When Peter and Anika put the idea of a September Albarracín trip to us we immediately came up with a bunch of reasons why we couldn't do it, like money, time and a possible trip next year. And then, we remembered that we're living in a small van so we can travel, and spend time in beautiful places with good friends. So we made the decision to go, slowly to save fuel, and make the most of the journey as well as the destination. This is our account of the trip.
Summer 2018 was long, hot and quiet in Fontainebleau Forest. We had some great weekends guiding for Rock & Sun, climbing classic boulders in the shadier areas with enthusiastic climbers. In between we would get up early and head out to try our projects before the heat ramped up too much. We picked roofs and overhangs in deep shade, boulders that are frequently damp through most of the year and boulders with positive holds. This was not the time for sloper-slapping. With a little care and some sneak tactics (see: Seven Ways to Boulder Better in Summer) we both managed to climb some of our projects and I even managed to climb my hardest graded boulder problem to date.
We hope you enjoy this video of our summer climbs and any comments or feedback are, as always, gratefully appreciated.
The first time tactics nudged into our summer routine was during a hot week in July sport climbing at a small conglomerate crag in southern France, La Rochette. On our first day there we nearly killed ourselves staggering up the approach mid-afternoon, with all of our gear and a dubious volume of water. We began to climb, which was actually an improvement on walking up hill, but the overwhelming feeling was that of sweaty hands on the big, rounded, polished cobbles that jutted out of the rock. Keen to avoid a repeat of this unpleasantness, we began to head up instead at 7pm and climb for the cooler couple of hours into dusk. It was a pleasant novelty. Go figure....
Since this, we have spent a lot of time in Fontainebleau over the summer months, which, with its friction dependant slopers is not usually recommended for climbing at this time of the year. However, we have had some our best climbing days during these times; the forest in summer is quiet and tranquil and the weather is glorious. The rock dries within hours of rain. In order to enjoy our time and keep climbing projects (as well as the fantastic circuits) we have had to adapt our style, tactics and expectations. Here are some of the ways that we have found to improve our climbing in summer, predominantly trialed in 'Bleau but certainly applicable to other hot weather destinations.
May saw us return to the UK for, primarily, a wedding of two close friends (popular one for weddings, May) and take advantage of this to get stuck into a bit of the British bouldering scene. We also worked our butts off on various landscaping and gardening jobs and such to make up for our spring of sloth. Life needs a bit of balance.
Biblin's Cave is a small but thoroughly developed bouldering area near the Welsh border. It is environmentally very sensitive and only open May – September to allow for it's other residence, bats, which makes it feel a bit special that we are able to climb there at all. I visited for the first time with Em on a sunny afternoon; bumping into some more friends in the car park made for a good crew to work a few routes. I climbed the deservedly classic route The Bulge, and fell off Pop for the Top and Peckitt's Traverse for the rest of the session.
On a second visit, with Sam along too, we were absolutely stoked to catch up with the ever wonderful Frances, Will and Alice at Biblin's. I fell off Pop for the Top and Peckitt's Traverse some more; a less constructive session now I've climbed The Bulge, but fun nonetheless. Sam put away a reasonable first time visitor's list of The Bulge, Pop for the Top, School of Burl and Rock the Kasbah. We finished around dusk and followed Will's sat nav on a scenic route back to a very late dinner. The next day's climbing plans dissolved under a hot sun and a lazy morning spent drinking coffee and chatting peanut butter prices and milk alternatives. It couldn't have been nicer. We began the pilgrimage to Cornwall.
After a few days of seeing family and friends, a short sunny boulder session on a rather damp Godrevy Beach, and of course a bit more gardening, we started making our way back up through England. An important stop en route (other than the wedding) was to Tintagel, an esoteric bouldering spot in northern Cornwall. We drove through the faux-fairy surreality of the village, beautiful buildings, heavy spirituality peddled on every corner, heaps of wandering people and hiked down to the bouldering with Danny, Cai and Danny's dogs. Asked by at least four separate groups what the pads were for. Gave assorted answers.
