By Luke Tilley

Fontainefun, where climbers converge for exhilarating ascents.

Home again, every time I go somewhere amazing it seems like no time has passed and I’m back to school. Fontainebleau is one of those places where my time there seems to go far too quick. So I have put together some ramblings on my experiences of Font, for your enjoyment and so I can re live the experience.

Back in April 2009 Dan Bradley took Edd, Alex, Ben and myself on what was to be my first step into the beautiful world hidden deep within the ancient forest, that climbers know as Fontainebleau. My impression of Font after that trip was sun, sand and slack lining. We went bouldering every day but found everything to be desperate and ended the trip with bleeding finger tips and no classic routes or impressive grades to take home as trophies, however we had had an amazing week and could not wait to come back one day.

Climber on hard problem in Albraccin

Less than a year passed and Dan mentioned another trip to the forest and wanted to know if I was up for it. This time in February half term 2010, the plan was to get a large group of keen up and coming climbers out there for some serious cranking action. February brought with it several inches of snow (perfect friction conditions as long as the rock is dry). We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had 5 days of sun with the temperature pretty close to freezing. Dan’s confidence and vision had increased somewhat since the first trip and this time he organised a large gite and bravely took on 15 climbers (a mix of youths and various parent climbers). This time we were focussed and on the last day Edd, Ben and Myself got a team ascent on one of our first hard classics “Carnage” 7B+ with Edd, who was crushing the whole trip, quickly adding the 2 lower moves to tick “Carnage Assis” 7C! Although ticking this problem meant a lot to me, I came away from the trip feeling that spending almost 2 days on the one problem (writing off the possibility of several other brilliant problems) was not an efficient time spent in this amazing place, not at this stage anyway.

February came around again and I had been looking forward to getting back to the forest since I left last year. My psyche for climbing in 2011 has increased! almost doubling since last year and the same has happened for the last 5 years or so. I had been training harder than ever before for the last month or so and the now annual trip to Font was the perfect indulgent rest week to keep the juices flowing. The downside of focusing on competitions is that at this time of year I am doing hours of endurance, repeating routes, sometimes for as many as 24 repetitions and doing hour long circuits. Far from ideal training leading up to a week of bouldering, however this is something I have to accept to reach my competition goals!

Hard bouldering in Font

This year the group had increased again, 18 keen climbers organised by Dan headed out in the minibus and a couple of cars, all psyched out their mind and all booked into the same gîte as last year, a huge old mill with everything you could want for a climbing trip. Even with 18 people it never felt crowded. This year was slightly different for me as the group now included my two sisters Naomi and Flo and my dad. Although this meant I had to be on my best behaviour it was no problem and was as enjoyable if not more. I was determined to really make the most of the trip and the thousands of amazing problems available to do. I managed to restrain myself from trying anything too hard on the first couple of days and not rushing to do as many problems as I could. This was pretty difficult as Ben was super keen as ever and straight away started blasting a desperate 7b+, we worked out the crucial beta and before long he ticked it. Not bad for the first day! Still I was determined to try and ease myself into it. I was happy to get a 7a flash and try lots of technical easier problems.

The next day I was not quite so restrained and spent several hours on the super classic 7b+ ‘Arabesque’ crossing a huge roof, one of the biggest in the forest. I was getting frustratingly close. Relatively easily doing the 2 half of the problem but burning out on the last hard move. In the end I had to end the torment (and the pain from a powerful knee bar move) and leave it for another year. It will go easily some day I can feel it!

Bouldering in Font

Tuesday I was feeling somewhat dubious about progress after an in-depth wine tasting lesson the previous night. On the walk to that day’s area I was blown away by the beauty of the forest, the sun was out and the dappled light made the 14 red Alpkit mats shine bright as they bobbed their way through the trees. I couldn’t help myself thinking that right then there was absolutely no where else in the world I would rather be or with any other companions. I became more energised as we wound ever closer to the rock. I now knew this was going to be a good day. Warming up on a few technical face climbs, I quickly decided to get on a problem that had defeated us the year before a burly 7a+ rounded arête. Ed discovered some sneaky heel toe beta and after a quick tick by Dan I knew this year it was going down. Two more goes and it was mine, what a start to the day! Ben and I then wound our way to a recommended 7c (the easiest in the forest according to Dan… along with several others.) It only took 5-6 goes for me to tick it and I was ecstatic. Slight downer when we checked the new guide book to find it has been downgraded to 7b+ but still really pleased!

I decided 3 days on was as much as I could cope with without a rest and the rock was in poor condition due to slight showers so Wednesday I chilled, slack lined and spotted Dan on an incredibly high 8a problem. Typically it rained on Thursday and climbing was off, I was somewhat frustrated but went on a run in the woods, visited Millie the scenic town nearby and had a very quick slack line over the mill stream that flowed past the gite, cold!

The last day was good weather and I did as many problems as possible, spending a while doing problems on my own which was a very different and enjoyable experience. No pressure, no noise, no waiting just you and the forest and the rock. The great thing about Font is that whatever you feel like doing, whether a whole day of easy climbing, projecting right at your limit or just relaxing, it is all there at a superb quality and you can do it all again every day in a brand new place. Superb!

A big thanks to Up To Summit (Dan) for organising the trip and cooking up amazing grub each night, Paul Philips for the photographs. My sponsors Alpkit, Pulsin and Beyond Hope (Evolv and Metolius)

Bouldering Mats

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