Bleau Blocs – Introduction

In May  2021, Vertebrate Publishing released a new book that, in my opinion, is a must-have for anyone planning a bouldering trip to the Fontainebleau forest – “Bleau Blocs” [1]. What may have initially been intended as a beautiful yet simple photo album turned out to become a fantastic anthology of Bleau’s crème de la crème boulders. Although it’s not a typical guidebook, it’s just what you need to look at Font from an entirely different perspective.

Fontainebleau – The Bouldering Paradise

The forest of Fontainebleau, also known as Font or Bleau, is a vast wood situated about 70 km southeast of Paris. Considered the cradle of bouldering, it is believed by many climbers to be the best bouldering area in Europe, if not the entire world [2]. Although that opinion may be disputed, Font certainly is the place where bouldering history was forged. After all, it was here that in 1946 René Ferlet climbed the first Fb 6A La Marie-Rose, wearing the protoplasts of the modern climbing shoes [3][4]. And it was also here that in 1984 Jacky Godoffe established the world’s first 8A, the legendary C’était demain, which even today remains a formidable challenge and one of the most seldom repeated problems in the Forêt de Fontainebleau [5].

Video 1: La Marie-Rose 6A [4].

The Eye of the Fontainebleau Forest

Climbing in Bleau started already in the XIX century, and the area initially served as a training ground to prepare for bigger climbs. Since then, according to the database of bleau.info, over 30 thousand problems in 269 areas have been established [6]. The numbers can be intimidating! So how do you navigate your way through a maze of trees and gorges to find the most exciting boulders, matched to your climbing abilities and style? Here’s where “Bleau Blocs” will definitely come in handy.

The author is Stéphan Denys, a climber and a photographer who spent nearly 40 years discovering every corner of the wood and earning himself the name of “the eye of the Fontainebleau forest.” To catch a glimpse of Stéphan’s talent, you can visit his vast online photo gallery [7]. In his book, you will find detailed descriptions of the 100 finest boulder problems in Bleau, accompanied by high-quality photographs and inspiring commentary. Although you’ll encounter several extremes here, such as The Big Island 8C or La Force du Destin 8B+, the chosen boulders are not necessarily the hardest ones [8][9]. Instead, they are the most aesthetic or extraordinary blocs, spanning across the full range of difficulties. Still, if you’re a seasoned boulderer, you won’t be disappointed – most of the problems showcased in the book lie in the 7th-grade range, with some 6s and 8s but very few 5s.

Bleau Blocks Alien 7C Fobtainebleau bouldering

Figure 1: You can find some detailed beta by studying Stéphan’s photographs – Alien 7C /source: “Bleau Blocs” [10].

Bleau Blocs – How were they formed?

But what now is the Fontainebleau forest millions of years ago used to be a sea with rocky banks formed by sandstone ridges. As the water retreated, the cliffs began to break up due to erosion, giving way to masses of rockfall on the sandy slopes. Due to how the ridges broke up, the boulders of Font possess a characteristic shape – rounded at their upper edge, with a lip-like flange at the bottom [11]. The massive sandstone blocs, sometimes round and bumpy, occasionally sharp and chiseled, give rise to a plethora of beautiful and challenging problems. 

Considering the magical setting, the fantastic quality of the rock, and the fact that landings are typically soft and sandy, it’s no wonder that the forest of Fontainebleau is recognized as bouldering heaven. Unfortunately, on the flip side, this magic sandstone paradise is becoming a victim of its success, and calm areas where you can truly appreciate the serenity and beauty of the surroundings are becoming scarce.

Bleau Blocs – Book Format

Each of the remarkable boulders presented in the book is provided with a brief paragraph that gives you the line’s location and explains its character, featuring tips on how to best tackle the climb. In addition, each bloc is adorned by beautiful photographs, which are the highlight of the book. Some of the illustrations picture climbers negotiating the fine sandstone features; others strive to capture the natural beauty of the majestic slabs besieged by swarms of ancient trees.

Bleau Blocks Opium 8A Fontainebleau boulder

Figure 2: A sample of what the book offers for each selected boulder. Opium 8A [12] /source: “Bleau Blocs”.

The search for new boulders can resemble a quest for the Grail, the quest for the perfect problem to be discovered.

Stéphan Denys

The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to one of the forest’s main areas:

  • The National Forest
  • Trois Pignons
  • Larchant and Nemours
  • Buthiers and Essonne

The names of the areas and sectors in the book don’t always correlate with the names at bleau.info. However, at the very end, you can find a convenient map indicating the location of each climb, which should render exploration of the forest effortless.

Bleau Blocks Haute Prestation 7C Fontainebleau boulder

Figure 3: Sloping slabs with minuscule holds – the essence of Fontainebleau climbing, plus a demonstration of advanced Star Wars style spotting techniques using the Force. Haute Prestation 7C [13] /source: “Bleau Blocs”.

Bleau Blocs – Summary

Deny’s work lets you taste the very spirit of Font, as you become engrossed in a compelling urge to go there and crush some of the problems, even if they’re only the easiest ones. Don’t be fooled, though! Although some of the lines do require brute strength, climbing in Fontainbleau is mostly very technical. There are many articles on how to get stronger, but how do you acquire the technique and the subtle finesse of a ballet dancer [14][15][16]? That comes with experience, and the only way to gain it is to visit Bleau yourself! 

So expect your skills in balance and footwork