Love, hate, joy and frustration – The irresistible magic of Fontainebleau

I have just booked my fourth bouldering trip to the Forest of Fontainebleau. Yes, it’s the fourth trip to the same place in these 1.5 years that I have been climbing. But why? Why do I keep going back like a dog that always runs excitedly to catch the same ball? The three previous trips have been far from perfect. Yet I keep throwing myself in the same fire over and over again.

Jani Lehtola entering the Forest of Fontainebleau

Boulders in Cuvier in Spring 2016

Boulders in Cuvier

Moreover, I have – again –  booked a trip for one week only, even though I know that the time will be too short. I should know by now that there will be rainy days. Because it always rains, at least for a few days. And I’ll be sitting in my gîte with my fingers crossed, hoping that maybe – just maybe – the boulders will be dry the day after tomorrow, or at least the day after that, or the day after that. Why do I do always go back to face this same scenario? Am I just stupid or do I have a bad memory?

It always rains

Yes, it always rains.

Why I always return is actually quite difficult to explain to a person who has never been in Font. I return to Font because it’s Font. It’s something unique and irresistible. Once you step into that forest, you’ll never be the same again. You’ll be enchanted, it’s like a wicked witch that casts her spell, and you’ll be trapped forever. Font is the moodiest, trickiest, the most hateful forest that exists (I’m pretty certain that it really, really hates me) – and yet, at the same time, it’s the most beautiful, the most rewarding and the most magical place on Earth. You are drawn to it. Again and again and again. You love it and you hate it, and you want more.

Climbing in Isatis, Fontainebleau (Problem: Red 12)

Me climbing in Isatis (problem: Red 12). Photo by Jani Lehtola.

I’m not sure if I’m even able to describe all the levels of this special love-hate relationship. But let’s try to open up it a bit. Below I have concluded five highlights that make me want to return to Font, over and over again.

1. The magical light

Let’s face the facts. The Sun doesn’t shine too often in Font. And even if it has been shining for two weeks in a row, it probably won’t shine anymore when you get there. You always foolishly hope that it will, but it won’t. Even if the forecast has tricked you with expectations of a perfect, beautiful, sunny day, Font is somehow able to summon heavy clouds that cover the whole forest. Very often you spend the whole day walking around different areas in thick mist, trying to find dry boulders. And, just to make you more miserable, the clouds may finally disappear – but not before the sunset.

However, sometimes, on those rare occasions when the clouds break for a moment and the Sun shows itself behind the branches, the light can be beautiful beyond belief. It’s like in a fairy tale, so amazing that you don’t even remember to climb because you just keep staring at it. The rare magical light of Font, one of those things in this world that make your life worth living. (And afterwards you’ll realise that you probably missed the good conditions and some sends because you were enchanted by the light and staring at it. But well, it’s still worth it.)

The magical light in Isatis (Autumn 2016)

A fallen tree in Isatis (Autumn 2016)

Fallen leaf in Isatis, Fontainebleau

Jani Lehtola showing me how it's done in Isatis (Autumn 2016)

Jani showing me how it’s done. This sunny moment didn’t last long.

Undergrowth in the magical light in Isatis (Autumn 2016)

2. All the beautiful details of the forest

They say that walking in a forest is good for your health, and I strongly agree. Even if the focus of your trip is on climbing, once in a while it’s good to stop whatever you’re doing, take a deep breath and concentrate on all the small details around you. Try to ignore the other climbers and all the hassle that’s going on, and – most importantly – just for a moment, forget all the expectations that you have set for yourself.

By consciously opening your eyes, you slowly begin to see more and learn to know what makes Font so special. The magnificent trees, the beautifully shaped branches, the weird details of the massive boulders, the green moss, the textures of the rock, the masses of dead leaves, the harmony of all the colors, the scent of the forest, the sound of the wind in the trees, the falling acorns around you. Every single time you focus on your surroundings, you will see more. And you will love Font more.

