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Fontainebleau: Which Bouldering Guide? | Buying Guide

A review of a select number of the various different bouldering guidebooks for Font available to buy in the UK. 

Brief Introduction

Fontainebleau (also commonly referred to as Font or Bleau) is a town around 50km south of Paris. The bouldering is situated on the forested hill sides that surround the town on fine-grained sandstone blocks of impeccable quality. The blocks in the area were first bouldered on in the late 19th Century and later (in the 1930’s) were used as training for alpine climbing. Since these initial days of development and exploration, bouldering became training for rock climbing and now many people boulder as an activity in its own right. To put it simply, for whatever reason climbers’ choose to go bouldering, Font is a world mecca for the activity and is visited by thousands of climbers every year.

There is a plethora of information about Fontainebleau on the internet, from logistics information: how to get there, where to stay and when to go, to climbing information: which areas to go to, what problems to try, how to do different problems. Rather than reiterating this easily findable information, the aim of this article is to give the reader a summary of the different guidebooks that are available in the UK. The Fontainebleau forest is home to over 10,000 problems and, as such, cataloguing all of these in the form of a definitive guidebook is, in reality, nigh on impossible (however is the ultimate reference site that describes all the problems). Consequently, the several different guidebooks that are available take different tacks in the way in which they are produced, meaning that different guides are more suitable for different users.

Broadly speaking there are three main different styles of guides: Circuit guides, “Off-Circuit” (A.K.A “Off-Piste”) guides and, thirdly, guides that are a large mixture of both of these. Circuit guides describe circuits (in their entirety) at the different areas. Circuits consist of a large number of different problems (all of a similar grade) that are numbered on the rock starting from 1. There are different difficulties of circuits in Font, these are delineated by the colour used to number the problems. The easiest circuits are the yellow circuits (from font 2a-3a), next are the orange circuits (font 3a-4a), then the blue circuits (font 4a-5a), followed by the red circuits (font 4c-6b) and finally the white and black circuits can contain problems anywhere between font 5c up and into the 8’s in difficulty! Many problems in Font are “Off-Circuit” meaning that they aren’t numbered on the rock. The location of some Off Circuit problems are sometimes also indicated in Circuit guides. Similarly, stand-out problems that are On-Circuit are regularly included in “Off-Circuit” guides, however the difference being that these guides do not contain the full circuits.  

Circuit style guides:

  • Fontainebleau Magique - by David Atchinson-Jones (Jingo Wobbly 2009)
  • Fontainebleau: Montchausse - by Jo & Francoise Montchausse and Jacky Godoffe (Baton Wicks 2001)
 Off-Circuit guides
  • Fontainebleau Off Piste - by Jo & Francoise Montchausse and Jacky Godoffe (Baton Wicks 2006)
  • Fontainebleau 7 + 8 - by Bart van Raaij (van Raaij 2007)
  • Fontainebleau 5 + 6 - by Bart van Raaij (van Raiij 2012)
  • Font A Bloc: Vol 1 - by Jacky Godoffe (Versante Sud 2010)
Mixture/Select guides
  • Essential Fontainebleau - by John Watson (Stone Country Press 2008)
  • Fontainebleau Fun Bloc - by David Atchinson-Jones (Jingo Wobbly 2012)
Comprehensive guides
  • Bleau en Bloc - by Johanna Widmair (Panico 2010)

Fontainebleau Fun Bloc

Fontainebleau Fun Bloc packs in an incredible 7000+ problems graded between 1a and 8c, at all of the popular areas in the forest. It does this at the expense of any problem descriptions, so the fact that this is written in both French and English does become rather superfluous.
  • No of Pages: 320
  • Publisher: Jingo Wobbly
  • Published Date: April 2012
  • Cover: Flapped, stiffened paperback
  • Illustrations:  1600+ photo topos, 45+ area maps
  • Price (May 2012): £30.00

Usage As with all Jingo Wobbly publications, Fontainebleau Fun Bloc is a bit of a love it or hate it affair in terms of it's lay-out and graphical design. Whilst there's no doubt that you can pack a lot of problems into a guide by doing away with descriptions, the lack of any hints on how to do certain problems could be a bit of a drawback, particularly as so many are beta specific. I can see Fontainebleau Fun Bloc mainly appealing to groups of mixed abilities, who probably have a couple of other guides to supplement it. Purchase guide 

