Fontainebleau - A Rough Guide

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An Article by Nic Crawshaw (04-06-2002)

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We left the house at an offensively early hour in the morning, the car groaning under the strain of crash pads and bodies, eight hundred miles away from our goal. By midday I was teetering up a particularly steep slab on holds I couldn't see, but Malc assured me were there. Sun on my back I topped out, proud and phsyched for more.

'4+' said Malc.
Aye, right.' It was clearly Northumberland 6a.

This article is designed to get you to the world's premier bouldering venue, get you around the areas, and give you an idea of how to organise your trip. A couple of guidebooks exist and are invaluable if you want to hunt out the less frequented areas and problems. Otherwise you can get by taking looks in other peoples guides, or just getting inspired by the rock shapes. Enjoy!



Getting There

Thanks to Ryan Air, you can fly from Prestwick to Beauvais Airport for as little as £20 return (yes £20!) plus airport tax. From there Font is an hour and a half in the car, or two and a half hours by public transport (bus into Paris, Metro to Gare de Lyon, and then an hour on the local train). Charles de Gaulle is a little closer and Orly Airport is somewhat closer but expect to pay more for flights. Aternatively you can get on the road and drive to Dover where you have the choice of a ferry or Eurostar's channel tunnel service. If all this is too costly, an epic hitch is possible, but rather you than me!


The area has a similar climate to south east England, i.e. it can and does rain and it gets fairly chilly in winter, and quite warm and sticky in the summer. If you're wanting to try the harder problems you'll be best off going between October and April when it's not hot and you may find the elusive perfect conditions. Having said that it is a great place to hang out in the summer, and makes a good stop off on the way south (see next month's article!) being very close to the N6 Autoroute du Soleil - the 'motorway of the sun'.

Staying there

There's no denying that having a car is a good option, but it is still very feasible to get around alot of the areas on foot from the campsite just North of Cuvier, which also happens to be free(no facilities) There is a campsite at Milly La Foret which has excellent facilities, and there is another Free site just before Bourron-Marlotte, heading south from Fontainebleau. If you don't want to rough it, a gite provides all the luxuries of home (and possibly more). Expect to pay 200 neurons (euros) for a week in a five berth gite low season, but remember there will be a charge for linen, gas and electricity on top of that of around 25 neurons. For shorter stays try the Formule 1 hotel, which is about ten minutes south of Font (Ecuelles) on the N7. It costs around 18 neurons for a room which sleeps three but can fit an extra body or two if you are discreet.


All the villages around the forest have a pattisserie (bakers) where you'll be able to top up on baguettes and croissants, as well as a general store. There is a supermarket 1km south of Milly la Foret.

The choice can be a bit limited out in the sticks, so if you crave a bit more sophistication, head into Fontainebleau where streets of shops, cafes and bars await. 10 kms north at Villiers en Biere there is a vast shopping centre where they sell just about everything. The 'Decathlon' sports shop here is the best and most reliable source of climbing paraphanelia for miles around.


There are amazing walks and viewpoints around the forest, and Paris is less than an hour away on the Metro, so the area is a good option for groups with non climbers, and provides entertainment on rest days and rainy days. Try the vast relic of French aristocratic life in the form of the Palais de Fontainebleau, or Barbizon, a very chic village just outside town where you can mix with the beautiful and the rich. Paris is one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities on the planet so if you can't find anything here to tempt you...check for a pulse. Tourist information will help you search for your own vice whether it be shopping in some of the most exclusive boutiques anywhere, hanging with the intellectuals on the Rive Gauche, smoking pot by Jim Morrison's grave with a load of other smelly people, watching the dancers at the Folies Bergeres or the Moulin Rouge, or even Eurodisney if you don't get enough of a thrill lobbing off the crux of Fourmis Rouge. Back around Font, there are a couple of open air swimming pools, one by Milly La Foret, and another right next to the boulders at Buthiers. There is also an indoor pool at Milly. Or you can wander through the forest in the rain compiling beta for future ascents...

Click to see full size version

The Climbing

This is what it's all about, beautiful climbing on an awesome variety of boulders. The climbing style can take a day or two to get used to...If you jump straight on your top grade you will get a spanking! Also expect to have to work a bit harder than you would for the corresponding grade in the UK.

You will need to spend some time cleaning your shoes and footholds in order to succeed on relatively modest problems. Some of the locals have developed this into a complex ritual, which includes whacking the desired bit of rock with a big rag, and shouting 'Pah' a lot. The forest is just teeming with boulders, so it's difficult to know where to start, but you can't go far wrong at Bas Cuvier.

