In the first week of the Easter break 2017, 22 LUMC members set out on a 9 day trip to Fontainebleau in France. Widely considered as one of the best bouldering destinations in the world, Fontainebleau is a quaint French town, about 50 miles south of Paris, set amongst acres of forest. Within the trees are thousands of boulders containing countless problems, making Fontainebleau an annual pilgrimage for many boulderers. For some members this was a return trip, but for the majority of us the sandstone boulders of Font would be a brand new experience, an opportunity to venture from the Hangar and try out a different style of climbing. Although the possibility of returning with a sprained ankle (as 25% of the previous Font trip had) was very real, this was furthest from the minds of most as we eagerly awaited the trip.
At 6’oclock on Friday evening we piled into two white transporter vans, and after much faff (as much as Matt would have liked to avoid it!) set off to Font. We stopped for a short break at Andy’s house and were treated to pizza, beer and the opportunity to witness Andy act politely (I.e. minus his usual innuendos) in front of his parents! A few hours later we headed for the ferry, where we commandeered all the available sofas and attempted to get some sleep. The following drive through France passed smoothly and at 10am we arrived at our campsite in Font. Tents were constructed, and we all laughed at Kay as she failed to fulfil her boast of being able to put up a 4 man tent in 6 minutes (you can work on that for next year Kay!). Although running on very little sleep, the enthusiasm to visit Font’s famous boulders was strong, and we set of to l’elephant that afternoon. Set within a woodland area, this sandy area of boulders provided the first taste of Font bouldering. For many of us, this was the first time bouldering outdoors, and it was very different to bouldering at the Hangar. It is very difficult to see good holds (if they exist!), and often you need to trust your feet on what initially looks like nothing! Coupled by the fact that many popular routes are polished, for me at least, Font climbing was quite challenging at first! Nonetheless, we all began to get to grips with it, and had a fun first afternoon. However, after trying (and most failing) to top-out Andy’s famous traverse, we blamed lack of sleep, and headed back to our campsite for some great food and a well deserved rest.
The following day we leisurely woke up and got ready, with many setting off to the local bakery to buy fresh bread and pastries in broken French (my attempt to buy “uno croissant and dos pan au chocolate” was met with a blank stare from the perplexed baker!) The relaxed start and breakfast of fresh bread was very different from LUMCs usual regimented wake up and blurry-eyed breakfast of porridge, but a welcome change, and a sign of the week to come! We set off to (insert name), and feeling refreshed from a full night’s sleep got a real taste of Font, pushing ourselves a lot harder than the previous day to climb new routes. Many climbs were topped out that day, often in a rather undignified “whaling” manner. After a successful day we headed back to camp quite late. Alas, it was cold, and drizzling with rain, and it was only then that many of us regretted following Andy’s instruction to “pack light”, with no-one more so than Cameron, who had decided to leave behind almost all of his clothes, and instead bring a bin bag for insulation and protection from the rain! Nonetheless, the rain soon cleared up, and full from another successful dinner we all headed to bed.
Luckily the rain stayed away for the rest of the week and instead we were met with glorious sunshine. Sun cream was required on some days, and faces turned slightly pink and freckly (although Amy insisted that the bright red hue to her skin was not sunburn, “just a weird thing my skin does sometimes in the sun, but it’s not burnt!”). We spent our days climbing and relaxing in the sun in equal measures, visiting different sites (insert names). Mornings at each crag were begun by following Sam in a yoga session, or “stretchy, stretchy, bendy Wendy” as it was fondly named, to warm up for the climbs to come. We then all set out on various climbs, with Font offering all sorts of problems to appeal to our varied climbing styles and level of experience. At first, the realisation that the problem you had spent an hour trying was a 4a (and supposedly easier than the greens at the Hangar) was mildly depressing, but this soon became almost irrelevant. Over the week various problems were attempted and many projects began. For some these were completed, and came accompanied with a feeling of elation. For others, despite great effort, they remained unachievable and promises were made to smash them “next year”. Alongside climbing, time was spent slacklining, sunbathing and reading (Will eagerly took the opportunity to expand his knowledge of German culture). One afternoon we explored the beautiful French town of Fontainebleau, visiting the local climbing shop and enjoying ice cream in the gardens.
Every day we endeavoured to return to the campsite around 7, to cook and eat dinner in the light. And over the course of the week adventurous and satisfying meals were had by all, with the only exception being Amy, Callum and Tom whose meals left little to be desired (seriously, who burns couscous?!). The addition of a BBQ to the campsite this year was used enthusiastically, and following dinner became a base for a bonfire. Evenings were spent drinking wine around the bonfire, star-gazing, and watching, with confused amusement, John and Andy’s frequent role-play. Although many of us started off the week as strangers, by the end of the week we had become close (some might say strangely so, as we gave each other back massages and formed a “spoon train”!).
The week passed quickly, and soon Saturday came around again. We leisurely packed up the tents, and reminisced about the week we had had, all sore from the climbs, slightly sunburnt, but happy with what we had achieved. As we said goodbye to the campsite we headed back to L’Elephant for a final afternoon of bouldering, eager to take on climbs we had failed the previous week, and to have another attempt at Andy’s traverse. For some people, previous fears of high-ball problems went out the window, and climbs with 8m top-outs suddenly became desirable, with Joel and Lydia tackling the terrifyingly named “cheese-grater”! As the sun went down final problems were climbed and we tried not to throw up as we were treated to lap dances by Andy in his gold shorts. The final hour came, and we marvelled at our ability to escape the Font ankle curse of the previous year, and return home with only sore elbows and battered fingertips! Alas, it was not to be, and in the final 30 minutes Kay came limping around the corner, having sprained her ankle jumping down from a climb. The dreaded Font curse had struck again! Deciding not to follow (or perhaps hobble?) in her sister’s footsteps of attending a French hospital, we instead headed off to Fontainebleau for burgers and fancy French food. At midnight we begun the journey home, after parting ways with Joel, who retreated into a local forest to bivvy with wild boars. The journey back was long, but made bearable by another stop at the Ovenses, where we refuelled on tea and bacon sandwiches, trying to keep them down as Andy wafted his feet in people’s faces.
I think that everyone will agree that the trip to Font was one to remember! It provided fantastic opportunity to try out a new style of bouldering, in a beautiful location, with an amazing group of people. I’d like to say a particular thank you to the committee members involved in organising the trip, all the drivers, and of course the Oveneses (whose hospitality made the journeys from Liverpool to France and back much more enjoyable). For anyone questioning whether they should go, I’d say go for it! I’ll definitely be returning!