A month or so ago I left for what promised to be the trip of a lifetime. Me and Will, who I met in Ceuse last Summer, and who is also on a gap year, jokingly talked about going on a road trip for a few months during this coming Summer whilst we were in Kalymnos last September, but the idea was too good to resist; the idea snowballed and soon we had a list of venues and a vague idea of the order in which we would visit them.
First on the list, and the only bouldering venue as well, was Fontainebleau. It was my first time in Font, and obviously I had heard a lot about it so my expectations were high, but it has, in a few words, met all expectations, and taught me some valuable lessons along the way. It truly is a bouldering paradise; perfect, hard sandstone, the sheer volume of which guarantees that there would be at least a few brilliant climbs, but in Font there are not just a few, but thousands. On my first day, which was more like a couple hours, at Cuvier, before going to The House, where we were staying for the first week of the trip before moving in with Alex Fry and his family, who were kind enough to let us stay in their gite for our last couple weeks, I was blown away by the volume and density of great climbs. Unfortunately, towards the end of that session, it started to snow, and that set the tone in terms of weather for our duration in Font. I had heard that the weather in Font to be quite unreliable, and knew that it was not unheard of for people to go there and not climb at all, fortunately it didn’t get quite that bad for us, and we did have quite a few days of great conditions, but we were rained off a fair bit, and there was a couple sessions where we managed to find some dry rock, but were quite limited. Even so, I don’t feel like the weather hindered us particularly badly, and it hasn’t put me off returning for another trip in the future, especially as there are so many more climbs to do.
There have certainly been some successes on this trip for me, not all can be measured with grades, as I feel like a number of the successes have been in the form of learning, which will hopefully allow me to develop more as a climber, I shall attempt to briefly cover the highlights, including both ticks and lessons learned, which I may elaborate on in future blogs, and, perhaps, I will try to describe the experience of being here, although that could take some time and require an eloquence of speech that I lack. In terms of ticks, there have only been a few that I feel mark improvement in my climbing, these are not necessarily the hardest climbs I did, but ones which I feel challenged me in certain ways, or which I noticed particular improvement in that style.
First up is the hardest graded climb I did in Font, and that was Atomic Playboy, 7c+. I had climbed 7c+ before doing this, indeed, I feel like I have climbed harder 7c+’s, but this one highlighted to me quite clearly that I have not climbed as hard as I possibly could outdoors, and that success in bouldering is largely down to whether or not the problem fits you. I did Atomic Playboy in a couple hours or so, 5th day on, and in less than ideal conditions, taking all this into account does not make the achievement any greater, and it does not necessarily mean I could climb font 8a, but it almost certainly means that I could climb something harder than Atomic Playboy, which did fit me pretty well as it was reasonably small holds which you deadhang rather than pull deep on, quite steep, and the feet are fairly far away, which, with my lank, didn’t feel too bad. This was encouraging to me, as it signifies potential for improvement in that style, so if I was to find an 8a of a similar style then I would hope that there is a chance I could do well on it, if not do it.
Another one which I think I learned quite a bit on was a steep 7b+ called Satan ma’abite, which was by no means one of the harder climbs I did, but it did provide a good lesson in perseverance. We went there in the evening, after spending the day at the Cul de Chien roof, where I managed to get up Arabesque, which destroyed the skin on my left hand for the next couple weeks, so I was quite tired to begin with. After working the moves a bit, I convinced myself the way to do the crux move was a big throw around the lip of the prow to a good hold, and in my pigheaded stubbornness I stuck with that beta for a while, wasting a lot of energy and getting nowhere. Meanwhile, Will was experimenting with some ridiculous looking sequences, and eventually found one which worked perfectly. That was a bit of a reminder to myself to always try all the options, which not only makes the climb easier, but offers a greater opportunity for learning on each climb. I fell off the last move a couple times, and almost gave up, I was practically wasted; sore skin, tired biceps, and just generally out of energy. In fact, after my penultimate attempt I said I was done and would leave it so as not to completely destroy myself, but after 10 minutes or so I decided that I’d have another go. A bit of thrutching about on the final jug later, I’d hauled my way onto the top. Persevering can really pay off, and in hindsight, trying to save myself for the next day when I was clearly already nackard was just an easy way of saying that I’d given up. Now I know that giving up is never an excuse for failing, on trying hard can justify that.
Finally, in terms of ticks anyway, but one where I learned something as well, was Appartenence, a brilliant and tall 7c arete. I tried this briefly on one day where I was not particularly focused and got pretty spanked, not getting past the second move. I came back later on in the trip with a much better mindset; focused, methodical, and infallible. After falling once near the top, I tweaked my sequence a bit and next time I got up there I did it, in true Northumberland ground up style too.
It is in light of these, and other successes and failures, that I have learned quite a lot during my time in Fontainebleau. These are primarily about mental approach to climbing; approach, focus, psyche, and perseverance are key, rather than about actual sequences, and they certainly deserve a blog of their own in the future, but Font also highlighted some of my weaknesses; slopers, flexibility, compression, full body power, core, and ability to flash boulder problems. So although I may not have come away with a Landman esque ticklist, I can take comfort in the fact that I have learned a lot here, and that I will certainly be back.
Since Font we have moved on to other destinations and sport climbing is now the name of the game, and will be for the remainder of the trip. First up is St Leger and Buoux, then Gorges du Loup and Gorges du Tarn, then finally Rodellar. That’s the plan anyway, but as with any road trip, we can go wherever we want and wherever the sun is shining.
Also, thanks to Alex Fry for all the photo’s and for letting us stay in your gite!