Rock climbing in Fontainebleau, the bouldering mecca
By Camille King
And this is where it all started…
I was very fortunate to grow up in Paris in a really active family. Every weekend we would go to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house nestled in the heart of the Fontainebleau Forest. These are amongst my best childhood memories (along with my summers in Maine – another topic of its own right).
Fontainebleau (“Bleau” as the French would say or “Font” to the Brits) is located 50 miles south of Paris and is one of the best bouldering spots in the world. And what a magical place it is!
The town hosts the magnificent Fontainebleau castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As a little girl, visiting the château always got me dreaming, stunned by the beauty and the grandeur of the place.
Hidden in the acres of forest surrounding the town, there are a couple hundred of amazing sandstone bouldering sites.
On the weekends, we would spend as much time as possible in the outdoors. Visiting my grandparents, we would go on walks in the forest, bike rides on the quiet country roads and of course climbing on the boulders. Falling in the soft sand, walking the hilly trails (“les bosses”) with the smell of the forest after the rain, coming home with messy hair and dirty feet … what a sensory overload for a little person.
As a toddler, I would play in the sand at the bottom of the boulders watching my parents climb. As soon as I could, I was testing myself on the rock. The boulders are grouped in circuits, colour coded depending on the difficulty. There’s climbing for everyone, even for little ones.
As the years went by, my passion for climbing intensified and I started climbing more often. In my late teens, I skipped the family weekends but I always found time to climb in Bleau with my friends or my Dad. So many fun weekends spent in the wild with great friends. I even converted some of my friends into avid climbers here …
Bouldering is a great way for me to experience pure and simple fun, solve a problem, focus on body position on the rock, work on my footwork, and decide where to aim when I fall. Short and sharp, making it to the top can be so rewarding. In addition to the colour coded circuits, Fontainebleau has its own unique grading system for each boulder which means you can easily assess the difficulty of what you are climbing. I learnt not to compare the Fontainebleau grades to French sports climbing grades, too much hurt pride!
Now, I have a family of my own and I find myself helping my children to the top of the exact same boulders I used to climb on! The same boulders which looked so high and difficult at the time through the eyes of a little girl. When I could, I’d sneakily climb to the top without anyone noticing and scream with pride, just to see my concerned parents rushing to my rescue! Now, I witness my children doing the exact same, and I can’t help but smile. It’s a new chapter of my life watching these little creatures explore the world and the rocks. A new generation starting their own journey.
Even though we now live in the UK, we go back to Fontainebleau as often as possible to visit my Mum and Dad. I hope my children will be inspired in the same way I was. The unique setting, its beauty, its wilderness, the joys of being outdoors whilst being active. And of course, the joys of climbing: respecting nature, pushing your body, finding yourself, exploring your limits, facing your fears… the emotions and the life lessons provided by climbing are endless.
I hope to inspire the next generation to appreciate these humbling experiences. And inspire them to dream big! Happiness is often so simple and linked to our passions. I hope to see that sparkle in the little eyes around us, that sparkle I know so well.
“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” Barry Finlay. Kilimanjaro and Beyond