Guidebook: 7's & 8's Guide to Fontainebleau
2nd Feb 2009
When Bart Van Raaij produced the first version of this book, a lot of people applauded. It was a serious guidebook for serious climbers, focusing solely on the upper grades and ignoring the needs of vast majority of people, a very bold move. It was also plainly evident that behind the book's research and production was a love affair with Fontainebleau sandstone – nobody can put together such a superbly detailed tome without dedicating their life to the subject. On top of all that, the design was great – simple and clean, a greyscale colour scheme, and with the best guide book maps I’ve ever seen.
Bringing out a sequel was always going to be difficult – how do you improve on perfection? Well it appears that he has done. First up is the shocking front cover. What no picture? The first edition had been pretty stark, comprising just a single image of some rippled Font sandstone, but this one goes one step further – a plain white cover with some orange and black text overlaid – very minimalist and Scandinavian. Rather than taking away from the book I think this adds to it by singling it out as an important guide, making it different from the rest. Let’s face it, this guide doesn’t need to sell itself. If you climb Font 7A and above, you will most likely have already come across it and have or want it for your collection.
Aside from the design it’s worth noting that the new guide has a fully plastic cover, an improvement on the precious plastic coated one. It feels like it will last longer than its predecessor which, if truth be told, is starting to look a little worn around the edges. Therein lies the main issue I have with the book: it is somewhere between a guidebook and a coffee table book. Its shape doesn’t lend itself to being stuffed in and out of rucksack pockets, so it wears quickly. I think that the same book, with the same dimensions, in portrait rather than landscape would work better.
As to the content again it’s a big improvement. It includes more areas, more problems, a bunch of traverses, different pictures (all of them in black and white and all of them inspiring) better maps and cross referencing. And the reference to the year of the French Revolution in the number of selected problems fits perfectly with the book's bold style.
Retailing at £25 it’s by no means cheap, but when you consider the work that has gone into it you almost want to pay more to encourage the author to take the next step and create a 5’s and 6’s companion guide.
Reviewed by Matt Heason on behalf of planetFear