Slaying the Cyclops at Fontainbleau

Bouldering in France | By Lorna Drake

Coming from Wales, many people would assume that my favourite place to climb is Llanberis in Snowdonia. However, as close to my heart as Llanberis is, I have to admit it is only my second favourite place to climb. My favourite place to climb is in the beautiful forest of Fontainbleau, France (Font for short). Font is often described as the centre of bouldering, a type of climbing where routes aren’t very high and instead of using ropes, you use a bouldering pad (a small foam crash mat) to land on when you fall. Font has many different areas where boulders are clustered together into boulder fields, offering thousands of different climbs for all levels of climbers. Our font family was much smaller this year, with only a group of six for most of the time I was there. The size of our group didn’t change the dynamic of the trip though - we still bundled all our climbing gear into a van to travel to the various boulder fields, went swimming when it was too hot to climb and had camp fires in the evening when it began to cool.

Gorge aux Chats in the beautiful forest of Fontainbleau during an early in the morning climb.

 

In the previous year I fell off one of the boulders (embarrassingly from barely a meter off the ground) and seriously sprained my ankle. This happened a week and a half into my three week trip, leaving me hopping around our campsite and having to be carried around everywhere by my friends. Regardless of this I still enjoyed being in the forest, even if I was left feeling disappointed for not being able to get certain climbs I had been working on one climb in particular, Cyclops at Gorge aux Chats, a suitably named climb due to the large hole in the boulder that you have to place both your hands and feet in. Whilst my injury had prevented me from completing the climb before, I was determined not to let it defeat me again and this became my goal for the trip.

Working the moves on a thin slab (a rock face angled at less than 90 degrees) at Franchard Isatis. Photo taken by Sam Parsons from @afterthesend.

 

Seven days into my trip and the day to conquer the cyclops finally came, my last day to climb in font and my last chance for another year to claim victory. I headed down to the boulder field early and began warming up; I quickly got impatient and headed over to the boulder with cyclops on it. I placed my boulder mat directly beneath the eye of the cyclops and began to pull myself up the wall, switching my foot position when necessary. I was half way up the wall, reaching for a small ridge in the rock, when my nerve went. “What if I fall? If I injure my ankle again I won’t be able to climb and will struggle to travel home,” this was all I kept thinking, but the other part of me refused to give up. At that moment two members of our group arrived, they placed another boulder pad below the climb and told me they would catch me if I fell. This gave me the confidence boost I needed. I got on the climb, grabbed the ridge for my hand and stood up, just a few more moves and I was on top of the boulder, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t believe I’d just completed the climb I’d been seeing in my dreams for the past year. The elation I felt at the top of that boulder is the exact reason I will continue to return to Font, there’s no sensation quite like it. The next day I left font happy knowing that the Cyclops had been slain!

Reaching for the small ridge, with my foot in the eye of the Cyclops, at Gorge aux Chats.