Guidebook: Fontainebleau Off Piste
7th Jun 2006
Every now and again I get a little more excited than normal about a review. Why? Because the product in question is a new Fontainebleau guide! Fontainebleau, home to some tens of thousands of boulders, must be a guide book writer's nightmare. Where do you start? Do you concentrate on circuits or individual problems? What level? Which areas? I've been known to head over the channel with 6 different guidebooks in my possession, each bringing a little something different, but none having quite mastered the area.
Probably the pick of the bunch for your average Font climber is 'The Purple One' by Jo and Francoise Montchausse and Jacky Godoffe. Published in May 2001 it already feels a little dated compared to the likes of 7's & 8's by Bart van Raaij, but it does do a fairly good job as an all rounder and would certainly be my choice if I was limited to a single guide.
Imagine my delight then when I realised that this new guide is actually a new and vastly improved version of 'The Purple One'. 'The Blue One' as it is likely to become called has a curious subtitle on its front cover: Bouldering "Off Piste". I wasted little time in investigating the phrase.
When Bleausards first started climbing the boulders of Fontainebleau it was primarily as a means to an end, a fitness and mobility regime for alpine climbs in the big mountains. Few people went bouldering for the sake of bouldering. Thus instead of pushing their limits they established long link-ups of problems of similar difficulty. Hence evolved the Font Circuits. Ever since I've been visiting the place circuits have been a major element of any trip. It wasn't until Bart’s guide was published that the diminishing importance of the circuit was fully realised. Sure it'll always be fun to tackle the odd easy circuit on a rest day, but most of us never actually complete them, choosing to head off on multiple tangents throughout the day as we see problems we like the look of.
Where Bart’s book zoned in on individual problems graded 7A and above 'The Blue One' has significantly lowered the bar, describing classic problems graded 6A and above. This represents a major step forward for the majority of visitors to the area for whom 7a is an occasional highlight or a mere pipe dream.
It's very similar in style to its purple predecessor, dividing the forest into manageable areas. Each area is now summarised with standard icons to indicate its nature, as well as a list of how many problems are described at each grade. Not every problem in an area is included - it is a selective guide, but there are more than enough to keep one happy. Indeed there are a host of new areas which perhaps previously didn't merit inclusion for lack of a decent circuit, but which nevertheless deserve a visit to sample a dozen or more quality problems.
As ever it is packed with inspiring photos. The maps, whilst an improvement, are still not up to the standard of Bart's Bible so I'll still be carrying two guides around with me. It even includes a mega tick list of the 250 best problems on the inside back cover. Retails at £18.99 and published by Baton Wicks. Well worth the money - an excellent guide.