The Sintra bouldering area is near Lisbon on the west coast of Portugal. A mist-shrouded granite massif dubbed the Mountains of the Moon overshadows the town of Sintra (incidentally, the town is twinned with Fontainebleau), and throughout this range is scattered over 1,000 boulder problems in a jungle paradise. The rock is golden and spiky, sometimes brutal on the hands but sharp enough that protective taping allows a few extra climbs. Intrusions of limestone and sandstone into the granite give a few softer holds and a different style in places.
We visited in early February and found the conditions pretty perfect for us, warm and sunny but cool in the shade. Sintra does, however, have a higher than average rainfall, the wet weather moved in on our last day in a permanent sort of way, so it could be a risky time of year to visit. At this time the countryside was splashed sulphurous yellow by the blooming of a particular flower across the hillsides, and the warmth in the forest brought out the smell of eucalyptus. The national park was beautiful to walk through and spend time in, quiet and mostly empty other than birds, frogs, and the odd mountain biker.
The area seemed quite difficult to navigate from an initial scout out so we bought a topo online from Boulder Sintra, who also gave us some recommendations for good areas to climb in on a first visit. We began with an afternoon in Dinossauros, getting the hang of the style and persuading our hands that they could pull on the sharp rock. The following day we climbed at Meca in sector Albarrasintra, which is densely populated with boulders and kept us busy. Highlights were a tall 6B, 'Tudo se parte, nada se Transforma' and a fingerey 7A prow, 'Incha-lá'.
By chance some friends were out at the same time and we had a great day together exploring Mito, another smaller part of Albarrasintra. There were two main boulders here; we climbed a number of mid-grade routes on one behemoth and then worked the classic namesake of the area on another, 'Mito', a really quality line. The next day rain threatened, and we toured the coast for bouldering to escape the incoming weather, unsuccessfully, finally settling for a drizzly climb in Satâ-Satâ. This area is a bit more spread out than some of the others with rough rock, but some fun problems scattered across a hillside where we found them.
The magnificent 'Mito'
There is plenty of good accommodation in Sintra and the surrounding villages, and a hire car would probably be a good investment to get the best out of the area. We were staying in our camper van; it is not permitted to stay within the national park area overnight so we would drive a little further to the coast, sleeping in a parking area between a couple of restaurants where we watched surfers and pink sunsets in the evenings. It was a short drive to the crags and we would often stop en route in Malveira de Serra for an espresso at the pasteleria (essential experience). Occasionally we added a 'pastel de belem', the local name for the amazingly tasty national egg pastry which was originally made by monks in the area.
Sintra is a really special bouldering area with a huge amount to do and potential for more. In general there is a really good variety of grades and styles, much more than we expected and any mental images we (I) may have had of endless huge, slappy, compression eggs were totally unfounded. The surrounding countryside is stunning, from golden beaches, through green hillsides to the cool mountains, and the town has some incredible historical monuments to explore. We're looking forward to our next trip already...
The third video in the 2018 series of seasonal climbing in the Forest of Fontainebleau including highlights from our autumn bouldering. After a dry summer the rain didn't arrive until late October, and then didn't seem keen to stray too far away. Nevertheless, the weather windows occasionally opened. When they open you've got to go for it. Allez Allez!
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.
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.
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.
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.