Carlo Traversi: A Video Guide to Fontainebleau’s Hard Classics—Part 1Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Largely heralded as the origin and spiritual core of bouldering, the sandstone boulders of Fontainebleau, France, provide a lifetime of challenges to even the most accomplished of climbers. A trip to this legendary area is, more than anything, a rite of passage for the modern boulderer. Historically, it yielded some of the first double digit boulder problems in the world and it remains to this day a proving ground of technical mastery.
In March of 2012, shortly after climbing my first V15 (The Game), I made my first trip. The weather was warm and I got stomped. Physically I was climbing well, but I struggled adapting to the body position intensive movements Font requires. I climbed a lot of problems in the V9 and V10 range, but only a few in the higher difficulty ranges I had become accustomed to sending.
I returned for a week in early 2013, this time with extremely cold and wet weather. My body felt more adapted, but I still left without any significant progress on the harder classics.
In late 2016, I competed in the Bouldering World Championships in Paris in early September. With a few days to spare after the comp I headed back into the forest. It was warm and humid so I chased quantity over difficulty.
It took about 50-60 problems to start to understand the rock. I left with an even bigger appreciation for the area—mostly for its continuing ability to heighten your understanding of movement and teach you to trust the subtleties of the friction.
When early 2017 rolled around, I checked ticket prices and was surprised to find them at their cheapest in many years. I booked immediately. With only about a month to prepare I found specific training useless and stuck to my usual schedule. More than anything I hoped that a few more years of climbing under my belt had made me a better climber regardless of strength. Prior to leaving the States, I endured a fairly intense route setting schedule and in turn felt reasonably tired at the beginning of the trip. But the projects were waiting.
Khéops 8B (3/26/17)
The archetypal Font classic. A blunt aréte that doesn’t really make sense until you start climbing on it. The holds are terrible and it requires perfect body positions to feel possible. When you finally fit into the box, it feels almost easy. I tried this line for a few days on my first trip in 2012 and managed to do all the moves, but I only completed the crux move once. It revolves around an odd reach move to a horrible sloper where the balance centers on an awkward inside heel on an edge. You have to be able to maintain consistent tension on the heel throughout the move or else it pops off. This careful balance for some reason allows you to stay on the wall as you latch the terrible sloping panel above. In 2016, I gave it a few tries in really warm conditions but repeated the crux move a few times. It was a surprising boost of confidence knowing that my technique had improved over the years. When I returned in 2017, it was the first line on my mind. I woke up very early on our second day in the forest to ensure good conditions and managed to climb the line quickly. It put me in a really positive headspace for the rest of the trip. And it was really nice to feel that “click” on a line that once seemed impossible.
Les Beaux Quartiers 8A (3/28/17)
Following the same start as the sit-start to Gecko, but finishing to the right, I first witnessed this line in 2012 on a rainy rest day. Without chalk and soaked with water, Gecko looked impossible but Les Beaux Quartiers, with its carefully sculpted edges through the mid-section, looked amazing. It honestly captivated me more on first look than its slightly more famous neighbor. Upon returning to the boulder in 2017, it was far too warm to entertain the idea of climbing Gecko, so I focused my attention on Les Beaux Quartiers. With thin skin, I knew that after one attempt I may be sweating too much to find success. So, I decided to skip the warm up and go for maximum effort from the start. It wasn’t pretty as I flailed my way through the moves, but I was fortunate to find myself on top first go. I’m admittedly not great at flashing hard problems, so it was cool to have this one work out. I needed a good hour to cool down before turning my attention to the neighboring Gecko.
Gecko 8A+ (3/28/17)
Gecko looks and feels impossible from the ground. The left hand sloper you slap to on the first move looks less like a hold and more like a piece of the wall; an undulation that barely interrupts the clean belly of the boulder. The name is fitting. You have to channel your inner Gecko to send this problem. My first try felt like the boulder looked, improbable at best. But on my second go I stopped on the bad left hand sloper and felt my whole body find the necessary balance. Hmmm, maybe I can use this poor excuse for a hold. On my next go, I trusted my new understandings of the problem and squeezed out a send. What a cool feeling to hold onto what seems like nothing! I played around with the sit moves for a bit before calling it a day.
Karma 8A+ (3/30/17)
There isn’t a more legendary boulder than Fred Nicole’s iconic Karma. Pure, simple, and hard. In my opinion, it defines hard climbing in Fontainebleau. You need just the right blend of power and technique to find yourself on top of this perfectly rounded egg. In 2012, this problem was the highest on my list and I put a few days into it. I felt close on a few attempts but didn’t manage to solve it. Despite feeling relatively confident on most climbs at the grade, this one really threw me for a loop. Upon returning in 2017 it took two days of work to finally feel capable. The best beta I found was to actually try and down climb the boulder. Surprisingly, it felt almost easier than going up! Doing the moves in reverse helped me to understand the balance on the difficult heel hook move. A couple tries later and I was able to find the balance from the start and soon was on top. Another climbing life goal complete!
Gecko Assis 8B+ (4/1/17)
The sit-start to Gecko had been on my mind a lot since climbing the stand. From the mid-way holds, the line felt unfinished. I waited for a somewhat cold morning and headed out early. From my quick session on the lower moves after climbing the stand, I knew that the crux for me was going to be kicking the right heel almost above my head for the reach into the stand. I watched a few videos online for some beta and it was crazy to see how easy it was for some people to set the heel. I’m not the most flexible human so I spent some time stretching my lower body during my warm up. After a few frustrating attempts to establish the heel hook in a static way, I found that the only solution for me to get the reach was to throw my foot up dynamically. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked! After solving this section, it was only a matter of a few tries before I made it through the lower section and eventually to the top.
While my first few trips to the forest of Fontainebleau were extremely humbling, my recent excursion proved surprisingly successful—probably one of my best trips in terms of sending in recent years. But numbers aside, it was a trip where I felt most open to the lessons of Font. Entering the forest with a humble mindset, thanks to the difficulties of past trips, allowed me to see problems in a new way. Not as a potential tick, but as a lesson in patience, technique, body awareness, proper application of power, and enjoyment. Until next time Fontainebleau.