Fontainebleau: Montchausse

Overhead topos and layout maps summarise Font's training circuits. This is the circuit guide that most people use, have used or will use at some point to navigate round Font’s various circuits. Covers nearly forty areas, documents over 100 circuits and details the location of nearly 3000 problems.
  • No of Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Baton Wicks
  • Published Date: 2012
  • Cover: Stiffened paperback
  • Illustrations: Colour overview circuit topos
  • Price (Oct 2012): £19.95

Usage This is the most popular circuit guidebook there is to Font, it displays the circuits to all the popular areas and commonly visited areas and, as such, it is ideal for if you just wish to do circuits. It also contains a few popular off-circuit problems. Each section gives a summary about the area, then displays the circuits in the well used “bird’s eye view” overplan style topo. The individual problems are not described; however for some areas the names of problems are also given. This guide works well with it’s companion ‘Fontainebleau Off Piste’ and covers a large range of what Font offers. Purchase guide

Fontainebleau Off Piste

The second selected guidebook by the highly experienced Montchausse / Godoffe team to this famous French climbing area. In their quest Off Piste, the authors have listed the harder problems in the main areas and also on many lesser known groups of boulders dotted around the forest. It includes some 3000 problems of grade 6 and above.
  • No of Pages: 288
  • Publisher: Baton Wicks
  • Published Date: 2006
  • Cover: flapped paperback
  • Illustrations: Overhead colour topos and maps.
  • Price (May 2012): £18.95

Usage Off Piste is a good companion to the Fontainebleau – Montchausse guide and the combination of these two guides would work well if you wish to try a mixture of both Off and On Piste problems. Each area is briefly described, followed by overview-topo’s to show the problems. Until you get used to using the overview topo’s, it can make identifying problems tricky. Area descriptions are further aided by the use of grade spread bar charts, these help in giving the user an idea of the range of problems, and thus it’s suitability for a visit. Purchase guide

7-8font-2013Fontainebleau 7+8

In recent years this has become the bible for boulderers climbing in the 7th and 8th grades. The basic premise is that it contains 1789 straight ups in Fontainebleau. 7 + 8 focuses on the harder straight ups from 7a onwards, traverses are not mentioned except for 34 classics. A number of exceptional 6c+’s are also included.
  • No of Pages: 336
  • Publisher: Raaij
  • Published Date: July 2013
  • Cover: PVC & contains a ribbon for marking the page you’re on.
  • Illustrations: Black and white photos, maps and “overhead” topos.
  • Price (Aug 2010): £29.95

Usage The guidebook is designed for people climbing harder bouldering problems or those that hope to do so in the near future. It does not contain easier problems, meaning that if you do operate in the 7th and 8th grades but fancy an easier day, or you don’t have the knowledge about the easier classic problems, then this guide won’t give you that information. 7+ 8 has basic, reasonably accurate maps and overview-topo’s. However, due to the lack of photo-topo’s, it means that if you don’t have a base level of knowledge of an area it can be more difficult to navigate your way around and identify problems. The overview-topo’s (along with the photos) are in black and white, this means that it’s not the best guide for getting the ‘psyche’ on and due to the amount of problems contained in the book none of the problem descriptions go into that much detail regarding the problems. Due to this I wouldn’t recommend this guide to be used for researching the area and creating ticklists etc. However, if you have this knowledge and want to get on ‘hard’ 7+8 straight up problems, then this is the guide for you!

Fontainebleau 5 + 6

If the 7 + 8s guide is a bit on the stiff side for your liking then the new 5+6s guide might be just the ticket. Although it only covers the central and southern areas of the forest (the Couvier, Franchard and Elephant areas basically) there's still enough here to keep you busy. Obviously if you're staying at the popular Musardiere campsite, and climbing mainly at the Trois Pignons area, then this guide won't be of much use.
  • No of Pages: 322
  • Publisher: van Raaij
  • Published Date: April 2012
  • Cover: flapped paperback
  • Illustrations: Overhead topos, colour action photos
  • Price (May 2012): £29.95

Usage Except for the addition of a few colour action photos the 5 + 6s guide follows the same format as the 7 + 8s guide. The overhead photo topos take a bit of getting used to, but once mastered (the numbered circuit problems are the best way to orientate yourself) they work just fine. The fact that there is a topo on each page next to the problem descriptions is extremely useful rather than having to find the page with topo on to orientate yourself. If you're mainly bouldering in the 5's and 6's and looking to tick off classic problems, rather than follow circuits then this guide is certainly well worth buying.

