Around Fontainebleau forest, many signs bear the legend 'beware of processionary caterpillars'. Their hairs are extremely irritating and can cause death in susceptible humans and dogs. They can fire them like harpoons, and also use them to follow each other head to tail like these; an entomologist once attached them in a circle, and found that they continued marching round for a week. We were very excited to find a genuine procession making it's way to le Cul de Chien.
On the first day of Font the forest gave to us...more stupid rain. We went for a walk and ran our hands over wet rock, marvelling at how much harder all the problems looked with a glossy veneer of rain and algae. Along a path we discovered a massing of thousands of ants, bustling between gargantuan pine needles. They were fascinating to watch, and to listen to - there were so many that you could hear their rustling - until memories of Indiana Jones (Amber) and Marabunta (Sam...we watched a bit, it's awful) panicked us into an undignified retreat.
The weather reports have been generally conspiring against us; we have spent an inordinate amount of time flicking between three or four sources which contradict each other significantly. Eventually we just went climbing when it wasn't raining or wet, which seemed to work okay. The above photos are from our second day's climbing, an eerie grey afternoon at Franchard Isatis. Nezzo is an elegant prow that Sam had done a few years back and I wanted to give a quick send. In the end it took me over twenty tries, and Sam about four to lay it to rest. On the positive side we had the beta nailed and it's an interesting route to spend an hour or two working every possible variant.
And for no apparent reason other than forgetting to start the post with this, below is the rather romantic view we had from the ferry in Newhaven harbour; gulls sweeping over a scrap metal mountain juxtaposed against an epic ocean skyline.
One sunny mid-January morning, two naïve but enthusiastic boulderers from down South West ventured NORTH. They had a wonderful time climbing hard gritstone in the Peak District, in perfect crisp conditions with winter sun that warmed their backs. Sam was thrilled to have climbed Brad Pit and Amber climbed a 7a roof. At least, that was how it was supposed to go.
In real life, we basically just went for a bit of a ski, a walk and went home again.
It began with some treachery from the weather forecast. Promises of glorious cold sunny weather for Sunday had been broken; on the actual morning the BBC's cheerful sun icon had been replaced with a gloomy grey cloud. We ignored this and went anyway, because this was our climbing trip, and it couldn't be bad weather, and because shutting your eyes means no one can see you. Duh.
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.
Two weeks of cold, but fantastic weather (i.e., dry) have meant lots of climbing and no blog posts. Now the humidity has set back in with a chilly vengeance, but we have been reluctant to give up on getting out and so persevered with afternoon 'climbing sessions'. These seem to involve wandering round stroking the wet rock a bit, hanging off the odd dry hold and grumbling about crappy conditions, the morals of climbing wet rock and such. The next day we become more optimistic, and then repeat, and so the cycle is going. On Thursday we headed for a long overdue trip to Franchard Raymond, to revisit some projects that we were sure would be dry...
Sun and blue skies made us optimistic for smashing out a few problems; in particular Futebol, a striking bulging arete, Grosse Colère, a long, pumpy traverse on giant flakes, and a number of quartzy roof problems that reside in a pit of fun, secteur Tectonique des Plaques. Raymond has a bit of a walk in, and we had become very positive by the time we reached the huge boulder that centres Tectonique des Plaques, to find it distinctly...slimy. Hands were forced. We sacked it off.
To the traverse!...
The traverse was worse, it had several small waterfalls irrigating the key finish holds. Unperturbed, we used the dry parts as an awesome, swingy warm up, naturally avoiding the wet or delicate features - in Font these are fragile in damp conditions.
And finally, to Futebol. This was, ostensibly, dry. Sam worked it a few times and then it went...almost. He was about as close to a tick as you could get, but sadly the top was a bit moist, just enough to slide a heel off. The only thing smashed that day was Sam's arse, when he fell off the very top of Futebol.
We sacked it off...
...and Amber had to drive home.
