean that it was the hardest problem I did all trip? No, I don’t think it does, at least physically, but maybe because I saw it as something that I should do quickly, I didn’t pay it enough respect and therefore sub-consciously I wasn’t trying as hard as I should. There is a lot to think about there but whatever the case it’s a great problem that I found mentally pretty taxing and finishing it on my last day was a nice cherry on the top!
So there you have it, six boulders that sum up my trip; from hidden gems to sandbags, mental battles to realisation but at the end of the day it’s just another climbing trip and I will go through these trials and tribulations many times more I am sure. Hopefully though I have learnt a little and next time I will be more prepared.
On another note I wanted to say something about the forest and the way we climbers behave when we are there. This trip reminded me how good it is to climb in Fontainebleau; the woodland setting, the immaculate rock, the subtle yet powerful climbing and the great patisserie all adds up to make it a very special place and we must remember and treasure this.
My two bugbears from this trip were litter and tick marks.
To be honest I think the litter at most areas is not actually climbers but discarded by the general public but I did pick up a lot of finger tape when walking around, and the number of cigarette butts/ends strewn around is definitely on the increase, these don’t biodegrade so please take them home with you. The most surprising and disappointing things I saw were the number and size of tick marks/donkey lines! I am not saying we shouldn’t use them, I think they are very useful but we must remember to brush them off, rain doesn’t do this for us. Also think about the length required for your tick marks, I saw ones over 2 feet long to a tiny foothold that probably required a cm at the most or a bit of verbal guidance from a friend. Many classic boulders are starting to look like The Dagger in Switzerland and this is not good, both visually but also for climbers reputation. It takes a minute to brush off your ticks so next time you’re at a boulder or even an area, take a look when you leave and if there are some ticks, then brush them off, even if they aren’t yours.
I want to finish by saying a huge thank you to Neil Hart at Maison Bleau for the copious amounts of good food, the beers, the stories, the knowledge and of course a great place to stay. Thanks a lot mate!