Font A Bloc: Vol 1

This is a quality selected guide book to the bouldering directly around Fontainebleau (there are 2 more volumes to follow, see list of areas covered at the bottom of this section). It features English throughout. The guide describes 5000+ problems from 6a up to 8c and contains full colour photo-topos, clear, well drawn overview maps, plus information about each area and general logistics of staying in the Fontainebleau area.
  • No of Pages: 332
  • Publisher: Versante Sud
  • Published Date: Summer 2010
  • Cover: flapped paperback
  • Illustrations: Colour photo-topos and overview maps
  • Price (May 2012): £29.95

Covers: Isatis, Cuvier, Cuisiniere, Apremont, Salamandre, Rocher Canon, Rocher d’Avon, Gorges du Houx, Rocher Cassepot, Rocher du Calvaire, Rocher de Bouligny, Rocher Saint Germain, Rocher des Demoiselles and Mont Ussy – Roche Hercule. Usage The new kid on the block, this first of a three volume set covers a large number of problems to classic areas in Fontainebleau. The problems have been selected by that man with the knowledge: Jacky Godoffe. The guide is well laid out and incredibly user friendly, both for first time and repeat visitors. The system used for each area is simple: the area overview map shows the boulders- these are numbered. For each boulder there is then a photo-topo that clearly shows the line of the problem and briefly describes the climbing. This makes finding and identifying problems much easier. The guide also includes a good selection of action shots. Like all good action shots, most of these inspire the reader to want to go to Font and climb the problems that are photographed. My only quibble with the photo’s would be the bizarre choice of cover photo. Problem choosing is further aided by the inclusion of a star system, ensuring that you’re aware of the classic lines. This is particularly useful for a destination like Font where the quantity of problems is so large. The guide has a bias towards harder problems, covering the majority of well known problems in the 7th and 8th grades. However unlike 7+8, this guide includes classic problems right down to 6a. So even if you don’t climb in the 7’s and 8’s and prefer to go around and try problems (instead of doing circuits) then this is the guide for you. I can imagine this guide becoming popular for many regulars and first-time climber’s alike. Although it is doesn’t cover everything that you might expect, it does cover the majority of well known problems. 7+8 better watch out! Purchase guide

Essential Fontainebleau

The first pocket guide to Fontainebleau bouldering available for under a tenner! Essential Fontainebleau (briefly) describes over 40 classic venues. Each area is given an overview-topo, followed by photographs of the boulders with the classic lines marked out and brief descriptions guiding the climber through the secrets of each problem. Over 300 carefully chosen problems are described mainly in the accessible grade ranges to appeal to the travelling boulderer. Clear and concise maps help guide the boulderer around the forest, whether by car or on foot, and tips for a successful visit are included throughout.
  • No of Pages: 176
  • Publisher: Stone Country Press
  • Published Date: November 2008
  • Cover: flapped paperback
  • Illustrations: Colour photo topos, 50 colour overview topos and maps
  • Price (Aug 2010): £9.95

Usage Similar in style to Font A Bloc: Vol 1, this miniture guide (15 x 10.5 cm) also uses the same system of overview map, followed by photo-topo and brief description to identify problems. This makes identifying different problems, and generally navigating your way around, easier. The slight difference with this guide (to Font A Bloc) is that the overview maps are also semi circuit-style topo’s; in that they selectively include some of the numbered circuits. One thing that I really like about this guide is that not only are On Circuit and “Off-Circuit” problems both included, but the best “On-Circuit” problems are also recommended. The guide is in colour throughout and (for it’s size) contains a good selection of action shots, which always helps when deciding where to go and what to get on. Due to the small size of this guide (it only includes around 350 problems) it isn’t really suitable for use on its own over a longer visit – i.e a week or more. Although, it is ideal for a quick hit; such as a long weekend or short stop-off on your way to elsewhere in the continent. Where this guide really comes into its own, is when it is used in conjunction with some of the other guides mentioned above: the simple to navigate layout and photo-topos of easily recognisable problems, helps you find your way about far easier than with the more definitive and less easy to follow overview type guides, whilst also giving you a ready trimmed down selection of some of the best lines in the Forrest. A good combo would be this paired with the Montausse guide, for climber wanting lines 6c+ and below, or with the 7+8's guide for climbers after harder propositions.


