KMC on the highball Orange Circuit at L'Elephant (Photo: Daniel O'Brien)  

Arriving at La Croix de St-Jerome on the first morning. (Daniel O'Brien)
Alex demonstrates how simple it can be if you can reach the top at 95.2 (Nils Elgar)
Gareth on a delicate slab at 95.2 (Nils Elgar)
Sam wonders how best to use the tiny handholds on a 95.2 slab. (Nils Elgar)
Dan about to lose his shoe to a steep traverse at 95.2 (Nils Elgar)
A relaxing afternoon at 95.2 (Nils Elgar)
KMC on the highball Orange Circuit at L'Elephant (Daniel O'Brien)
Nils back-and-footing down a chimney on the Orange Circuit at L'Elephant (Gareth Williams)
Mike on a Blue problem at L'Elephant (Nils Elgar)
The fine line between bouldering and soloing one the Orange Circuit at L'Elephant (Nils Elgar)
Sam balancing up a delicate slab on the Blue circuit at L'Elephant (Daniel O'Brien)
Dan shows that fashion and style are synonymous with his climbing technique (Jo Perry)
The rain comes down at L'Elephant (Daniel O'Brien)
Mark working hard of the small starting holds of a Red problem at Bas Cuvier (Daniel O'Brien)
Carrie latches the top of a Red problem at Bas Cuvier (Daniel O'Brien)
Gareth stretching for a hold at Bas Cuvier (Daniel O'Brien)
Gareth searching for the finishing hold on a slopey Bas Cuvier top-out (Daniel O'Brien)
Mark wedging himself into a Bas Cuvier off-width (Daniel O'Brien)
Carrie topping out on a steep Bas Cuvier wall a couple of years after first trying it... (Daniel O'Brien)
Mike finds the whole thing far too tiring. (Daniel O'Brien)
Graham looking pleased to latch the good hold (Daniel O'Brien)
Two full days bouldering wears down the fingetips (Daniel O'Brien)
Mike pulling hard on a mono at Bas Cuvier (Daniel O'Brien)
Mark grappling with the slopers on a typical Font top-out (Daniel O'Brien)
Mark guides Mike onto an elusive foothold (Daniel O'Brien)
Mike grovels through the finish in fine style (Daniel O'Brien)
Mike pleased with the result at Bas Cuvier (Daniel O'Brien)
KMC cultural contingent at La Chateau de Fontainebleau (Daniel O'Brien)
Still Life With Climbers (Daniel O'Brien)
A long drink after a hard day... (Daniel O'Brien)
Dinner in Fontainebleau on the last night (Daniel O'Brien)

Fontainebleau Bouldering

Members: Mark Pilling, Nils Elgar, Graham Haslehurst, Gareth Williams, Dan O’Brien

Guests: Alex Greeney, Mike Reading, Carrie Marr, Sam Arnold, Jo Perry, Gowry Sisupalan, George and Izzy.

How very French…

As the KMC embarked on its first official visit to the bouldering paradise that is Fontainebleau the fuel workers, port workers and (as we hit Dover) the nuclear industry workers were all heading out on strike.  Advice from the government was to not travel unless absolutely necessary – which clearly, it was!  Taking no chances, your intrepid adventurers filled their tanks in Dover and headed to the ferry.

Mark was first to arrive at the campsite, followed in the early dawn of Friday by Dan, Graham and Jo.  A special mention at this point goes to Mike who flew into Charles de Gaulle the previous evening and after failing to navigate the intricacies of the French local rail network found himself stranded in Montereaux about 20-miles south of the campsite where he spent and uncomfortable night.  He was rescued by Dan when he finally arrived in Fontainebleau at 6am on Friday!  Aside from Gowry, George and Izzy, who were at this point struggling to navigate the north of Paris, everyone else arrived throughout the morning, in various stages of exhaustion.


