After a spree of touristing (yes it’s a verb, mom) and city life in Paris and Berlin I was itching to get outside, be in nature and of course, touch some rock. Just an hours drive drive South of Paris is the legendary bouldering destination of Fontainebleau. I simply had to sample the stone for myself and so I hastily put together a ramshackle four day climbing trip.
Planning this wasn’t particularly straightforward as I was without many of the standard resources you need for a decent climbing trip. I considered many dodgy plans including camping by the boulders in a 20 Euro Decathlon tent or sleeping in a cheap rental car. Eventually I managed to book myself into an AirBnB in town. I decided would hike to the boulders if necessary, and go without a pad or guidebook.
And several times I did hike! I tried to catch lifts with other climbers where I could, but often had walks of up to 15km to get to and from the boulders. Luckily this was all in a beautiful forest and I really enjoyed all the hiking I did. It’s the perfect time to be in Font and the weather was amazing. Flippin tit connies oke!
Needless to say the climbing was brilliant. For the most part I ran around like the proverbial kid in the proverbial candy sales place. I just scampered up whatever took my fancy and looked safe enough to try with naught but a dish cloth to protect me from cruel lady gravity.
In Cape Town we have what’s called “The Two Pad Lifestyle”. Which as the name suggests, entails carrying multiple pads up to your project because not enough other climbers could be bothered to protect you from the pointy rocks. Well in Font I was living the “No Pad Lifestyle”, and I think I’ve had enough experience to draw some conclusions about this bold new way of bouldering:
Advantages of The No Pad Lifestyle:
- Much more comfortable walk-ins.
- Much easier to pack the car (assuming you have one).
- Impress girls with your recklessness/bravery (I’m like 80% sure girls love danger).
- Pads are expensive to buy and travel with.
- Nobody asks what you’re carrying or if you’re “sleeping up there”.
Disadvantages of The No Pad Lifestyle:
- Nothing to sleep on at night.
- Nothing to sit on during lunch.
- Some sit starts are harder without a pad.
- Can’t pad-stack to brush holds.
- Hitting the ground really sucks.
So after double checking the maths, it seems like they’re about equal. I suspect it’s only a matter of time until the much more fashionable dish towel replaces the traditional bouldering pad. My mate Stan was gonna run a few trials of the “No Rope Lifestyle”, but I haven’t heard from him in a while.
Anyway, Font is great. There are loads of fun boulders, the holds are interesting and comfortable and the landings are all flat and sandy. One major difference between Rocklands (my local bouldering paradise) and Font is that Font is much better for beginners. Font is chock full of excellent easy problems, whereas the best of Rocklands only really starts from around 6C and upwards.
However I didn’t find the same quality and abundance of steep lines in Font. I’m sure there are plenty of great overhanging climbs in the forest, and I really enjoyed climbing more vert and slab than I’m used to. But I also kinda missed the steepness of the Western Cape.
For the most part is was quite liberating to not have a guide book. It felt exciting and adventurous to try things based only on how they looked. For 90% of the problems I tried, I had no idea what the names or grades were. I often didn’t even know what sector I was in.
But every now and then I felt myself pining for some real bouldering. Running around and climbing fun looking stuff is great, but it’s just recreational climbing. The times when I felt most at home was when I stumbled across something harder with some other climbers trying it. It was great to join in, climb above pads, and get in the bouldering zone.
It was great to fall, to discuss different sequences and to try hard. This is what “real” bouldering is to me. It’s a problem solving exercise. A physical and mental challenge to overcome. Not just fun movement over rock.
This was a great little trip to help me figure out why I love climbing, and what about it that I love so much. I’ve realised that a large part of the experience is social. A day out climbing is as much a about my friends as it is about the climbing. Unless I have a big project that is motivating me, I don’t want to climb alone.
I’ve mentioned that recreational climbing doesn’t light my fire like real bouldering, and yet I’ve happily been an almost purely recreational climber for the last two years. It’s been a long time since I was an 8A climber, and it would take a lot of work to get back to that level. I don’t think I’m willing to put that work in and I’m okay with that. I just wanna have fun and climb with my friends.
That said, I’m also as aware as ever that the spark is still there. I may be unmotivated to repeat moderates in Echo Valley or session projects in Rocklands, but I’m burning to have a proper bouldering trip overseas. I wanna pull hard and wake up sore. I wanna obsess over guide-books and set optimistic goals. I wanna hike out in the rain just in case my project is dry enough to try. I wanna do all that, but somewhere new. Somewhere outside of South Africa.
I don’t think I’m cut out to be a weekend warrior and a hard climber at the same time. For the psych to be there it’s gotta be all or nothing.
Anyway, here are some of the best things I did in Font (that I know the names of):
After Font I went to Lille. And I’m now in Belgium!