Back in the Woods – Bouldering in Fontainebleau

I love bouldering at Fontainebleau.  There are so many wonderful things about it.  All those boulders scattered through a pretty wood.  A stunning amount of climbing, in a wide variety of forms and often on boulders that weird, beautiful or both.   The different characters of the climbing areas.  The feeling of community among the climbers.   The inland beaches that make for good landings and nice places to have a picnic.   That it’s a giant, wooded playground for kids (more about that in my next post).

Fontainebleau’s not somewhere I get the chance to go very often and I always leave wanting to go back.

Climbing a Cathedral and Ringing the Bell on the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand

A little over half way up the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand there is a brass bell hanging from the rock. If you want to ring the bell, then you need to take a detour that traverses the face of the buttress above a sheer drop.  There’s a slightly tricky step to negotiate, before you stand on a very small ledge, hang off the cable with one hand and clatter the clanger in the bell with the other.  It’s a bit surreal and a bit silly, but fun. Ringing that bell feels like you’re declaring to anyone who can hear that you’ve managed to climb this far.

Climbing that far does take quite a lot of effort as the Klettersteig Pfeilspitzwand throws a few challenges at you. Read more

Small and Perfectly Formed – the Klettersteig Knorren

Valerie climbing the Klettersteig Knorren
Valerie climbing the Klettersteig Knorren

The Knorren is a broken mass of yellow, cream, grey and ochre rock that rises out of the side of its parent mountain, the Penken. One side is made up of steep stone faces, pinnacles and buttresses above a field of boulders and bushes. The other side, facing the valley below, is covered in trees and vegetation. A via ferrata (klettersteig in German) ascends the rock faces of the Knorren by alternating between sometimes strenuous vertical climbing and easier traverses. After reaching the summit, this via ferrata traverses and then descends the spiny crest of the Knorren before negotiating a buttress that stands just apart from the main peak. This via ferrata is easily my favourite of the three I climbed in Austria. It is in a wonderful location with amazing rock and climbing that is fun and occasionally surprising. Read more

A Climb in the Woods on the Klettersteig Huterlaner

Me climbing the Klettersteig Huterlaner.
Me climbing the Klettersteig Huterlaner.

I did my first Austrian via ferrata last week, introducing my brother-in-law Nick and his son Ben to climbing with cables. The Klettersteig Huterlaner was a fun and varied climb with some good views down the Zillertal and of the town of Mayrhofen. As it starts only two minutes walk uphill from the base of the valley and is in the woods, it had a different feel to the mountainous via ferrate I’ve done elsewhere. Read more

Fontainetoddler

Leo climbing a boulder at Rocher des Potets, Fontainebleau.
Leo climbing a boulder at Rocher des Potets, Fontainebleau.

As first-time parents, Valerie and I have had to work out as we go along how to continue to rock climb while also being Mum and Dad to Leo. Last year we had a fun and successful trip to the legendary bouldering venue of Fontainebleau with a teething baby. This year we went back with an energetic (and teething) toddler. Here’s what we learned the hard way so you don’t have to. Read more

Some top via ferrata

The view down as I traversed across the Lauterbrunnen cliffs.
The view down as I traversed across the Lauterbrunnen cliffs.

The Red Bull website has an article by Alison Mann with a list of some of the top via ferrata around the world.  It was flattering to be interviewed by Alison for the article.  Since Alison and I talked, I’ve been curious to see which via ferrata people suggested as some of the best and the article highlights some amazing routes.  Reading about these via ferrata and seeing stunning photos of them really makes we want to get out there to climb.

The article is at:

http://www.redbull.com/en/adventure/stories/1331725297772/8-high-wire-via-ferratas-to-give-you-vertigo

Mostly Yellow in Fontainebleau

Me climbing problem orange 12 at Buthiers Piscine in the forests of Fontainebleau.
Me climbing problem orange 12 at Buthiers Piscine in the forests of Fontainebleau.

If it were not for bad customer service, I wouldn’t have been bouldering at Fontainebleau this week. On my first trip to Fontainebleau a year ago I tore the meniscus in my right knee while pulling hard on a heel hook. Since surgery on the knee, I’ve been trying to get back into climbing in a way that is slow, gentle and careful enough to avoid injury. Bouldering outside on boulders that often have sloping holds and rounded top-outs wasn’t necessarily what I would have picked as my reintroduction to climbing on real rock. However, I’d really enjoyed bouldering at Fontainebleau and I had a free Channel Tunnel ticket that expired at the end of June. This ticket was by way of apology from Eurotunnel for a four-hour delay to the train taking me to France on that first Fontainebleau trip and for failing to even reply to my initial complaints. That ticket was a good excuse to go. Read more

Fontainebaby

Behind you

An Easter break to the woods of Fontainebleau to climb on its famous sandstone boulders was our first real test as rock climbing parents. We had been taking our baby son, Leo, to the climbing wall on a regular basis and to some artificial boulders not far from where we live in London. He’d enjoyed the trips and we had managed to get a good amount of climbing done. But several days of outdoors climbing in a foreign country, with a teething seven-month old baby, felt like more of a challenge. By the end of the trip we had enjoyed some great climbing, been tested as parents and learnt a lot about taking a baby climbing at Fontainebleau. Read more

Font First Timer

Valerie climbing problem number 1 at Rocher des Potets.
Valerie climbing problem number 1 on the orange circuit at Rocher des Potets.

