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This is a guest post by Amber Thornton from RoadRamble.
Fontainebleau bouldering – ethics and etiquette

When climbing outdoors it's important to respect the environment, rock and other people in order to make the experience pleasant for everyone and help to ensure continued access to Fontainebleau Forest. There are millions of visitors every year now, so small actions can have a big impact when multiplied by many people. I work with my partner, Sam, as bouldering guides and coaches in Fontainebleau and a key part of this is discussing these impacts and good practice. Here are some recommendations based on our experience as well as information from bleau.info.

Respect the Environment

Take your rubbish home. This includes toilet paper, finger tape, fruit peels and cigarette butts, and perhaps some of other people's rubbish too.

Toilet reponsibly! There are no public toilets, so use one before you go climbing. If you need to go whilst in the forest bury any waste or better yet pack it out along with any non-biodegradable waste (sanitary products, nappies and wet wipes) and don't toilet near boulders.

Fire is not permitted. This is incredibly dangerous year round as the area is prone to forest fires especially, but not exclusively, in dry periods. In summer you can be fined for lighting fires - and this extends to cigarettes. If you feel the need to smoke, make sure to extinguish the butt and take it with you.
Stick to paths. This will prevent further damage to vegetation and soil erosion. Be particularly vigilant within the 'Réserves Biologique Intégrales'.

Climbing at night is discouraged. The lights and noise disturb wildlife.

Sleeping in the forest is not permitted. This includes sleeping in tents in car parks! There are free bivouacs where camping is permitted in the forest, choose these instead.

Don't cut or damage trees and vegetation. As well as degrading the natural environment, it is not permitted by the ONF, who manage the forest. Additionally, trees have formed characteristic additions to boulder problems - think 'L'Hélicoptère' at Cuvier and 'Le Chaînon Manquant' at Rocher Canon.

Move bouldering pads carefully. Dragging them contributes to further ground erosion, lift pads instead.

Lift share where possible. This reduces car emissions, leaves more spaces in the car parks and saves money. What's not to like?

Respect the Rock

Clean your shoes before climbing. Sand polishes the rock, permenantly degrading the boulder problems and making them less pleasant for future climbers. You know those crazy slippery footholds? That's from climbers that didn't clean their shoes. Use a rag to throughly clean the rubber soles and heels of your shoes. Dirty feet also make an unpredictable fall more likely.

Allow the rock to dry fully after rain and high humidity. Damp sandstone is more fragile, especially in the southern areas like Éléphant. Part of climbing outdoors is accepting that sometimes the weather stops play. There are beautiful walks and rides in the forest, and a great indoor gym in Fontainebleau if you need to climb. Please don't permenantly destroy boulder problems for everyone else by climbing on them when they are wet.

Use chalk sparingly and remove it after climbing with a soft brush. Many people visit the forest for it's natural environment and incredible landscape. Chalk-daubed, tick-marked rock spoils that experience. Dust loose chalk off your hands in the bag, and don't put it directly on the rock. Lots of chalk doesn't increase friction, it just makes for a slippy, powdery, ugly mess.

Use only soft brushes, don't brush wet rock, never use wire brushes. Fontainebleau sandstone is soft so overbrushing can change or destroy holds.

Respect other People

Don't park in front of the barriers. Access is needed at all times for emergency and/or forestry services.
Keep dogs under control. They frighten wildlife and annoy other people.

Be polite and friendly to locals, other climbers and forest visitors. Try a French greeting. Make space if anyone needs to pass, likewise try not to trample people's gear, mats or picnics.

Don't play music or make excessive noise. It's annoying for other people and can disturb wildlife. Drones can arguably fall into the same category, so please be considerate.

Don't take over the crag. Keep bags in a tidy heap, not on top of vegetation. Slacklines and hammocks are a nice way to relax on long sunny days, but try to find an out-of-the-way place to set them up, and take them down if the crag gets too busy.

Spot with patience and use communication. Not everyone wants a spot so offer before grabbing, and if you would like a spot on a boulder problem ask rather than assuming.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Any suggestions or additions? Don't hesitate to comment below. Good practice is a learning process, and one we want to encourage in ourselves as well as others. Happy climbing!

Resources and Further reading

  • bleau.info – an in-depth source of information on bouldering in Fontainbleau

  • Leave No Trace – an American organisation doing a great job of informing people and keeping climbing sites open.

  • 'Respect the Rock' series found at UKClimbing – best practice information from the UK climbing scene, the majority of which is applicable elsewhere. Case studies illustrate the results of bad practices.

  • boulderfont.info – nice website with some helpful information on bouldering in Fontainebleau Forest