Classic problems at every grade, all within a very easy stroll from the car, and with perfect landings make this a very popular spot. It is also very close to Cuvier Rempart which contains a collections of the finest highball problems in the Galaxy. There are loads of brilliant problems, but some are must-do mega classics and are an essential rite of passage for the aspiring boulderer. Here is a selection;

Bas Cuvier
La Prestat 3+ Big but never too hard. First ascent 1914.
Le sans les mains 5? The name means 'without the hands', there are no holds
La Marie Rose 6a The first problem of this grade in the forest
Stalingrad 6b Big and exciting classic
La Cle 6c Confused? You will be
Forge 6c+ The quintessential slab problem
Cortomaltese 7a The quintessential sloper problem
Charcuterie 7a The quintessential undercut problem
Helicopter 7a The fall from the crux gives the route it's name
Carnage and Berzina 7b & 7c Reports of recent damage to the rock. Ultra classic
L'Aerodynamite 7c Powerful jump then undignified grovel/ mantel over the top
La Balance 7b+ - 7c+ Don't wear a rock boot on your left foot!(?!)

Cuvier Rempart
La Digitale 5+ The perfect finger crack
Duroxmanie 6c+ Immaculate. Almost too good!
Big Boss, Fourmis Rouge, Tristesse, Big Golden. The 'Big Four', all 7c+, all highball
C'etait Demain The first 8a in the forest
La Merveille 8a Very big and very impressive
Fatman 8b Pokey and dissapointing but represented the cutting edge for a long time

Moving away from Fontainebleau the next major area is APREMONT. There are vast numbers of problems here but look out for;

Science Friction 5 Watch the cellar trained mutants flail on the first move
Le 13eme Travail d'Hercule 6c+ Roof with plenty of footwork available
Pierre Philosiphal 8b Very impressive roof problem.

Running parallel with the N105 is the Gorges du Franchard, home to Franchard ISATIS and Franchard CUISINIERE. This is a much more peaceful and attractive option than Bas Cuvier, and problems of all grades are present, especially at Isatis . The forest is particularly beautiful in this area, and in the late evening, away from the car parks, you may encounter wild boar snuffling round the Forest. Just don't try to kidnap their piglets, they have a fearsome temper. Cuisiniere is also home to some of the best and most celebrated 8a's in the forest. Success on Karma (THE power problem), Hale Bopp (THE dyno), or Duel (THE slab) is a fine acheivement. Doing all three, like Malc Smith has, is truly impressive. Many of the problems are on isolated butresses which take a little finding, but are very rewarding.

Beyond the main forest lies Trois Pingons, home of yet more top quality areas. ROCHE AUX SABOTS is possibly the most frequently visited due to its proximity to the car park, and has an excellent range of problems in all grades, with good landings, can get a bit busy at the weekend though. Slightly further from the car is another mega classic. Across the 'Sea of Sand' the Toit du cul de Chien is, if you are going well (font 7a), possibly the best tick in the forest combining unlikey moves with enough climbing to almost qualify for route status. The area known as 95.2 is a kilometre or so further in from here and is one of the fastest drying areas. It is home to many slab problems in the 5/6 range as well as a couple of way gnarly dynamic problems, Ange Naif (Naive angel) at 7c+, and Futurs Barabares/Direct also at 7c+ or 8a without the deviation/side pull to the left.

Finally, (for this article anyway) an essential part of the Font experience is the ELEPHANT area, some way south of the main forest on the way to Nemours. There are a lot of gites in this area, often a little cheaper than those in or by Fontainebleau. The climbing at Elephant is extra friendly, excellent soft landings abound and the boulder from which the area gets is name is really impressive and very good fun. There is a lot more besides what you will find in the guidebooks, and the exploration can provide a huge part of the enjoyment. See you there!

Useful Stuff

Phone numbers (+0044 from UK);

Tourist info (get gites here too)

Hotel Formule 1 at Ecuelles


  • Fontainebleau by Stephen Gough published by On the Edge 1996
  • Fontainebleau Climbs by J&F Montchausse and Jacky Godoffe published by Baton Wicks 1999

Websites excellent site which keeps up to date with events and new problems, a Dutch site translated into English.

There are some French ones too with links from but they don't seem to be as well maintained. is a good option for cheap flights, and they have a car hire link.

Essentials list;

  • Rock boots
  • Chalk bag
  • Rag to wipe your boots on
  • Passport
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