Jani Lehtola measuring Gecko in Rocher de Bouligny (Spring 2016)

Jani measuring Gecko in Rocher de Bouligny

Leaves in sunset in Cuvier Rempart (Autumn 2016)

Dew on leaves in Cuvier Rempart during the sunset

A beautiful tree in Cuvier (Autumn 2016)

A beautiful tree in Cuvier

Trees in Rocher de Bouligny (Spring 2016)

A view from Rocher de Bouligny

Undergrowth in Isatis (Autumn 2016)

Undergrowth in Isatis

Boulders in Cuvier Rempart (Spring 2016)

Boulders in Cuvier Rempart

A detail on a tree in Cuvier (Autumn 2016)

A detail on a tree in Cuvier

The leaves in autumn: green, yellow and red

Autumn leaves

Fallen tree in Cuvier Rempart (Autumn 2016)

A fallen tree in Cuvier Rempart

A view from Cuvier Rempart (Autumn 2016)

A view from a hill in Cuvier Rempart

Jani on his way to another sector

Jani on his way to another sector

3. The amazing boulders and the technical climbing

Font is where I started bouldering outdoors. On the one hand, it is the best place on Earth to start, but on the other hand, it definitely isn’t the easiest place for beginners, or anyone for that matter.

There are so many boulder problems to choose from that everyone should be able to find good climbing, the quality of the rock is superb and forest is amazing, but the climbing itself is very technical and difficult. You really have to concentrate on your technique, especially foot technique, or you’ll slip. Again and again. There isn’t any room for mistakes, and many boulders are very polished.

It can be so frustrating at first, and if (when) it’s moist, it’s even more difficult and frustrating. But despite it’s so difficult – and because it’s so difficult – it is also very rewarding when you finally succeed. And those small, precious moments are the ones you’re after.

Attempting Johan (6B) in Cuvier Rempart

Me attempting Johan (6B) in Cuvier Rempart. I really loved this one, even though I didn’t send it yet, as it was a bit too moist. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

Jani Lehtola attempting Apotheose

Jani attempting Apothéose (7C+)

Jani Lehtola attempting L'Insoutenable Légèreté de l'Autre (8B) in Franchard Isatis

Jani attempting L’Insoutenable Légèreté de l’Autre (8B) in Franchard Isatis. It was (again) way too slippery. Well, maybe next time?

Red 12 in Isatis

The quality of the rock in Font is simply superb. This particular problem seems to hate me, however. The feeling is beginning to become mutual.

Jani Lehtola testing Gecko in Rocher de Bouligny

Jani testing the start of  Gecko in Spring 2016. (Who needs climbing shoes anyway?) The conditions were  – surprisingly – far from perfect. But it’s an amazing problem nevertheless!

4. The amazing sunsets

In Font, when you climb, you always climb until the sun sets. It is often in the evening when the sun finally shows itself, offering you an unforgettable light show. It’s definitely worth seeing and it can really make your day – especially when you have failed all your attempts and are considering to quit climbing altogether.

Jani preparing to climb in Apremont Portes du Désert

Sunset in Rocher de Bouligny

Sunset in Cuvier Rempart, Fontainebleau

Leaves in sunset in Cuvier Rempart, Fontainebleau

Sunset in Cuvier Rempart (Autumn 2016)

5. Those rare amazing days

It will rain. You can count on it. As well as you can count on noticing that you are actually a worse climber than you thought. Yet, every time when you book a new trip, you will remember that there were also those good days, there were also those amazing days, there were those amazing small moments filled with joy and success, those moments when you finally figured out that difficult move or managed to send that problem. You will also remember the joy of climbing the easy but so beautiful boulders, which was just plain fun! And yes, the Sun was occasionally shining. Not much, but it was shining.

Climbing Luna (6a) in Isatis in Autumn 2016

Sending Luna (6A) in Isatis. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

Jani figuring out the beta of Gourmandise (8B)

Jani figuring out the beta of Gourmandise (8B)

My first 6a. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

My first 6A. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

Sending Red 20 in Isatis

Sending Red 20 in Isatis. Photo by Jani Lehtola.

Jani Lehtola sending Apothéose assis (8A) in Spring 2016

Jani sending Apothéose assis (8A)

Climbing Red 17 in Cuvier

This problem was not actually that difficult, but because of my crappy technique, it took me three trips before I managed to climb it. But I did it! Yay! Photo by Jani Lehtola.

This was a short summary of what Font means to me. I hope you enjoyed the photos and I was able to portray at least some kind of an image of this beautiful and unique place for you. What’s best is that in a couple of weeks I will be there again, cursing and celebrating under the boulders. Who knows what will happen this time? Will Font show me more of its love or its hate? Maybe this time it will be perfect? Maybe this time it won’t rain at all 😄 ? You’ll never know, but you want to take your chances. Because no matter how it will go, Font is always worth visiting.


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