November, in Fontainebleau. A whole different animal to earlier trips in the balmy summer months. According to some we are closing in on the ideal Font sending season; despite being distinctly cooler it's still actually too hot for proper, dedicated bouldering machines. Luckily, we are not they, and so the warmest November in the history of November is okay with us.
Unfortunately, accompanying this warm November was an interesting phenomenon whereby everything was very, very humid, including the boulders. Consequently we spent one of our early days wandering round Gorge aux Chats in t-shirts, under blue skies, poking disconsolately at the perspiring rock. After a few days of this interesting moistness, it must have dried out because we started climbing. Our first 'proper' day was to Diplodocus and Rocher Fin, both new and therefore exciting. Amber's goal for the day was six 6's; Sam's was to not pull any left heel hooks in order to avoid aggravating a tweeky something-or-other...in his bum.
Diplodocus turned out to be delightful, like a giant playground of uber-featured boulders warped into fantastical shapes all centred round the Diplodocus block itself; a giant witch's hat. The top problem we climbed was Technogym, a mini-masterpiece of roofy awesome.
A little further along, on a little path up and over branches and out into a clearing is Rocher Fin, a sheltered little hilltop retreat. You emerge into an open space dotted with squat boulders sat in soft, dark yellow sand. It was quite busy, but remained tranquil. We worked through some nice red circuit problems then spent the remnants of the afternoon on the absorbing 'Nez' bloc with some enthusiastic French guys. Between us, we got three out of the four problems that breach the nose: Sam flashed Mémoire d'Outre Tombe and then linked the extra start moves to gain Mrs du Plus, and Amber cheated her bendy way through A Vue de Néz.
The day was gorgeous, but we failed on our objectives. Amber only got five 6's, which is far less alliteratively satisfying, and Sam used his left heel profusely. Rookies.
We were dubious as we drove to Dinas Rock, owing to the dense, claustro-fog-ia that swamped most of the UK and dogged our drive. However, part way through Wales it was as if we crossed some invisible barrier; the fog rolled back and we emerged to clear blue skies and autumnal views over the Brecon Beacons.
It was our first visit to Dinas, and a perfect day for a good impression. The weather was cool and dry, with the sun dappling through whiskery trees to warm our backs as our hands froze on the burnished limestone. It isn't quiet, but the only noise is the river rushing through the rocks. We climbed mostly at Kennalgarth, a wide, yawning cave criss-crossed with cracked lines of feature; almost too much to choose from. The cave is overlooked by the 'Stone Bow', Bwa Maen, a big, beautiful eruption of strataed limestone that is dotted with signs promising much wrath to trespassers.
The most exciting thing that happened, other, of course, than Jonny's sending spree, was Sam climbing his second ever 7c, Fat Cat Roof (see photos above and below). He also flashed Launch Pad (7a), a neat vertical route. Amber climbed Poodle Traverse (6a) by fortuitous accident, and mostly just swung about on some jugs.
A rather lovely day was had by all, goofing off in the sunshine whilst the rest of the UK languished under the clouds. The early onset of darkness sent us home prematurely and left us, once again, wanting so much more from this Welsh gem.
The sun had been shining for a week or so, the temperatures were warmer in October than they had been in August, and we had overloaded on indoor climbing through the week. We had to do the unthinkable...go bouldering outdoors in Cornwall.
So anyway, we found ourselves coerced into exploring the great British outdoors by our friend Jody, who is much braver than us, and took the surprisingly long road to Penberth where we were joined by another plastic junkie, Leigh. This tiny fishing hamlet is quaintly pretty in a windbleached sort of a way, nestling in an exposed cove near Land's End. On one side of the intruding sea is a series of stacked granite cliffs. The top one is bearded with sage green lichen, and it is prohibited to climb. Below this is a short, slabby chunk of golden, crystally rock that, along with the towering, blunt pillars to the right, forms a seldom frequented trad crag.
