Memories of Fontainebleau

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Dave Redpath - 28/08/2001

It always seems as if whenever anyone else is planning a trip it's always hard for me to get away, and when you try to plan one yourself no one else can go. It was for this reason that that I ended up by myself driving down the M1 towards London on my way to Fontainebleau. The following are some extracts from my diary describing this trip in December 2000.


Day 1

Drop down the A1 passing Sheffield - my usual stopping-off place. Thereafter the drive down to London took forever, the slowing speed of the rush hour traffic was not helping my mood. I had a really long way to go. Heading towards the M25 I couldn't help wondering if this was such a good idea, but by midnight I was on the boat and there was no turning back.

As the ferry doors opened I realized that driving on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country without insurance wasn't perhaps a good idea, but the trip was costing enough anyway. In the first 20 minutes I had eaten my fingernails, and nearly shat myself thinking I was going the wrong way up a slip road with all these lorry light coming towards me. It was however just a diversion round some road works, so death (this time) had been avoided! The next 4 hours passed in a blur of loud music and cola bottles... Navigation of the Paris ring road was a nightmare, I didn't have any landmarks or any sense of direction: Is Metz to the south?... I thought Orleans was in America?... I tried reading the junction numbers I had planned out earlier but each sign had 3 different route numbers! Where the hell was I!?! Finally I seemed to be going towards the A6 which would take me to Fontainbleau. Once on this navigation was no problem and finally I drove passed the welcome sign for Fontainbleau, the car stopped, and I fell asleep.

Day 2

8 a.m. I awoke to confusing sounds around me, the hum of traffic from the road and the voices of an advancing French school party. I sat up to see a scene not that much different from home. An apartment block satbehind me, and there was a school in front which had lots of double parked parents dropping off their kids at the front gate. It seemed that my car blocked the advancement of the weekly bucket cart, which the driver was keen to point out with a blast from the horn as he saw me sit up!

Once some sort of coherent thought resumed I started the car and headed for Bas Cuvier. This area is regarded as the spiritual home of French bouldering - the Mecca of hard climbing at Fontainbleau. The earliest problems recorded here go back to 1908 when the members of the French Alpine club used to climb here. Development over the years really goes in parallel to home where the rocks were used for training for the bigger icy stuff, before becoming an end in themselves. Another important factor, no doubt, was its close proximity to Paris.

After a brief bolt around the forest scoping out problems I found myself standing at the bottom of my first problem - a 5+ arete. With no surprise I fell off a few moves in, hitting the ground sideways, having got myself into some totally ridiculous position. The 5+ really sum's up the technical nightmare that is climbing in Fontainebleau. Next I was keen to try a problem called Holey Moley, a 7a Problem on sloping pinches that had been recommended. I could do all the initial moves, the problem was that the top out was wet from previous rain. Once I had this dialled I commenced trying from the deck, success was however some time away, and finally I bagged it 2 hours later.

Between goes on this I had been trying Biceps Mou, the guide graded it as 7a+. Now over the years I'd like to think of myself as being a roof specialist - as I can get away with my aforementioned crap footwork! So I think steep yes, sidepull crimp yes, wilt? No!!!

Fontainebleau makes no exceptions for power, after all 'Knowledge is Power' - or is it 'Power is Knowledge'? The former certainly applies better to Font. I battled on to the bitter end and finished up trying the Joker 7a in the twighlight, but got nowhere.

I drove back into Fontainbleau to find a hotel which wasn't very easy, keeping in mind it was 5pm rush hour, I was on the wrong side of the road and I couldn't read any of their silly signs. Surreal?!. I parked the car to have a quick sleep, as I had only had 3 hours sleep the night before but got shouted at by some psycho local who immediately knew I spoke English and started firing 50 questions at me as to why the hell I was parked outside his house. I hate this country - why does the world have to be so bloody different everywhere you go!? Finally got a room in the Station de Terminus at 7pm and slept like a baby.

Day 3

I woke up feeling much better, put some Prodigy on in the car and sped out to Cuvier - sorted. I steamed into the problems, and watched the locals piss up Carnage 7b+, I was told that this was the problem that Brits pissed, and this French guy demonstrated it for me: "you can do it zis way as an edge or zis way as an undercut". The problem seemed to be catching the edge in the bulge, which was fine but the slopers higher up had them everytime! I tried the first move, but it had me, it was hard, now my left shoulder started to hurt. I persevered and got the move in the end, thinking "oh shit the next moves gonna get me", but remembering the steepness monster that I am I pulled through without incident. Awesome!

