There are hundreds of bouldering problems and more than 100 years of climbing history at Fontainebleau, which is about an hour south of Paris. It’s often described as the crown jewel of bouldering. There’s a protected forest, farms, rolling hills and fun for the whole family. The unique sandstone boulders have been sculpted by the elements over time and offer problems at every grade.
Fontainebleau climbing areas are colloquially known as Font to English climbers and as Bleau to French. At the end of the 1800s, Aldolphe Joanne, the president of the Club Alpin Français, invited climbers to train in Font. Before World War II, most of the areas that are popular today were already well known to Parisian climbers. The 1936 French expedition to the Karakoram included several Bleausards
(Font climbers). Bleausards Robert Paragot, Lucien Bérardini and René Ferlet made the first ascent of the south face of Aconcagua in 1954. The first guidebook appeared in 1945, written by Maurice Martin, providing a map and routes with their names and ratings. The first painted route was in 1947
by Fred Bernick. The standardisation of route colour by difficulty was yellow=pd, orange=ad, blue=d, red=td, black=ed and white=ed+.
Over the decades, waves of strong climbers have continued to push the limits of hard bouldering. Grades are just a guide, so try not to get too hung up on them. Some think that grades in Font are stiff, but once you’re
into the style and movement, then they don’t seem too hard. If not, just remember that Adam Ondra fell off La Marie Rose in Cuvier graded V3. Of course he probably just had some sand on his shoe.
There are technical slabs and slick slopers that lead to burly mantels and funky topouts. There are overhangs, arêtes, dynos, crimps, pillars, roofs and more to be climbed. There are so many trail systems that between sessions you can walk around aimlessly exploring remote boulders. Every climber learns something from the climbing at Font, from how to read slopers to how to shift weight to better roll on to a top. You can fly to Paris, rent a car and be climbing in the most famous bouldering area in the world in no time.
The best time to go is in April, when the leaves start to bud and the cold nights are in the past. The weather is far more stable than in the dead of winter or even in March. The sandstone is fragile, so bring a small towel to clean your shoes. Only use soft-bristled boar’s hair brushes and never leave tick marks. Respect private property signs, stay away from hunting areas and always clean up after yourself. If you don’t bring a crash pad, then you can rent one. The landings are often flat and sandy, but you’ll want a pad.
Font is a great place to visit with the family, and there are even small boulders that the kids can climb on. Whether you’re looking for a place to project hard problems or for somewhere that you can visit with the family on spring break, consider travelling to the world-famous boulders of Fontainebleau.
Right: Fitz Caldwell getting the spot on the crux move
Left: Sonnie Trotter projecting a burly problem
Above: Learning to chalk-up at a young age