Lauren Callaway - The French Style
Lauren Callaway shares her most recent experience at the Font and some helpful tips for those who are planning a trip...
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Le Toit du Chien is situated about a quarter of the way through the red circuit at Cul de Chien. It is not actually a circuit problem, but rather a bonus. That means you can climb it or not, depending on how you feel, and still complete the circuit.
But looking at the boulder I thought, “how could I not?” It is tall, prominent, and aptly named (“le toit” means “the roof”), with three perfect moves exiting the tall, beautiful roof. After some technical balancing up a polished seam, you reach to a small mono pocket. That’s move one. You then place a left heel, cross up to another pocket, move two. At that point, your feet are roughly 15 feet off the deck, and you prepare for move three—a campus-dyno up to a positive edge that sits still a few more feet higher.
The problem is uncharacteristic in style to much of the other climbing in Fontainebleau, except for the thought that comes up in your mind when you first see it: HOW CAN I NOT TRY TO CLIMB THIS?
Ronnie Jenkins, Resilience 7a+ at Buthiers Tennis, Photo by Katie Lambert
Before I made my first trip to Fontainebleau two years ago, all I really knew of it was that it was gigantic—something like 30,000 problems developed over a 40-mile radius—and that it was hard and common to fail on everything, including on problems that don’t even rank on the v-scale.
With low expectations, I passed my first trip with only small amounts of frustration. But all of that was put at bay by a handful of memorable tops (I will never forget the first time I completed La Marie Rose), an abundance of pastries, and a feeling that Fontainebleau was starting to change the way I climbed.
I have admired the “French” style of climbing for years, watching YouTube videos of climbers like Melissa LeNeve and Alizee Dufraisse glide eloquently up boulders and routes in Spain, the Rocklands, and other parts of the world. The style—soft, but confident—is not only beautiful to watch, but extremely efficient and warranting of success (both women have sent some of the hardest climbs in the world, and LeNeve only recently retired from the World Cup circuit, where she almost always stood on the podium).
Katie Lambert high stepping, Photo by Ben Ditto
It is easy to see the connection between the delicate footwork, balance and confident movement characteristic of the Bleausards (local climbers/connoisseurs of movement), and many of the great French climbers. I am a long way off.
Here is a comparison between me and them: if a Bleausard is an award-winning, first-pedigree collie, then I am a one-eyed pitbull-chihuahua mix straight from the pound. But, it doesn’t mean that I can’t go to the groomers once in a while and do my best to keep up.
Consequently, I have committed to regular trips to Fontainebleau where I throw myself at all of the “classically Font” problems. It has become my proverbial trip to the groomer for climbing.
In my most recent trip this past March, I showed up the same as always: a list of classics, and a willingness to be humbled as a means to get better. On my third day of climbing, I arrived in Cul De Chien with my friends Ben and Sean. We were going to do the red circuit, and it was going to make me a better climber.
We started up with a lot of laughter, and that continued. I didn’t realize until that evening that I had forgotten about getting better. I just climbed, and I listened to my body, and I let it move. We took in the sun, laughed a lot, topped out quite a few beautiful problems (including Le Toit du Chien), and got really, really tired. Every climb, however difficult it was, felt like I had rehearsed it for years.
Lauren Callaway and Ronnie Jenkins, photo by Ben Ditto
The days after that it felt the same: climbing mostly on whatever looked good that day, and it being magnificent. I stopped thinking so much about climbing like Jacky Godoffe and Catherine Destivelle, and in the process, I just evolved the way that I climb a little.
Hopefully, in a French way.
Essential font vocabulary
• Bleausard: someone who has mastered the different styles of climbing in Fontainebleau. Read more here.
• Rond Point: Traffic circle (get used to these)
• Boulangerie: where most of your food comes from
• Pan au chocolat: chocolate croissant
• Escargot chocolat pistache: Pastry with pistachio, chocolate and vanilla
• Religieuse: coffee eclair cake
Lauren Callaway trying Teddy Bear 7a, Buthiers Tennis, Photo by Ronnie Jenkins
• Do not climb on wet rock!! Although some of the blocs in Font are bullet hard with a crust of quartzite on top, the rock quality varies throughout the forest. So while some areas may dry and be climbable very quickly after rain, others need much more time. Be informed! The areas in Larchant, for example, are very sensitive.
• Clean your holds!! Once you are done climbing, aside from brushing off all of your tick marks (which you will always do, no matter where you are), be sure to give a good brush to all the holds that you have touched. This cleans them up for others and preserves the dignity of the holds.
• Watch out for sandy feet. Many locals carry around a small towel and/or an additional brush that they use to clean sand off the bottoms of their shoes before they touch the rock. This also preserves the dignity of the foot and hand holds.
• Make reservations to go out to eat. Even if the restaurant is empty it annoys the staff.
• On that note, eating Times are noon-2pm and 7pm-9pm. No one will EVER serve you food outside of those times (ok some restaurants will serve you maybe until 3 pm, but don’t assume), and you might be subject to some heckling.
• Boulangeries typically only take cash. If like me you plan to eat most of your calories in pastry, this is very important to keep in mind.
Preview photo by ©Katie Lambert
 I have a mutt from the pound, and she’s great, but I will not be entering her into competition anytime soon.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Callaway is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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