The rocks at the site were outrageously slippery, everyone fell over. The sea was a bit lairy too, trying to snatch our pads, bags and Danny's dogs away. A bit of head scratching led us to suspect we had miscalculated and arrived around high tide. We waited a bit, then resumed falling over on the algeous rocks when the sea had retreated a bit. Nearly everyone was bleeding by this point.
We started climbing again, with a tentative cat dance down to the boulder pads. Everyone dispatched the classic Purple Haze deftly except me. One move is big (not too big to climb, just big enough to be too hard - this session...). Sam also climbed highly rated The Apprentice and AWOL Apprentice, a shoulder sit start to the aforementioned. Danny and Cai both climbed All Along the Watchtower. It was a fantastic first taste of this rather iconic (in the south west, and maybe even a bit further) boulder.
This video captures some of the boulders that we enjoyed climbing in the Forest of Fontainebleau this spring. It was a relaxed time for us, spent meandering round climbing areas with various visiting friends, the warmth (or burn) of the sun on newly bare shoulders and surrounded by the vibrant green of fresh leaves. It was also productive, seeing Sam have his strongest season ever and my return to projecting.
After a week of easy going limestone sport climbing in a warm Costa Blanca (The High Life - Sport Climbing in the Costa Blanca), my various niggling injuries were fading. Although I was excited to start pulling hard again, this was tempered by an unsurprising drop in fitness...that somehow still managed to be surprising. With a bit of patience, however, I climbed a couple of lovely 7a's before we left – one of which, Bégnot's Story, was a project that had eluded me for a few years..
Sam came back strong(er) and the slightly warmer temperatures saw him demolishing a bunch of hard projects, including his first Font 8b boulder, Elephunk, in a jump from 8a. He also completed a 'life goal' of climbing the notorious 'Big Five' boulders at Cuvier Rempart, with the final boulder Atrésie going down with a real fight over about six lengthy sessions with over fifty attempts. Elephunk, in contrast, took three short sessions.
It is predominantly composed of Sam climbing lots of problems, with me sneaking in for a couple in between. We hope that you enjoy!
During the spring, summer and autumn we work with Rock and Sun to run bouldering weekends in Fontainebleau. In March they invited us to spend a week in the Costa Blanca with instructors Trev and Dees, to increase our coaching experience, learn more about their sport climbing holidays, and squeeze some top class escalada in between.
When the opportunity for a trip to Spain presents itself it would be daft to refuse. Our last month had been spent in France, in weather conditions more tumultuous than a teething two year old; spitting rain showers, sunny blustery days and the odd snow shower all shaken up together, and temperatures totally failing to rise above 12℃. There was fantastic bouldering to be had during this period and some great days out, but at the same time our choice was easy: run to the sun.
The rain splatters outside, washing away the last little tidelines of snow. We are watching an exhilarating climbing competition, Le Championnat de France 2018, and wondering whether the rock will be dry enough to climb tomorrow. A fairly normal way to spend time in Fontainebleau, but the last few weeks, our first here this season, have been...interesting.
Spain in January was so lovely last year that we planned to start this year in the same vein. Unfortunately, life did its thing and got in the way, and we remodelled plans to enjoy some crispy February connies in Fontainebleau. The 'Beast from the East' delivered crispy and more and I think we probably wish that we'd headed as south as possible regardless of the date. C'est la vie!
The days out climbing have actually been lovely, once (if) you get over the cold. The sun has been shining most days so we have headed to clear areas like 95.2, Cuvier and Rocher Fin, which capture maximum warmth. Sometimes we have been projecting harder boulders, the fierce burns keeping our cores fired up, and other days just enjoying moving on rock regardless of grade. The colours in the forest have been stunning, making time spent outside a pleasure, and it's been surprisingly sociable for a freezing late winter with friends out and about locally and from the UK and other countries.
To promote longevity during cold days we have developed a series of not particularly original tactics; climbing shoes in down jackets for the walk in, taking hot drinks everywhere, eating constantly. Sam has even been climbing in a jumper occasionally. I have been climbing wearing everything I can fit on at the same time. I still have giant, red, gross chilblained fingers and toes. Winter is not always a kind season for outdoor sports.
