By: Will Coldwell
One thing you quickly learn when you go bouldering – a sort of low-level rock climbing done without ropes – is that you can find yourself in a pretty sticky situation even when you’re just a few feet off the ground.
This thought flashes through my head as I swing my left heel up and on to the top of the 2.5-metre-high hunk of sandstone I’m attempting to climb, praying that my right toe stays glued to the centimetre-wide ledge of rock the rest of my body is balancing on.
This time I’m successful. I haul myself over and stand up proudly, only to find a pair of French kids already sitting there enjoying the view.
It’s my first visit to Fontainebleau, a region of rocky gorges 60km south-east of Paris that’s widely considered the best destination for bouldering in the world. Climbers of all ages and abilities travel from around the world to visit this tranquil pine forest populated with impressively active French outdoorsy types and thousands of spectacular boulders, with no fewer than 20,000 routes to climb.
From the end of the 19th century Fontainebleau – Font to Brits, Bleau to locals – was a training site for Alpine climbers. Now, bouldering as a standalone sport is growing in popularity, appealing to those put off by the price of mountaineering equipment – or perhaps just lacking a head for heights. And Font has become a must-visit destination for those who enjoy the climbing challenge but may have no interest whatsoever in tackling an actual mountain. The minimal kit requirements – tight-fitting rubber-soled climbing shoes, chalk to keep your hands dry and a crash pad (a kind of foam mattress) for safety – make it a relatively accessible pastime.
Although organised tours are available (Wales-based Rock and Sun offers one-week trips from just £550) I make the relatively straightforward journey across the Channel with three friends – all of us first timers to Font – by car, booking a cheap gîte through Airbnb.
Read full article at The Guardian