Every time I return from a bouldering trip to the forest of Fontainebleau, I feel like I am a better climber. Physical strength is important in climbing as is the mental side, but ‘Font’ seems to demand other elements too, elements that as climbers we often underestimate.
Facilities for climbing indoors over winter have never been better; the knowledge of how to make physical gains is growing too, but transferring this to actual rock outside and feeling like your performance has improved is easier said that done.
Where are the holds?
The sandstone boulders of Font have a tremendous variety of hand-hold types, and it’s not uncommon to use undercuts, crimps and slopers on just one problem. The holds are often small, relative to the grade, so you need to be very precise and apply the right amount of pressure. Large obvious jugs are a rarity here: it’s more a case of using the sparse holds in the right combination to progress upwards.
Trusting your feet
Likewise, the footholds can be marginal. You often need to place your feet quietly and with belief. More often than not, it takes me a few goes before I accept that, yep, that sloping wrinkle of sandstone is the best foothold available, so weight it!
Discovering the knack of a problem is part of Font’s pleasure (and frustration). The sequence can be counter-intuitive. Often there will be some small detail that unlocks the door. The trick is discovering the ‘trick’ – the sneaky heel hook or the tiny quartz hold – before your skin is too thin or your arms too weak.
It’s not over until it’s over
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve nearly reached the top in Font. The rounded finishing holds are legendary, so topping out can be the hardest part. Having to squeeze and then mantle sloping holds is a serious test of the triceps, and very different from reaching the top of an indoor bouldering wall and jumping back on to the mats.
Most of all, I come back from Font with a better body awareness and hence more efficient movement. The holds are so small and there is less room for lazy or misjudged body position compared to other rock types. This is definitely not just pulling on buckets!
I also think that spending time in such a beautiful, vast forest is something to be treasured. Sometimes I enjoy bouldering with a bunch of mates, other times I dart off on a solo mission. Either way there is a great calm about the place: a sense of timelessness. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s a hard place to leave and I always come away feeling invigorated and sharper on rock.