It would be a lie to imply that we have spent the whole period living in the van; instead we've mostly been hanging out with our buddy Uly, a large ginger cat who tolerates us in his house if we feed him. Excepting our time with Uly, our first few days were spent comfortably in the van and we took a misguided two night hiatus from housesitting to spend the coldest two nights out as well. Temperatures dropped down to a spicy -13°C and froze everything. There was ice on the ceiling, the duvet, ice instead of water... It seems that -10°C is probably about our limit.
Thankfully normality has returned with the rain, and we are back to trying to keep things dry instead of liquid. The variety probably stops us from getting bored. We are already excited for summer, when the main challenge is working out the perfect maturation level for cheese in the heat.
Autumn flew by; a lovely final Rock & Sun weekend, a month of living wild in the bivouac sites and meeting some really great fellow van-dwellers and climbers, visits from friends and mushrooms season. Our climbing fire was stoked by all the different people we had the pleasure of bouldering with, finding new excitement in old areas and exciting new areas. A late summer arrived in October, softening us all up for when the cold weather arrived with a kick towards the end of the month.
One day we woke up to frost-tipped golden bracken and fantastic climbing conditions to see off those sticky projects - when it wasn't too damp. The forest, which had swelled with people during September and October, returned to it's quiet, close depths and the bivouac sites emptied when the taps were finally shut off. We retreated gratefully to a work exchange arrangement with some friends and the warmth of their guest house, fitting shorter climbing sessions more appropriate to the cold in between crafting an oak and tiled worktop shelf.
Was at the right time, for us. It had been cold for long enough to enjoy the good conditions, but the bad were becoming more frequent too. Most of our friends had been and gone, and we spent a lovely meal with those that live in the area. Sam boarded a rather impressive send-train towards the end, fitting in last minute ascents of classic 8a's Les Beaux Quartiers and Amok amongst others, and I re-climbed Close Contact for the gazillioneth time, until I was happy I had finally done the right line. The fun we have...
We headed back to the UK in an appropriate farewell mizzle, content in our decision.
Couldn't talk about winter without mentioning training... Despite being predominantly outdoor climbers now, we both started climbing indoors and still enjoy it. I love messing about indoors, and try to incorporate a bit of order and training into my sessions, whilst Sam just really digs training. When we are in the Stroud area we usually climb at TCA in Bristol, a great wall especially for steep training, and always a good crowd of people. In Cornwall, we have the ace Vortex Climbing Wall to retreat to.
There is one advantage to being back for the cold, damp, dark British winter – it's climbing competition season. For us, they are a great way to try some different styles of problems, catch up with friends and meet other climbers, and get a bit of a buzz on.
At the beginning of December I went to the redpoint comp at Rockstar Climbing in Swindon. The routes were good, they have some nice volumes and holds and are using them well to create some fun, athletic routes. I was incredibly pumped through the whole event; climbing more than three problems was a bit of a novelty, and it was definitely a call to work on my power endurance as my hands were just letting go on their own by the end. However, for the first competition back, and almost my first indoor climb for a month or so, I was pretty happy with my climbing...and definitely chuffed to finish second in the adult female and climb surprisingly well (if not well enough..!) in the finals.
The Great Outdoors
The other advantage to the cold, damp, dark British winter is that sometimes it isn't at all. There is the odd day when the sun shines over sparkling snow or the windswept coastline, and they are all the more special for their scarcity. If work and life allows we try to get outside and make the most of these days, even if we're just chopping wood in a patch of sunshine. The snow days after Christmas were super fun, running around with the dog out in the drifts on Minchinhampton Common (true name) and watching the sunset reflecting off icy particles turn our whole world molten orange.
New years eve was lovely too, we blew off pub celebrations in favour of a wild night on the cliffs, listening to the waves crashing and watching a distant fireworks celebration. Morning brought coffee and breakfast, and the obligatory walk with some friends that we (very randomly) bumped into in the car park. All quite idyllic really. Other than some old biddy smashing her car door into the van in the morning, and then getting cross that we had ruined her day when we apologetically called her on it...
Happy new year!