The first guide to claim to offer everything in the Forrest, all in one volume, the Bleau en Bloc guidebook, from Panico, is an epic tome! 646 compact pages, packed with diagrams, maps and photo-topos, make this guide a brick of a book.
  • No of Pages: 646
  • Publisher: Panico
  • Published Date: 2010
  • Cover: flapped paperback
  • Price (May 2012): £38.00

Usage Being definitive surely this is the only guide worth buying, no? Well, if you speak fluent German, then yes perhaps it is. Unfortunately however, if you do not have a solid grasp of the Germanic lingo, then the answer is an unequivocal no. Despite offering a good selection of graphical knowledge, being able to read the intros and descriptions looks to be a necessity. Perhaps if used in conjunction with the Stone Country guide the book could be made to work for the non-German speaking individual, however this remains untested at the point of writing.

Fontainebleau Magique (NO LONGER AVAILABLE)

This Jingo Wobbly guide selects 50 medium grade classic Fontainebleau circuits which are set in especially beautiful and quiet parts of the forest. Main popular areas, such as Diplodocus and Cul de Chien, as well as the less well known circuits that have remained hidden from the majority of climbers in recent years. The text is in both English and French language.
  • No of Pages: 320
  • Publisher: Jingo Wobbly
  • Published Date: March 2009
  • Cover: Flapped, stiffened paperback
  • Illustrations: 200 colour photos, 50 topo-maps on double page spreads.
  • Price (May 2012): £24.95

Usage Fontainebleau Magique contains a large amount of information about different areas and because of this it is a good guide for those who haven’t bouldered outside that much. The opening ‘Understanding Fontainebleau’ introduction provides a good level of depth of information about Fontainebleau and generally climbing in the forest. The guide contains a large amount of low grade circuits, each displayed with Jingo Wobbly’s well established symbols. The circuit problems included in this guide go right down to the easier end of the scale (Font 2’s), meaning that this is a good guide to use if you’re climbing on holiday with your children. The overview circuit topos show the numbered circuit problems, however they don’t include any description lines. The guide contains a good selection of photos of easier graded problems; these give a good idea of what the climbing (other than on desperate test-pieces) is like in Font. In contrast to the other circuit guidebook (Fontainebleau – Montchausse), this guide doesn’t include circuits to every area. So in that sense you’re restricted to going to areas that are included, but with 50 circuits it’s enough to keep most people busy!

Fontainebleau Bouldermaps (NO LONGER AVAILABLE)

This is a bit of an oddity really, mostly being a topo, but disguised as a map. There are 3 maps to the popular areas of Franchard, Bas Cuvier and Apremont contained in a PVC walet.
  • Publisher: Tmms Verlag
  • Published Date: August 2011
  • Cover: PVC wallet and waterprrof paper maps
  • Price (May 2012): £24.95
Usage I must admit that I'm not entirely sure who this will appeal to! As a map it's not that detailed and obviously only covers very small areas; you'd be better off with the excellent IGN Fontainebleau and Trois Pignons map for general navigation. As a topo I think I'd prefer the ease of use of one of the book format topos above, some of which are cheaper and offer vastly more information. No doubt it'll be just the thing for somebody though!
Due to the small size of this guide (it only includes around 350 problems) it isn’t really suitable for use on its own over a longer visit – i.e a week or more. Although, it is ideal for a quick hit; such as a long weekend or short stop-off on your way to elsewhere in the continent. Where this guide really comes into its own, is when it is used in conjunction with some of the other guides mentioned above: the simple to navigate layout and photo-topos of easily recognisable problems, helps you find your way about far easier than with the more definitive and less easy to follow overview type guides, whilst also giving you a ready trimmed down selection of some of the best lines in the Forrest. A good combo would be this paired with the Montausse guide, for climber wanting lines 6c+ and below, or with the 7+8's guide for climbers after harder propositions.