First Two Touches to Bouldering in Fontainebleau, France

What does a circuit or a hiking trail mean in terms of bouldering? These are the two things I learned while bouldering in the fabulous Fontainebleau – a French forest, that treasures dozens of these mysterious circuits and so called hiking trails.

Before diving deeper into the terminology, let me tell you a bit about climbing in Fontainebleau in general. Why is the place so popular among climbers all over the Europe?

Well, there are of course many reasons. First of all, the forest of Fontainebleau is huge and hosts a massive amount of world class sandstone blocks. Altogether the area covers around 280 square kilometers and according to 27 Crags there are over 11700 known boulder problems. Fontainebleau offers wonderful climbing (in the form of circuits and hiking trails!) for everyone from total beginners to professionals.

Landings are also good: soft and flat. At some sectors the terrain is almost beachlike, because of the fine yellow sand, that finds it's way everywhere. This makes Fontainebleau a comfortable destination for families travelling with small kids as well.

One of the many smooth corners in Fontainebleau
There are many superb and smooth corners in Fontainebleau.

Beachy sector of Cul de Chien
The beachy Cul de Chien is a perfect place for climbing with kids.

What about the weather? What's the best climbing season in Fontainebleau?

While our two visits to Fontainebleau were short, me and T got to see both autumn and spring there. The weather was the same during our both visits: intervals of clouds, sun and rain.

Despite rapid and constant changes, the weather was still amazingly good for climbing – the friction on the French sandstone is unbelievable! Based on what I've heard, late spring and early autumn are in fact the best seasons to visit Fontainebleau for bouldering.

Now more about the terms circuit and hiking trail.

A small dip into climbing terminology will help you to get the most out of a climbing holiday in Fontainebleau. As you can guess, a circuit and hiking trail don't mean doing push ups and squats or simply walking around in the forest.

In climbing, a circuit is something the French climbers came up with ages ago to train for Alpine climbing. In practice a circuit is a band of boulder problems, that are meant to be climbed one after another to build up endurance. Solving just a single problem doesn't count as an achievement, because the idea is to complete a circuit rather than climb the hardest climb you've ever climbed. To make things more challenging, you must complete the circuit within a day. 

And how do you recognize a circuit? In Fontainebleau you can usually find a number painted on the rock with a certain colour. The number is the running number of the problem in question and the colour signals to which circuit the problem belongs to. The colour might also hint how hard the circuit is in general.

Boulder problem number 26 at sector Cul de Chien in Fontainebleau
Boulder problem number 26 of the red circuit at sector Cul de Chien. 

About a hiking trail then. A hiking trail is basically a circuit, that's meant to be climbed without touching the ground during the whole circuit. Painted arrows indicate where to head for the next problem as well as the rocks you should use to avoid ground contact.

I found both the circuits and hiking trails something very fascinating. It would certainly be fun to spend some more time bouldering in Fontainebleau and try to complete a circuit! The trick is to pick a circuit, that is either short or easy enough.

For me these two visits to Fontainebleau in autumn 2018 and spring 2019 were the first two touches to bouldering in Fontainebleau. T had already visited the place years ago in 2008, but the magical forest keeps on calling back. Hopefully we end up in Fontainebleau some time again!

Sandstone boulder in Fontainebleau
The sandstone in Fontainebleau is of excellent quality.

In case you've already visited Fontainebleau, I'd love to hear what's your favourite sector there. While I enjoyed very much climbing at J.A. Martin, Rocher du Potala, Cul de Chien, Rocher Guichot and Franchard Isatis, it would be fun to explore other sectors next time. Share your tips using the comment box below!

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