Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Font Photos 3

Here is a last batch of pictures from our trip to Font. All in all, we had a great time, but it definitely wasn't the trip of a lifetime. I had been to Font six years ago for a short trip with a crew from Trinity College in Dublin, and I was really excited to return for a longer trip as a more experienced (and less hungover) climber. Font is a magical place, and carries a special aura as the birthplace of modern bouldering, but it is also rife with contradictions that seem to befuddle our aesthetic sensibilities, nay, even common sense.

Biceps Mou at Bas CuvierCortney on Duroxmanie at Bas Cuvier

At least we had a wonderful time playing and circuiting on the area's stunning sandstone formations... well, maybe not completely. Font boasts plenty of wild formations and holds, but the real gems are not as abundant as most trip reports may insinuate. I would assert that between 80 and 90% of the problems in Font are less than vertical; this is fine, but I tend to seek overhangs in abundance on the rare occasion I take an expensive and long-planned climbing trip abroad. Similarly, Font's famous circuits are a neat concept, and have undeniable historical value, but the myriad painted-on arrows are not discrete or that helpful. In my opinion, they detract from the climber's interaction with nature, and destroy the microcosm of adventure that many of us seek through bouldering.

White #50 at Franchard Isatis - A Fantastic On-Circuit Climb

At least we had a blast trying some of Font's incredible and difficult classics... well, maybe not completely. Font has literally thousands and thousands of problems, but the number of classics is far below what visiting foreigners might expect. Of the 1,789 routes in the well-designed and comprehensive "7 & 8" guidebook, I would assert that no less than 60% are variations, eliminates, or squeeze-ins of some sort. The remainder includes some really fantastic lines, but again, they are not without their flaws: pof has created a slippery sheen on many footholds, there are fat tick marks on most problems over 7A, and chipped holds are surprisingly common. I was appalled at the number of Font classics that include one or more modified holds - El Poussah, La Balance, L'Aerodynamite, La Toit du Cul de Chien, Cortomaltese, Karma (though not by climbers), and many others... what a depressingly long list! And how unmotivating!

Using the Bowling Ball Pockets on L'AerodynamiteRookie Stripe MadnessThe 'Classic' La Super Joker. The left photo is the proper start, the jug in right photo is off.

At least we got to enjoy our time in the "magical forest" of Fontainebleau... well, maybe not completely. Font's bouldering is scattered throughout a pretty, aesthetically-pleasing forest, but as far as we could tell, it's basically the only forest in central France. The result? Trash, trash, and more trash. And trampling. And more trash. The cleanest area we visited was far dirtier than any area I've ever climbed at in the U.S., including the picnic side of Swiftwater and my old haunt of Lincoln Woods, RI (which has plenty of graffitti, but so does Font - see above). At Bas Cuvier, it is virtually impossible to throw down your crash pad without disturbing a potpourri of condom wrappers and cigarette butts. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the verdant forests of the Northwest that allow us to boulder among rich second-growth and feel as if we're on the edge of a vast wilderness...

Viva La Garbage (zoom in for the full effect)Cortney on the Cortomaltese Boulder at Bas CuvierFont's Unique Landscape - Which Is Beautiful

At least we got to experience the serenity and beauty of the French countryside... well, maybe not completely. We did have some really neat experiences visiting small, ancient towns in the countryside, but anyone who harbors visions of France as a quaint, cultured, and classy world apart is somewhat mistaken. French climbers surely issue just as much noise, smoke, and bullshit as American climbers do. And there are plenty of them. Font is also plagued by Parisian gangs that break into cars, apparently with the acquiescence of the police, as long as they limit their exploits to cars with British plates or a rental sticker. We were lucky enough not to have one of these experiences, but it was definitely a drag to feel unsafe climbing into the evening - I can't recall any time I saw a gang walking around one of our areas in Leavenworth or Gold Bar. And the food is pretty terrible - apparently "vegetables" have yet to catch on in France (sort of an unfair criticism considering that we got most of our food from the boulangerie).

The Parking Lot at Franchard Isatis - a "quiet" areaA Pof-Head

Okay, enough complaining! I should point out that all of these criticisms are relatively minor, and that we had a truly fantastic trip with lots of fun times. But I do think that Font doesn't live up to its reputation as the august, stately mecca of all that is refined and sophisticated about bouldering. Like any other area, it has its flaws, the largest of which is not the fault of the French: the heavy cost of an international flight. I will definitely return to Font, but the next time I'm looking to spend some of my sandstone savings, I think I'll head to Joe's Valley...

Warming Up at Bas CuvierLa Couer

1 comment:

  1. Obviously, you have been only to the most easily accessible and famous areas, thus no surprise that there were people and thrash. Believe me, there is many areas where even on busy weekends you will hardly ever meet people and much less trash. And again, in those very famous areas I agree that there are many squeeze ins and eliminates, but to claim after visiting Franchard Isatis (btw not what I would call a quiet area), Cuvier , Elephant and Roches aux Sabots that 60% of the 7+8 problems are of this category seems to me a bit on the arrogant side. Regarding the 90% slabs, I am sure you have heard of that before you decided to come to Fontainebleau and luckily enough in total numbers it still leaves enough overhanging problems or roofs, especially if it comes to the more difficult climbs. I find it also a bit assuming that the police tolerates car breaks as long as it's foreign cars. Where does that knowledge come from? I am going there for a long time and always with rental cars and I have never had any problem of that kind. Luckily enough in the end you realized that in a Boulangerie it might per definition be difficult to find vegetables...In other shops, restaurants etc I have seen vegetables, for sure just as many as in the Pacific Northwest...That beig said, enough of the criticism, I agree that there is many downsides to Fontainebleau, however, I most of the time have similar feelings if I visit other boulder areas...things are different from home and sometimes we just don't like that...