Luckily for us, who have only enough combined trad gear to climb one very small, very specific route, some of the lines are low enough that we could pretend they are highball boulders. Three crash pads provided enough psychological protection to give us a good afternoon's playtime with the odd sphincter clencher; best of the bunch were the bold, blunt, 10m arete Head-Rush (E1 5a), a cute, overhanging flake called Bums Rush (Severe) and WKD! (E3/E1 5b) that traverses a seam through undercuts.
When the allure of ankle fractures wore off for some of us, we hit up some of the surrounding boulders for some danger free (danger lowered, anyway) power moves, and made some (possible) first ascents. We did some short, bouncy variants on a mini overhang (6a-6b+?), then finished the day with a precarious route named (by us) I'm not Lichen this Prow (6c?).
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!
The Gorges de Franchard is a vast playground in la forêt de Fontainebleau, littered with gazillions of rocks, and we've barely scratched it's surface.
Franchard Isatis is probably the most popular site in the area, for the concentration of high quality problems, circuits and perhaps for the 30 second walk in... It can be a little hectic on weekends, but you can follow the paths up towards the Memel bloc where the boulders are behemoths; lichen encrusted leviathans lying frozen amongst the trees, mouths gaping open and begging to be climbed. And so we did, a lot. Sam got his first 7c, Le Lot de Boudins that traverses the Plastikman bloc on slopers and crimps, and Amber got her first 7a/7a+, Donnant-Donnant on the same boulder. We repeated the lovely Bouddha assis (6b). Neither of us could get off the ground on Abdolobotomy, so we did the neat 6b stand start instead... It goes on.
The sheer scale of high quality climbing at this particular site meant that we were hunting out more potential climbs faster than we could tick them off and therefore visiting every few days. Even so it wasn't enough, and we can look forward to returning to Respect d'Intention, Iceberg, De Brevitate Vitae, Sur-Prises... It goes on.
In the opposite direction lies Cuisinière, Isatis' spacier neighbour, quieter since the approach track was closed to cars. Although we didn't give it enough time this trip, we did spend one lovely, sunset evening there and both climbed the deceptively tricky À Bras Plat à Bras (6c), a slopey number that traverses the lip of a boulder that resembles a crashed flying saucer.
We also went exploring (and grade hunting...) at the isolated, wonderful, FRICTIONOUS Franchard Raymond, and played on the circuits of Franchard Sablons that are fun and flowing, if a little heavy on the slabs. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; next time, we're gonna go Titanic on this place.
For a project day, this was a pretty good one. After a quick 'warm up' on some blues with typically tenuous Font top outs we got drawn into Helen's project, Le Diéséliste (7a). Sam and Helen (covered here in our Sunday Send) sent this, whilst Amber got the short version, Le Cambouis du Diéséliste (6c). Onwards and up the hill to settle an old score: Le Grain de Beauté (6c+), and Le Grain de Beauvais (7b/7a+), two rather different animals on one low, wrinkled prow. Beauté, that traverses the lip with a gorgeous sequence of cross-throughs, went a treat for Amber with some ingrained beta (only her first Font 6c+!!) and for Jason also, making the bloc look much smaller with his 6'4 frame. Sam sessioned the straight-up Le Grain de Beauvais with various combinations of experimentation and grrr, finally latching the last hold with an interesting three point cut loose on the slabby top out.
He got the route, and a dead leg.
Amber and Jason moving through Le Grain de Beauté (6c+) at Beauvais Nainville.
A battered black estate fights through the night, through the spitting rain and ragged winds that rush around the motorway. Shabby flashes of lightning occasionally mark it's path as it passes a swaying wagon and veers off at the exit road. The car jolts to a halt in front of an empty, luminate service station and a guy jumps out and sprints for the building, abandoning the still running motor. The girl sighs as she swaps seats and parks up. This is the third emergency pee-break they have taken already, in a pretty short journey.