Sometimes places live up to the hype and Fontainebleau is one of those. The thousands of boulders in the vast woods are legendary among rock climbers. Fontainebleau is regularly described as a magical place, with the purest, most engaging climbing. Now that I’ve been there for the first time, I agree how brilliant and fun bouldering at Font can be. Read more

Yorkshire Grit

Me leading Zig-zag (Severe, 4b*) at Caley.
Me leading Zig-zag (Severe, 4b*) at Caley.

The greatness of Yorkshire has been getting serious recognition recently.  In August, Yorkshire was bestowed the accolade of being Europe’s Leading Destination 2013 at the World Travel Awards.  Yorkshire will host the opening stages of the 2014 Tour de France and the route through this iconic English region was announced in October.  October also saw Lonely Planet declaring Yorkshire the third best region in the world to visit.  For me, a big part of Yorkshire’s greatness is the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, with their wealth of amazing walking and climbing.  It was a nice coincidence that in the week that Lonely Planet declared Yorkshire a better destination than Texas, Victoria Falls and the West Coast of New Zealand, I went to Yorkshire to climb some rock. Read more

Walking the rim of the Creux du Van

Approach Creux du Van from behind and it’ll surprise you.  Walk over Le Soliat from the south and it looks like the rest of the Jura – a pretty landscape of rounded mountains covered in woods and meadows with the odd bit of limestone sticking out of them.  But as you walk towards the northern side of the mountain, a crescent moon of rock appears, dropping roughly 150 metres deep and stretching around 1,400 metres wide in-front of you.

Creux du Van
Creux du Van

The Creux du Van is a limestone cirque formed by erosion and landslides caused by the water from a long-gone glacier.  It sits in the mountains a short drive from Neuchatel in Switzerland.  It’s probably because it isn’t in the Alps, that Creux du Van is not particularly well known.  Which is a shame because it is as dramatic as its bigger cousins further east and is in wonderful walking country.  On the other hand, this lack of wider recognition makes it a quieter place to visit than a lot of the tourist areas of the Alps. Read more

Via Ferrata on the Edge

Me on the 80-metre long suspension bridge on the Murren-Gimmelwald Via Ferrata
Me on the 80-metre long suspension bridge on the Murren-Gimmelwald Via Ferrata

Murren is a pretty village of wooden chalets and hotels perching on slopes covered in woods and meadows.  In the summer, men farm the meadows for hay accompanied by the clanking of cowbells.  Tourists sit in cafes or wander streets kept quiet by a ban on all but electric vehicles.  The Eiger, Monch and outlying peaks of the Jungfrau across the valley provide a dramatic horizon of dark rock and bright snow.  Standing in its centre it’s easy to not realise that this quiet Swiss village comes to an abrupt halt at sheer limestone cliffs that drop hundreds of metres to the bottom of the narrow Lauterbrunnen Valley.  It’s this drop that makes Murren a favourite place for base-jumpers and paragliders.  It’s also along the top of these cliffs that a brilliant via ferrata descends from Murren to the village of Gimmelwald by a route that seems designed to test your nerves. Read more

A Little Bit of the Eiger – the Rotstock Via Ferrata

A ladder on the Rotstock Via Ferrata.  The Eigergletscher Station and Eiger Trail are behind and below.
A ladder on the Rotstock Via Ferrata. The Eigergletscher Station and Eiger Trail are behind and below.

“All the Grindelwald via ferrata are closed.”  The woman at the tourist information office said these words in a firm, brisk tone that indicated that she didn’t realise that I would find them disappointing.  I knew that there was a risk that the long, cold winter might mean that some mountain routes would still be impassable with snow that the hot July sun had not yet melted.  I had started to accept that this might be quite a high risk when I had seen snow clinging to slopes and hiding in gullies as I looked out of the train window on the way in to Grindelwald.  My trip to the tourist information office in Grindelwald had been done in the hope that I would be told my concerns were unfounded because there was one via ferrata around Grindelwald that I particularly wanted to climb.  Not only had the tourist information woman confirmed that I wasn’t wrong, but added that there was also a risk of rock fall.  I could have not let this news stop me from trying to climb, as you can’t, strictly speaking, close a cable and a series of ladders running up a mountain.  However, I know the importance of listening to local advice about mountain conditions if you want to stay safe and so thanked the woman before walking out dejectedly. Read more

Wire and War – the top five vie ferrate for WW1 history

WW1 ruins and a view of Marmolada from the Via delle Trincee.
WW1 ruins and a view of Marmolada from the Via delle Trincee.

Vie ferrate have much of their origins in war.  As the Italians and Austrians fought a war of attrition in the passes, summits and ridges of the Dolomites, they built vie ferrate to help the movement of troops and supplies.  Now these routes are a major leisure activity, with climbers clipping to metal cables fixed to mountainsides to protect them as they climb ladders and scramble over rock.  Via ferrata are an incredibly fun way to explore the mountains and in the Dolomites they also provide one of the best ways of learning about an aspect of World War 1 of which many people are unaware.  Seeing the tunnels, trenches, emplacements and debris of this mountain war can begin to bring to life the hardships and sacrifices of the men who fought on what the Italians called the “il fronte vertical.” Read more