Fontainebleau - Out in Front, Out of Favour by Eliot Stephens

Fontainebleau - Out in Front, Out of Favour by Eliot Stephens

Fresh from a month or so in Fontainebleau SCARPA athlete Eliot Stephens ponders the change in perceptions on Font and lays down his arguments for why he believes Font is the best bouldering area in the world. 

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Fontainebleau - Out in Front, Out of Favour

It’s quite hard to argue with Fontainebleau being the best bouldering area in the world. In fact,
having defended the area on many an occasion, I am yet to hear an argument which persuades me otherwise. But I keep finding myself asking, what really makes Font that good? And why is it always out of favour?

Well to start with, the sheer size of the place dwarves virtually any other bouldering area in the
conversation. Hundreds of little areas litter the forest south of Paris, and play host to more boulder
problems than one could possibly climb in a lifetime. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in the forest, and I’m still not close to simply seeing every area and boulder. So what does that matter?

Well, the experience of visiting a new crag and a new boulder, is for me a huge part of what makes bouldering exciting. It keeps that little element of adventure involved, which is otherwise lost once you’ve visited an area. Seeing photos or videos of a boulder, being inspired to check it out and imagining how it looks, add that anticipation. Getting lost on the approach, or having to clean up a neglected boulder, all contribute to the experience. That experience simply cannot be had in many areas of the world once you’ve visited a few times.


"Font doesn’t have the best lines!"

I think you’ll find it does. If you can name me an area, which has as many beautiful lines, at such a wide grade range, as Buthiers Piscine, I’ll concede the point.

L’Etrave, 6A. Lady Big Claque, 7A+. Dosage, 7C. Appartenance, 7C+. Misanthropie, 8A. Partage,
8A+. Magic Bus, 7B!!!….. Only joking. That is a line up that is hard to beat, and really just shows the depth of quality that Font possesses. You don’t check out areas for that one mega boulder. You visit for several, and end up finding another bunch when just wandering around.


“There isn't much steep climbing in Font"

In reality, there are enough roofs, caves and overhanging rock to satisfy everyone, at every grade. Does Font have crisp 40 degree walls with in cut crimps?

No, it doesn’t. And while I’ll be the first to make that complaint, surely many of us do enough of this in our training? And whilst we like to see it in our rock climbing, Font is actually so much more than that, and we should embrace that. For me, what really makes Font special is the multidimensional element of the climbing itself. I’ll be the first to admit to enjoying physical, and straightforward power climbing, but it’s quite often one dimensional.

Can you physically pull between holds? Can you man handle a bad crimp or pull through on a bad undercut? Once you can, the boulder will usually succumb, it’s just a matter of time. But in Font, these questions are only the start of your experience. Even on more straightforward Font boulders, you enter this matrix of movement, with countless combinations of options for hands and feet, body position and balance point.

Everything is open to scrutiny, but also open to your own creativity and problem solving abilities. Nowhere else can a boulder feel so hard, only to feel so easy, once you understand the subtleties involved. So why doesn’t everyone love that about Font? Well because we often (myself included), simply don’t allow ourselves to get to that eureka moment. But boy when we do, are we gifted with a special experience, especially when operating near our physical limit.


“Font isn’t very pretty”

This one I suppose is completely subjective. Some people like forests, some like mountains, some like the seaside. But what is clear is that Font has this brilliant array of landscapes, from the sandy plains of Elephant, to the more rugged hilltop of Mon Pivot, to the magical hillside of the Franchard areas.

The views are there, we simply just don’t always seek them out. Font isn’t in your face beautiful like Brione, or Rocklands, but sometimes that little bit of font perfection catches your eye. Whether it’s those streaks of evening light across the boulders, or the glowing patches of orange rock and green moss perfectly lit, you wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else, and that little bit of Font magic has found you.

 "The weather is awful"…

Time to address the elephant in the room. Ok, this one I struggle to defend, especially right off the back of one of the worst trips for weather I’ve ever had. When I think about it, what often makes Font special, is that it isn’t always at it’s best. It doesn’t always just roll over and let you climb day in day out, spoiling you with perfect conditions. And to me, that makes those special days something to appreciate, and be thankful for.

On those days, or even moments where it's at its best, it rises a level above everywhere else. When all the factors combine; the weather, the movement, the rock, your willingness to embrace it; you get an experience that really puts Font where it deserves to be, out in front as the best bouldering area in the world.