After a couple of hours sleep and registering with the excellent Camping Les Prez we headed out in search of adventure.  Our chosen spot was the unimaginatively named 95.2 which despite its low-key handle contains an excellent blue circuit and some very accessible climbs – though Gareth did grumble that there was limited scope for warming up… Unfortunately, that is Font for you…

Graham and Jo wandered off in search of the yellow circuit down to the bottom of the hill whilst the rest of the team started on the top of the plateau the team and applied themselves to the excellent and varied blue circuit.  Starting with a tricky arête which was unclimbable if you were less than 5’10” we quickly realised that the heat was turning even routes of a normally amenable grade into slappy nightmares.  One example was a problem involving two hard pulls and deep flagging followed by a tenuous mantle that was give f4 in the guidebook.  We steeled ourselves for a tough day…  On the next problem Carrie managed to slip off the starting foot-hold and despite the crash-pad cut and bruised her leg.  She dusted herself off and cracked on regardless – upping the difficulty on the next problem!

Nils dispelled his initial concerns that there would be “nothing I could do” by climbing a tenuous highball slab (again graded f4 – what are they on?)  The rest of the team also climbed this with the consensus being a grade of about 5b…  Your correspondent, accompanied by Carrie and Gareth tried a line to the left at f6b.  On this occasion, success was managing to stay on the rock with 3-points of contact for 5-10s.

The next challenge was a traverse called La Petit Toit (The Small Roof), which gets f6b+ and requires some steep heel-hooking around a corner with a sting in the tail.  The consensus online is for a grade of f6c which feels fair as no-one managed the tough move turning the corner and starting after the corner was hard…  Dan attempted a novel method involving a shuffling mantle-shelf along the lip of the roof.  Although this provided much amusement, it didn’t work.  Not surprising.

In the afternoon, with the team reunited, we relocated in search of the classic L’Ectoplasm (f5), which was quickly dispatched by Alex and (less quickly) by Dan.  Alex and Dan also climbed a strange traverse on the red circuit that involved much jamming, slippy footwork and a stiff pull for the top – Sam flashed it…

Gowry confirmed at this point that she and George had given up for the day and decided to spend the night in Paris having had a Sat-Nav disaster…

As the activity level slowed it was agreed that a trip to the absolutely massive supermarché was in order.  The baffling ordeal of shopping at a supermarket the size of a football stadium was followed by showers, barbecue, whisky, wine, beer and an early night for the drivers.


The next morning, after sleeping like logs, we were driven from our tents by the intense heat.  After a quick trip to the local boulangerie and against all the odds we were on the road for 9.30.

The venue of choice for Saturday morning was The Elephant (or L’Elephant en Francais…).  It is a world-class bouldering venue with three classic circuits (Orange, Blue and Black) and a famous boulder in the shape of (you’ve guessed it) an elephant!  The terrain is mostly sandy but many of the boulders are very high and some of the landings worrying.  As a group, we started on the Orange Circuit, which gets the Alpine grade of AD (or “quite difficult”).  After the first problem, which lulls you into a false sense of security by being straightforward above a good landing, the route requires you to descend a short slab to a foot-hold, turn around and make a terrifying leap across a gap to the next boulder.  This sets the tone for the next couple of hours of your life as the local route-setters blur the line between bouldering and free-soloing.  Dan, Jo and Sam decided that they had enough after problem 3 and wandered off in search of stand-alone problems on the Blue and Black circuits.  Carrie, Alex, Gareth, Mark, Mike and Nils were undeterred and boldly bouldered off into the distance.

Back on saner territory, Dan climbed Le Surplomb du Lépreux (the unfortunately named “Overhang of the Lepar” - f6a), which required a slippery descent down Blue 24 (f3).  Jo and Sam climbed Les Fissures du Lépreux (f5).  Next up was "Dan climbed "a slabby slappy one" (unfortunately not in either guidebook - its on the green circuit apparently) which was also climbed by Sam whilst Jo grumbled that the accepted technique of standing up no-handed on the slippery foot-hold and catching a small undercut as you fall off backwards was simply not cricket…  After being joined by Graham, they moved on to some delicate slabs where they met the ongoing conga-line of “Team Orange Circuit”.  They were now up to problem 7 (they are about 10 minutes each – they weren’t slacking off!) which involved sitting on one boulder, with your feet on the one opposite and shuffle down into a back-and-foot position.  After descending a few feet you then need to swing round an arête and begin traversing.  At no point do your feet touch the ground.  More traversing to a short corner crack saw them looking across another large gap to a bald arête.  Alex committed, slapping his way to the top, describing it as “not too hard just terrifying…”  Based on such a rave review, a quorum of the team decided they'd had enough – Alex cracked on…

There followed a short abortive attempt at La Coeur by Gareth and Dan which was officially abandoned due to poor weather and nothing to do with its f7a grade.  So there.

