Font Blues

Posted by Matt Heason on Nov 05, 2019

I first went to Fontainebleau in 1996 as part of a European road trip. I remember rocking up to Bas Cuvier with Bill Birkett's French Rock and being utterly spanked by some lowly grade 5 problems. They were hard, they were polished, and we'd been humiliated. We could easily have moved on there and then, consigning the place to the dustbin. Fortunately that night we went to Elephant as it had a cool sounding name. We bivvied by the famous boulder and had an altogether more Font-esque experience the following day. Since then I've been back at least once a year, every year.


By and large the weather is fairly settled. Tucked in the trees, wind is rarely noticeable, but from time to time it does rain. Many years ago we arrive for a week over New Year with a bag full of rock boots to test and quickly set about getting to grips with the different rubber compounds of the day, only to find that none of them could cope with minus 10 degrees, and were rubbish in the snow. That first night it warmed up 20 degrees and then rained for the rest of the week. That was a long time ago.


October Half term was a time of year I'd never actually been to the forest before. With one teenage boy and another hot on his heels I was particularly fired up to show them the place, to have them grapple with the sandbags and find themselves a 7a project or two, so the smoke signals and WhatsApp channels went into effect and it seemed that half of the Sheffield climbing community descended on the place. Fortunately we had a gite, not trusting that the weather would be good enough to camp in the Autumn.


How right we were. It rained on all but one of the days, 4 of them so much that it was impossible to climb. We did climb, but it was generally on very greasy rock, with none of the expected light and shadow play of an October sun on the turning leaves. We spent a disappointing amount of time mushroom hunting, traipsing through the admittedly enchanting, but dripping forest, and playing board games back at base. I can't remember the last time I came back from a trip away and couldn't find more positives than negatives toi remember it by, but this one is the exception. A friend who has spent an inordinate proportion of his life in the area declared it the worst week's weather he'd ever known, and joined ranks of others who bailed and headed home early. A bout of food poisoning on the penultimate night sealed things for me.


On the plus side, the boys did bag a few projects and I even managed a 7a myself in the gathering gloom of the last climbable day. I can at least know that we made the most of the time that we had, and it's always fun to hang out with friends without the pressures of emails, work, chores and the like. It will also make the next trip, which will obviously be good weather, all the sweeter for it!

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