7 & 8 - 3748 Straight Ups In Fontainebleau
Now on its fourth edition, and growing ever fatter as more and more problems and areas are added, this is still unquestionably the go-to guide for any upper-grade or aspiring boulderer in Font. Over the years I've been visiting the forest a pattern has emerged. We pull up in whichever car park the guidebook has directed us to for our chosen area (using the almost-faultless area maps at the back of the book). We then strike off into the woods, pad on back, shopping bag of food in one had, and 'the guidebook' on the other. Often whoever I'm with will question the route. 'Are we lost?' 'Are you sure it's this way?'. The reply is always the same. I hold up the guide and utter the phrase 'In Bart We Trust!'.
Before heading out there a few weeks ago for a half term autumn hit I'd dropped Bart a line to see if he fancied having the latest edition of the guide reviewed. He replied to say that we’d be overlapping for a day and why not meet at the crag to collect the guide. Great plan. In reality we missed him at the arranged meeting place, each having got embroiled in our own projects. Resigned to having missed the opportunity and rueing the decision not to have the guide posted we headed back to the car as the golden hour warmed the scene. As if by magic, and without even thinking the immortal words a small group of climbers converged on our path and I heard the words 'It's Matt isn't it?'. Of course Bart had found us. Of course there was no need to worry. He knows the forest better than anyone so clearly knew which problems we'd have been trying, when our skin and muscles tired, and what route we would be taking back. Why did I ever doubt it?
Or it was a massive coincidence. Either way I was delighted to walk away with a brand new, limited edition version of the latest edition of the guide, approximately twice as fat as my previous one. For those heading to Font for the first time a quick explanation. Font 7a is a somehow magical grade. To some it's the holy grail. To others it's a warm up. But whoever you are there's no denying the satisfaction of ticking a 7 or above in Font. I've seen 8a climbers failing on lowly 7s. So Bart designed a guide book with this in mind, listing problems of just grade 7a and above. The guide is broken down by area, with each area described briefly at the back of the book alongside location maps. The meat of the book is a series of great photos and literally hundreds of meticulously drawn topos of the confusing boulder fields. If you've not been before then it may come as a surprise to find coloured numbers painted on the rocks indicating graded circuits of similar difficulty problems. A selection of these are marked on the topos to give context and help locate yourself and your chosen problem. Problems are listed along with grade, type (slab, dyno etc), a brief description, and the first ascensionists. It's hard to describe how detailed these topos are and how long it must have taken to draw them. If I had one quibble it would be that there is no scale on them. I am sure there is a reason for this, but a scale would be the cherry on the icing on the cake so to speak.
For those not operating in the 7s or 8s there is another two-volume guide for 5s and 6s too which are equally well put together and reviewed here.
One more thing to mention. Bart also runs Bleau.info, an amazing online resource for the boulders of Font, with every problem listed along with images, videos, description etc. There's an app available which lists all the problems in the book by area, the page of the book its on, fields for you to complete whether you've done the problem, when, how many attempts, how many stars you rate it, notes etc. It also links to Bleau info if you need quick access to a video of how to climb the problem. Note that the app also covers the 5&6 books too. It cost £4.99 on the App Store. It doesn't replace the books as it doesn't have maps, but it works well as an addition. Having said that it doesn't have maps, it does have an overall one with all areas and hard to find problems, and works with your route planner to guide you from car park to car park
Also worth noting, Bart receives many messages about ‘fake’ problem names. Some books and apps make up names for nameless problems and this creates a lot of confusion. His guides work together with bleau.info and only use ‘official’ problem names. Because his books and bleau.info are linked, the yield of the books also ensures the maintenance of bleau.info.
Lastly a note of caution. Circuits are renumbered sometimes which is why some numbers in his books (and in any book) will not be correct.
Essentially, if you are going to Font, get his books. There are simply none to compare.
The guides and the app are available here.
Here's a review of the second edition of the book.