After a short rain-shower and lunch the KMC relocated to the famous Bas Cuvier.  This roadside cluster of boulders, many helpfully shaded by trees, contains some of the most famous problems in Fontainebleau including L’Abbotior (7a), L’Helicopter (7a) and Carnage (7b) - not that we could do any of them.  It is also famous for late night liaisons so probably not a good choice for a midnight climb…  We started on the Orange Circuit (AD) as the thunder rolled overhead.  Concerned that we would get rained off any moment a focused Gareth, Carrie and Dan switched to the Blue Circuit with a technical little number involving small sharp holds and Egyptians.  Mark wandered off to climb a highball problem with an unfortunately highball descent. Luckily Dan was on-hand with a second crash-pad to facilitate his way down safely.

Dan attempted Cortomaltèse (f6c+) with little success then had a surprising success on La Defroquee (f6c+) though UKC suggests a second line on the same narrow slab called Bizarre (f6b)… Who knows?  Alex finally arrived at Bas Cuvier having finally returned from his solo excursion on the latter stages of the Orange Circuit at L'Elephant and the group moved over to La Marie Rose.  This classic f6a was the first of its grade in the forest and repelled all suitors from the KMC as well as everyone from a pretty strong German team and a small group of Dutch.  A lone Frenchman turned up and nonchalantly flashed it before wandering off leaving the rest of us hating/envying him in equal measure.

Carrie spent some time searching for “a problem with a hole” that she tried on her last visit to the forest and with which she had unfinished business.  Eventually this was narrowed down to La Porthos (f5), which, as is typical for most routes at f5, spurned a number of attempts… Eventually, Gareth, Alex and Carrie were successful.  Also climbed in this area was the inspiringly named 17R (f5), which succumbed to a powerful approach.  Finally, the group monopolised a shady corner with a number of mid-grade problems which culminated in Nils, Mark, Graham and Mike employing seal-like techniques to haul themselves through a sandy, rounded top-out.

Gowry, George and Izzy had arrived during the afternoon having just completed the longest trip between Manchester and Fontainebleau in the history of motoring…

The barbecue was calling again.  Fed, watered and still sizzling from the heat of the day we watched the skies cloud over and, as the sun set, the thunder and light nigh started to roll.  Within an hour it had started to rain.  It didn’t stop.


The next day dawned soggy and wet with the forecast suggesting no end in sight.  The morning was spend indulging in croissants, re-hydrating, cowering from the rain and playing “Exploding Kittens” - a card game that is NSFW and too complex to explain here… try Google…  A super-keen hardcore decided that the best way to pass the day was to go out for a run around nearby lake.  Although it was very soggy, the weather was warm and most of the runners returned exhilarated – part from Dan who limped back.

In the afternoon the KMC toured the Château de Fontainebleau (or The Palace of Fontainebleau), one of the largest French royal château, which was the residence of French monarchs from Louis VII through Napoleon III.  Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated his throne there before being exiled to Elba[1].  Those of us willing to part with the €11 entry fee enjoyed wandering around Napoleon’s throne room and the spectacular chapels of Cour Ovale and La chapelle de la Trinité.  Those unwilling to stump up the cash enjoyed the nearby café.  After we were all cultured-out we fell-back on the time honoured tradition of Brits abroad and headed to the pub for pizza and beer.

The rain continued into the evening and throughout the morning as we dismantled the tents. 

Two out of three-and-a-half days is a reasonable return on a trip to Font.  Your correspondents worn fingertips certainly would have struggled to manage much more but would have enjoyed the opportunity.  As always with Font, no matter how successful the trip, you leave with more projects that you arrived with…  I think and annual Font trip should become a new tradition – anyone fancy volunteering to lead it next year?  Gowry?  Now you know how to get there?

[1] Wikipedia :-)

Daniel O'Brien
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