Back on the boulders at Gorge aux Châts (Le Pare Dessus, 7a+)
Six weeks spent indoors on plastic has flown by, and we are already itching to refuel our addiction to the sandstone boulders of Fontainebleau; a return to the simple life of climbing, eating and sleeping, away from the complexities of modern comfort. Happily we are leaving tomorrow for three weeks in the forest and although we will miss friends, family and the hospitality we have received while home (and back-to-back episodes of 'Buffy'), it feels pretty sweet to be off once more. It's not all play, as we'll be exchanging some hard graft for a place to stay for a week or two with Helen and her family. We're looking forward to meeting them too and getting stuck into some DIY as well as rock-time with some new faces.
Here's to old eggs to crack and new one's to lay, with fresh company and familiar. Bring on the omelette - once, of course, we've packed up the car...
P.s. Not the topless pics you were expecting? Dirty bugger.
And so we bid our farewell to the road for some well-earned work, say goodbye to the sunshine and embrace the invigorating Cornish mizzle, and hang up our climbing rope and head to the boulder gym. But before all of this, we had a quick think about what we did. Sure it was by no means the most far out travelling experience, but to us it was quite okay. We set off at the beginning of April with a vague plan to drive to Slovenia, possibly enough money, and an old Golf that we weren't quite convinced would make the long haul. It turned out to be awesome, mostly in ways that we couldn't have predicted. Here's a few statistics that we accumulated along the way...
7 countries visited
6,988.2 miles driven
1,086.35 euros spent on petrol
112 nights away
47 nights slept in the car
25 nights slept in the tent
38 nights slept in various houses
1 night spent in a kid's soft playpen on a ferry
1 night unaccountable for...?!
16 days worked in exchange for bed & board
42 crags climbed at
9 crags we never found
102 sport routes climbed
? boulder problems climbed... A lot
3 indoor centres visited
2 indoor centres in the middle of Europe at which we now hold lifelong membership
1 pieces of gear lost (!)
17 mozzamato sandwiches eaten (this one might not be strictly accurate - it could be as many as 57...)
0 days, nights or incidents that made us think twice about what we were doing.
It's been bizarre, stressful, exciting, beautiful, satisfying, awe-inspiring, funny, jaw-achingly dumb, thought provoking, and lots more beside. Posts might be a bit less frequent now, as we plan to stick around for a bit and we don't want to bore with photos of paint drying now we're back to work... Although, that said, looks like we're heading back to the forest in a couple of weeks so maybe they won't be.
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.
Free camping can be wonderful at times, and a little...trying at others. Some places, such as autobahn rest areas, we found to be unnerving at times. When you are sleeping in a car it's difficult to block the world out. The solution is to find areas to sleep that you want to welcome in; a blue-tit landing on the window sill in the forest, neighbours who brew you up a fresh coffee in the morning, watching leaves waft across the stars at night. Or, at the Holy Grail of convenience stops - recycling, a free toilet and water. In this manner, Savines-le-Lac provided four of the more relaxed nights of our trip, with some fantastic climbing and a lake thrown in. Winner!
Our adventures with mountains have been consistently...adventurous; we appear to have an unparalleled ability to underestimate them yet bounce right back, hungry for more. Here's our latest, featuring Mont Charvin in the French Alps, presented in an informative, "how (not) to" format:
Lake Annecy is a rather gorgeous, violently turquoise-blue splodge of water cradled by a collection of imposing mountains that vary in silhouette from classic peak to stark, crests of ridge. It was formed by glaciers 18,000 years ago (thanks, Wiki) and has probably been a hit with tourists ever since. The stressful pilgrimage we undertook to reach this holiday mecca, in order to spend a week with Sam's family, left us feeling in need of some downtime (even four months of downtime can have it's moments).
For a beautiful photo of the lake, Google it... Here's our view, Annecy from atop a cliff in the hills above.