Late this summer we braved the stormy roads across Europe to reach Slovenia, and a family holiday near the beautiful, mountainous lake town of Bled in the north of the country. The week that we had allowed for the roughly 1,600km drive gave us lots of time to explore, and the flip-flopping weather meant that we mixed up climbing and culture to try and dodge the rain. It resulted in a hopscotch trip stopping in some fairly random places, and we would inevitably get drenched at least twice a day when the storms caught up with us. It made the journey quite exciting, like a race against the elements. With regular coffee breaks.
Our first stop. The previous night's sleep had been a strange one, driving miles into nowhere for a camper aire that turned out to be, in the middle of the night, anyway, a super creepy commune appearing to be charging 15€ a night for basically being creepy. We woke up at seven to sneak out, and drove past the free parking on our way out, a bit shamefaced, but well on our way to arrive in Ticino by midday.
The original plan was for three days bouldering, however the rain was due to set in the evening of our arrival demanding a reevaluation. We had lunch, a power nap, and then set off to Area Centrale and the nearby Vitruvian Man roof, a boulder that both of us had been keen to try since our previous visit in spring. It juts out of a grassy field, an inviting cave of crimps and micro-jugs where we happily wore ourselves out until darkness arrived, and with it the first spits of rain. Rain fell heavily overnight, and the morning view of wet, fog shrouded granite held nothing more for us than a farewell photo. Sunny Italy was just half an hour away, and weirdly it was actually sunny.
Val Daone, Italy
Deprived of two days on Swiss rock, we detoured to some of Italy's reputed finest. Val Daone sits above Lake Garda, away from the tourist rush. Quite a long way above, as it turns out, we were a bit surprised to find ourselves passing 1,200m, but a very nice drive up a pretty gentle mountain. The bouldering area appears to be large and full of potential, but a little dispersed and complex for the short afternoon session that we had time for. We drove up and down for a while, getting out occasionally and poking at bits of rock, and then stumbled upon the Boulder Park which was ace and exactly what we needed. Three Font-style circuits of crispy granite with perfect wood chip landings, and all that is asked in return is respect for the environment. No problem. As usual, the rain caught up as night fell; we drove back down to the main road and spent the night at a lovely tourist info centre between the hills.
Van life in the summer is, perishables aside, on the whole a lot easier. Our living room expands to include the trees, the grass, the beach; solar showers are actually warm and we can bath in lakes, rivers and the sea without freezing. It is also a teeny bit easier because lots of people go on holiday and we house sit, so some time living wild and some time in domestic luxury with the company of some cute pets.
Summer is not the classic season for climbing in la Foret de Fontainebleau but it can be wonderful, a time for tall trees and damp caves, shady spots and early mornings. We often end up in more esoteric locations, at the quiet, cooler ends of the day, more immersed in the green solitude of the forest and the wildlife that avoids the busier areas. As the days get hotter and longer, we spend more time hunting down these cooler climbing spots and the following are some of the places we have enjoyed the most this summer...
Switzerland has some of the most famous bouldering sites around. By some coincidence it also sits on roughly the most direct route to Northern Italy, where we had intentions to go to the bouldering festival Melloblocco. And so the idea for a mini road trip was born out of a weekend away, and we set forth from France with the vaguest outlines of a plan, a few bags of wholegrain pasta and a kilogram sack of madeleines (in case the rumours about prices in Switzerland turned out to be true).
The journey across France was long but relaxed, through green countryside that gradually grew up as we reached the Alps. We stopped in a foggy town by a river, with late night grumps and indecisions. The next morning the fog had cleared along with any teasiness, and we started out early to hit... Switzerland!
Six weeks bouldering time in the sandstone awesomeness that is Albarracin, Spain, gave us a seemingly endless amount of time to find, establish and send boulder projects. Naturally, it flew by and we left without having climbed everything that we wanted to, and without even having visited all of the areas. Many of the best days we had were those that we spent climbing any boulder that we saw, regardless of the grade, but working and climbing the routes that were harder for us was also pretty special. Some of these took a lot of work, and others breezed by, but nearly all of them felt like quality routes.
It took us a while (me, especially) to get going as it was just so bitterly cold at the beginning of our stay there. We weren't prepared for the cold, and I think we expected the grades to feel a little easier. Some of the lower grades felt more straight forward to climb than their equivalent in Fontainebleau, but often a bit physically stronger too. The harder grades felt pretty much on the money for the most part, especially when supplementing the NoRop.es guidebook, nicely done but now slightly out of date, with the more current grades on their website.