Next I tried La Berezina one of the first 7c's done in the forest, revolving around a jug and a toe hook, the problem involved a certain level of trust in the slopers held thereafter. My initial tries ended in a couple of hard crashdowns, missing the mat on one occasion. After being winded a few times I really started to hold back, my feet up in the jugs and hands on hopeless slopieness was not the idea dismount position. I gave up and went on to try L'Abbatoir 7a. Done in 1960 in big boots, L'Abbatoir is still brick! I wasn't too sure on the line to take, some locals assured me that the arete was out, which made the move up to the big under cut well technical. I did it once some more of the locals turned up.

Now with a reasonable pile of mats at the bottom I turned my attention to L'Helicoptere 7a+, this was the parallel line to L'Abbatoir climbing the arete of the boulder then getting a big sloper with you left before catapulting rightwards to a finger jug. The problem is not the move its self, its more the height of the move! The French lads declare they were about to leave, by this time I'd been up to the sloper five times and bottled. I asked if they were going to try the response was no, one lad commented that one of his friends had tried it, caught the jug and swung of with his legs horizontal, to be deposited somewhere over to the right with a broken arm! One of the lads did however go up and clean the sloper for me, confidence was not high and it was getting dark. I wobbled up the arete looking down to see my trustyspotters soon to leave. I took a deep breath swung at the jug catching it,my feet ripped and I was on my way, as I swung I remembered to aim my right foot at the Carnage sloper. It hit and I was still on, and clawing at the jugs above I topped out - to thunderous applause! I thanked my friends for the afternoon and left.

Day 4

It was raining so I rested. First I checked out the roof/overhang at Calvarie Cross. I was expecting something reminiscent of Parisellas Cave in North Wales, but what I was presented with had more of a Balmashanner feel to it. This was not what I'd driven 700 miles to climb. The 8a looked good though, like The Thing.

Later that night on my way to the garage for the usual dinner of chocolate and crisps I discover that what I thought was a Halford's Car Super store 'The Champions' (like the spark plugs), is in fact a hyper market. I piggedout on bread with black olives and sardines. Also buy the trip requisitepurchase of Crimper and one of those little French porno books. Having been living on chocolate biscuits for the passed three days, the sprats were a welcome change, I munched away turning my attention to my other purchases... Flicking through the 'Travial' magazine I was horrified to find what I had purchased - chicks with dicks!!! I regurgitated a small bit of sprat and started to feel a bit sick. Walking back to the hotel I deposited my purchase in the rubbish bin no doubt to be found by the local youth, they'll never look at their mothers the same way again (remember Stan from South Park!).

Day 5

It was a clear crisp morning, so I headed back to Cuvier. My arm ached after another shit warm up, so I ticked Hypothese 7c! I Caught sloper first go and thought "I'm gonna flash it!", then made a pitiful attempt at the next move. By my 4th go I was getting a bit pissed. A local who was watching me commented that when they grab the sloper and their feet slip, most people fall off - but not me, therefore I had a good chance of doing it. Spurred on by this I did it next go. Next I tried La Berezina again this I time did it, the sloper felt great, the drying out of the wet mess on top paid off as I only had to pull through once. I headed out to Cuvier Rempart afterwards, meeting Jean-Baptiste again as he was trying Fatman 8b. I had a quick try at C'etait Demain, the Forest's first done in 1984 by Jackie Godoffe (note first 3 letters of sirname, sshh). When out at Rempart I was delighted to be given no less than 3 different sequences from JB for Fatman, C'etait, and Cuvier's Big Four of Big Boss 7b+, Fourmis Rouges 7c, Tristesse 7c and Big Golden 7c+. Now, I'm told that the French admire the Brits because we don't take our climbing too seriously, but if you've ever been to the Peak or Yorkshire you'll almost certainly have had a hard time getting any sort of sequence off a local other than "You just pull, lad". Consequently I was very impressed by the open and friendly attitude of climbers in Fontainebleau!