As the weather warmed up slightly, so did our climbing, and we fell into an easy routine of climbing whenever skin, weather and energy allowed. We would try to get in some stetching and crosstraining when it didn't - although living in a van during cold, wet windy weather can make it difficult to muster up enthusiasm for this, it also makes these extra efforts all the more important to avoid getting all scrunched up. Our existence during this time was pretty monotonous although fun, being slaves to good conditions and needing some routine to pass the time. Sleep, eat, climb, stretch, eat, shower (1 out of 7 days?), eat, sleep, eat, rest, eat, eat, eat, sleep, eat, rest, eat, eat, eat... etc. We definitely got some funny looks during hangboard sessions in the car park.
Because Albarracin isn't huge, and we weren't straying too far from the beaten track, we rarely climbed by ourselves and met and spent time with so many lovely, passionate people amongst the boulders, so many thanks to everyone for spotting, beta, Spanish lessons, and especially the company.
Sam mashed together this video of our time in Albarracin, which hopefully captures some of the fun we had climbing in this beautiful area, and shows a few of our favourite problems (or the ones we remembered to film)...
In the spirit of appearing like we're doing something with this website, and out of habit, this post contains our sHitlist; a slightly smug run-down of the boulders we have climbed this trip. Having just spent the better part of three months on and off in the forest of Fontainebleau through the hot, cold, wet and dry we definitely had plenty of time to scramble atop a rock or two. Without too much beating around the boulder, we've also selected our top three climbs...
Welcome to Tijuana (7c), Apremont Envers
Originally, I got on this boulder late on a summer's morning only to find that (surprise, surprise...) friction was nowhere to be found over 30ºC. Spoiled attempts, thinning skin and lots of frustration led to abandonment until the furnaces of hell had subsided. A month and a half later I revisited it on a crisp September morning and oh my, oh my, it felt good. Every hold had some bite and with a few little tweaks at each section of the climb, I found a solid sequence that allowed me to cruise. After such defeat initially, being able to come back and crush made it all the more memorable.
I was originally captivated by this rock after a visit in spring of this year. I had a play on all of the moves on one of our final days of that particular trip but felt pretty quickly that this was a tactical error. Tired and feeling like my 'go' had got up and gone, I didn't make very good progress.
Still though, after returning home following that stint, I was reworking the moves in my head and found myself quite inspired. It's approximately 12-15 moves on pretty reasonable holds considering the grade. The bulk of the difficulty comes from spanning between slopers, maintaining body tension and having enough beans to make the last few powerful moves, again through some pretty demanding sloper holds. The aesthetics of the line also played a part, it being a rising traverse that requires a strong down-climb sequence followed by an elegantly violent couple of moves to top out. All of this takes part on a boulder that resembles a flying saucer that has crashed into the hillside. Being back in summer required some pretty early starts to get the most of the cool conditions, in the end it went down second go of the third session. Loved every moment of it.
Opium (8a), Recloses
My first true Fontainebleau 8a. With much shock I found myself topping out during the second session of trying it, after being resigned to it possibly taking many more hours of attempts. Yay!
Mémoire d'Outre-Tombe (7a+), Rocher Fin
This striking protruding roof was a vague project of mine from a year ago, when I felt pretty close to climbing it but lacking in endurance. On trying it again at the beginning of October, I realised that not only was my endurance still possibly not up to it, but that the last few moves felt hard enough that I didn't actually know how to do them. I found the perfect sequence for the last moves, and then completely forgot it and had to find a new way, with a high right heel that allowed me to move my hands up the 'nose' of the boulder. Naturally, I was too tired to climb the route.
Two days later we returned to Rocher Fin and I worked the end a couple of times then, feeling fresh and strong, climbed the full route, my fourth 7a+.
La Pierre et le Sabre / La Belle Arête (6c), Cuisinière
I was very excited to climb this route, mostly because it is an arete, which I suck at, and quite highball, which I also suck at. It is beautiful, as suggested in the name. The problem follows a crimpy rail into the arete, where you move round the feature and stand up to a slopey 'jug'. The top out is then, in theory, a relatively simple rock up.
It felt like the route lasted for an age, using a lovely heel hook to move out to the arete, then inching up with micro-movements, just tickling the bottom of the jug and having to trust the feet more, pushing up until I finally had the hold. The jug was less juggy than I had hoped for, and the top out took me more time, more creeping up with shaky disco legs. But I got it, topped myself out, and was just ridiculously excited to have climbed this lovely, tenuous line.
La Joker (7a), Cuvier
'Nuff said! La Joker is a super-classic, a 7a climbed before 7a existed, and a route I didn't think I could climb. We went to Bas Cuvier on our way to the ferry port, a last day burn on a busy, sunny October day. I tried the Joker a few times, moving into the characteristic side pull a few times and getting nowhere. I was ready to move on, but Sam and a few other people that were working the problem harrassed me into a couple of last tries. On the first, I started to push up on the high left foot, and the second I pushed up and then found a right toe. The next moves flowed easily, and left me at the top of the boulder, surprised. A bit of recombobulation later and I managed to haul my ass over the top. Who needs to climb La Marie Rose?! (Probably me)
The heady, sociable atmosphere at Cuvier that day was awesome fun, and just made us sad to leave, and hellish keen to go back.
Below are the lists of our more noteworthy ascents including the climbs mentioned above, along with possibly one or two others...
The sHitlist is becoming a post script to our rocky adventures and consists of our harder climbs throughout each bouldering trip to the Forest of Fontainebleau. This is purely vanity driven of course, a self-inflated sense of elation following the hoarding of our trophies. Some collect skulls or scalps, we collect words on a page, listing the pieces of rock we've either fought to stand atop or elegantly ascended. Whichever way one looks at it, it's strange behaviour.
After several lists from several trips they have gained in length and diversity. To a casual reader, however, they remain just that: a list. So this time we have also picked out our top five boulder problems in an attempt to bring a bit more depth to our collection as well as to give a bit of glory to the mini-mountains that have given us so much pleasure (or pain). It's still pretty geeky though.
Same drill as before... Below are most of our bouldering ascents from the last visit to the Forest of Fontainebleau. The ticks we're most chuffed with.
Once again, a slightly self-congratulatory list of our more numerically superior achievements from the latest stint in the forest. Genuinely, we were both chuffed to break new grade boundaries, and feel some sense of progression. Most importantly, we were absolutely not disappointed to get spat off lots of problems of every grade. Amber was very excited to complete a slab climb. Sam was happy with most things...
As follows, some names and numbers from the forest of Fontainebleau.
Until next time... Rahh!
Despite never wanting to leave Savine le Lac, good things apparently have to come to an end. And we had a ferry ticket booked. Aaaaaand... We had to go to Fontainebleau! We also had awesome plans for a leisurely drive back, stopping in the Parc du Morvan and going for a final swim. Unfortunately half way through the second can of unspecified energy drink someone (hint - it was Sam) miscalculated our remaining time. This led to a caffeine-fuelled, NRJ radio-narrated, long-ass drive all the way to the forest, through a moody, thunderous landscape highlighted occasionally by lightning. As with so many of our endeavours, this turned out to be another oversight; we left behind the sun and wild swimming that had so characterised our trip for the last month.
Sam on L'Anthracite (7a), Beauvais Nainville.
Amber Crushing Les Inversées assis (6b), Rocher du Potala.
A bit of self-indulgence, our 'tick list' from Fontainebleau includes hard sends of grade, effort or both. However, it's also the result of a winter spent training hard, if not particularly seriously, or perhaps the mark of not having anything better to be doing!
Unfortunately not all of our Fontainebleau climbing has been given the air-time it may deserve on our list, not through lack of quality of climbing but maybe we just got bored of writing things down... Call it our highlight reel.
Either way it's good to see a lot of bouldering grade consolidation for both of us since our last visit to the forest. Despite this we are both in accordance with the fact that a lot more time should be spent working the classic circuits and ironing out the kinks in our overall climbing. There are endless good rocks to play on that may not be so tough grade wise but may spit us off due to the demand for impeccable technique and coordination, something we both occasionally lack.
Until next time...