Day 7

I drove out to Isatis but it was soaking wet from the overnight rain and the sheltered aspect of the trees meant it wasn't going to dry out very soon. I continued on to Trois Pignions. Got going then went on Salle Gosse 7c, basically a dyno to a sloping mess finish. Getting into position for the dyno wasn't easy either. A crowd of locals soon turned up, and immediately I was informed that I was using the wrong sequence. Putting you hands in the letterbox to gain the pocket wasn't allowed! The mono had to be used to get the letterbox then the pocket, they joked, as I pulled on the sidepull then fell off. "No that is the little girls way", one of them commented, you must jump! Watching theothers, the move off the mono seemed to be stopping them dead. I tried again and managed to make it to the dyno second go, only to pitifully slap the rock about a foot below the top of the boulder. Arse! My arm started to hurt again; this was becoming a persistent thing...

Day 10

Desperate last couple of days, raining on Monday, then humid and greasy on Tuesday. I'm losing the plot! Morning revealed clear cold skies and the return of the friction! Drove out to Isatis to do Alta 7c. Took ages to do a 6c for a warm up - kept ripping off the top, owch! When I got on to Alta it was different from what I'd expected. What looked like a jug on the pictures and videos was in fact a long crimp. The top was also devoid of any good holds and took some work to remove the slippery winter lichen and dampness. The trick to the problem seemed not to be in moving on the undercut, but swinging onto it. The left hand intermediate made all the difference and I pulled through on my 7th go. After a slimey tussel I stood on top of the boulder and cursed under my breath "You can't stop me forever". Next up I tried El Pousah 6c+ which was flashed by the campus technique. Quoted as the poor man's La Berezina due to the similar slope toe hook manoeuvre I was not going to fall victim to that move again! After many tries I bagged Le Faux Baquet 7a, having suffered due to wet holds and weak arms. Went back to try Sur Prise but found that my car had been broken into - BASTARD!!!

Day 11

Taking a rest day. Phoned up Cellnet to bar my stolen phone, the thought of some French git using it while I payed the bill was unacceptable. To claim the money back I had to report the theft to the police and get a Crime Number or something. So I went about finding the Police Station. First place I asked was in the local Post Office, surely someone spoke some English there. After observing Mike's attempt at Spanish in El Chorro the year before I keep telling them what I wanted until they understood! "Police Station!". The man behind the desk pointed at different sized boxes on the wall? "Police Station". I'd even looked it up in the dictionary the night before, I think it went along the lines of station police or something? It only when I listened to what they repeated, "polay station", hey wait a minute? I repeated yet again shaking my head, some one finally understood. They then told me exact directions to the Play Station in English?? This wasn't going to be easy.

Day 12

Having tried Big Boss the day before for my warm up my shoulder still ached. I had a relaxing time doing some easy routes but ended up on Pince Mi Pince Moi 7b, which took lots of goes to pull through the last move. It finally submitted by some way out left toe drag, but I guess that's Font. Also did Biceps Mou 7a+, second go for today and The Joker 7a.

Day 13

Easy day at Cuisinere to finish off, bagged one 7a+ before my shouldercramped up. Had a relaxing walk in the woods before packing up my stuff and returning home. The Paris ring road was somehow navigated first time on a hope and a prayer, depositing me near Charles de Gaulle, with a relatively easy 200 miles to go to Calais. Don't mock the skills, you try reading a 30ft high motorway sign at 75, bumper to bumper with 4 lanes of traffic going on the wrong side of the road! I finally made it back across The Channel and was round the M25 by 2 am to avoid the morning traffic.

Day 14

Christmas Eve. A crap night's sleep in the car leaves me exhausted for the final 400 miles home. My super-lean Font body weighs in about a kilo heavier than before the trip - knew I shouldn't have eaten all that Brie!

I hope that I have shared something with you that will make you want to go to explore Fontainbleau. Over the years I've been climbing the feeling of adventure is still strong. The emotions of excitement on leaving on a trip and the consolidation of returning from it are still the same. I'm always left wondering when the desire will return, and where will it take me. Climbing for me is only 25% of the experience, the rest goes to the journey and the people we meet. I'd like to say what the last bit is but I can't quite explain it. Perhaps that's something we should each think about but never quite put our finger on. Cheers...

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