I Love Font

Fontainbleau is more than just woods and rock, it is the synergy of experience and culture so close to home that everyone should make the pilgramage to these hallowed stones. So extensive are the boulders and vast the variety there is quite literally bucket loads of climbing for anyone young, old, beginner or wad to scapper over.

Here we take an off the wall look at the lighter side to climbing in France enchanted forest, with a list of essential hints and tips.

Patisseries: For those not fluent in french, a patisserie translates to shop of filth. These emporiums of edible delights are not usually the natural habitat of the emaciated climber, however a trip to font is also a holiday, so leave your psuedo eating disorder at home and dive in at the deep end of the cake counter.

Pain: NO, not pain, Pain, the french for bread and it comes in many sterotypical forms, like french stick, crossiants and pain au chocolait. It is said that in france a man or woman for that matter can live on bread alone.

Cheese: Armed with bread, cheese and a knife you can live in decadence in the forest and eat like kings. Your only dilemma is which or how many you choose to climb with, the delicate rotten cabbage aroma of a ripe Brie, the suculent toe rot fragance of gorgonzola or for the less adventurous the creamy delights of Edam.

Beer: You can never under estimate the isotonic qualities of beer after a hard days bouldering, despite scientific research that would have you believe beer is a bad for hydration, french beer is special and often requires several litres to reach that perfect hydration level. Do be careful with lunchtime drinking, it can often enhance you neck but decrease actual ability, and lead to some off-piste action.

Wine: Well, when in Rome! The birth place of many fine wines, means that france is a fine place to hone your palate, and cheap as chips for a good bottle as well. A lovely bottle of van rouge to wash down dinner is another hidden cog to success in france.

Gite: A self catering palace and resting place to help any climber get over the aches and pains of a work out in the forest. Much better and usually just as cheap as camping. The only down side is it is far easier to lie in for hours and get a font start.

Hire Cars: The first rule of hire cars is there is no rules, that is providing you take out the collision damage waiver. Failing that try and keep any damage to the underside of the vehicle. If its a large group try and hire similar cars, meaning that impromtu races to the crag can help start the adrenaline pumping. Also of note is the fact that they drive on the other side of the road, well worth remembering when you are half asleep on the morning crossiant run.

Circuits: Often an oxymoron, in the fact that the route taken through the boulders is anything from circuluous. Each is colour graded from white to white, with a few more primary colour in between. Arrows point the direction, numbers the sequence of problems throughout the circuit, a dot often signifies a sneaky boulder to start off. Quite often these paint on symbols have faded to nothing meaning that from time to time you will undoubtably be ‘off-piste’.

Patatas: These are the large spanish potatoes that many of the boulder problems top out on. Often they make a gritstone mantel look like a walk in the park.

Crease: One of the quintesential fontainbleau holds, where a fold in the rock, gives something between a crimp and a jug,.

Pof: Something that the french use to cheat there way up boulder problems, very similar to what violinist place on there bows, but smashed up and located in a pof rag, to give friction to smeary footholds that have become glassy with years of having pof dabbed on them.

Descents: Quite often the hardest part of bouldering at Font is the descents off some of the boulders, especialy for those not happy with launching themselves onto a nearby block. It is often adviseable to check the descent before an ascent, or at least leaving one of the party on the ground to move the crash mat round to a suitable position. Failure to do so can lead to an embarassing situation of waiting for a passing climber to rescue you.

Spotting: Something of a mystical art in the UK, if you observe the french then you will often see textbook examples of how to stop people landing badly. Being british you will of course need trousers or shorts with pockets, into which you must place both hands, and at least an extra three crash pads so that you can sit down a watch in comfort whilst another climber falls off onto the sand. You wouldn’t want to touch another body, we are english after all.

The Font Grading system: Something of a mystery for those not fluent in french, whose alpha-numerical system seems to be different from any other country, where 6a can be harder than 7a, and anything graded below 5 is really just a random number picked out of the air by the author to fill in the spreadsheet of the circuit.

Jumps: Quite often circuits and descents off boulders require short or not so short leaps of faith onto other boulder. This will be disconcerting for the unintiated, however the easiest circuits often include more a step of faith rather than a leap.

Font Start: Often this is believed to be a jumping start from a standing position, it is more often related to the lie in due to the comfort of the Gite and the amount of rehydration that took place the night before.

Climb On: A miracle product for men to come across, although women often choose E45 cream, aloe vera or other Nivea or Ulay hand care products. Whatever your choice these are essential due to the font finger syndrom. Quite often you will see many retrosexual male climbers fighting over a tub of hand cream like women fight over chocolait.

Font Finger Syndrome: This is caused by an allergic reaction between the rock and the fingers. Often accellerate by the unwitting running about like a fat lad in a sweet shop with a fiver. This over climbing on early days can lead to an inability to climb on subsequent days after all the skin on your pads has eaten away by fonticus maximus slopemous. Careful pacing and the use of hand care products is essential.

Chocolait: A famous french film about the evil woman that opens a shop similar to a patisserie but far filthier, and an essential ingredient to any day out in the forest. You will need half a large bar per male, and two bars for every female.

Fonticus maximus slopemous: Similar to patatas but does not include a desperate mantel shelf, instead it is a fight for friction, and skin.

Pacing: Often associated with the amount of isotonic larger or wine consumed throughout your stay in the area, this term is sometimes used as an excuse for when you can’t do a problem with the phrase,’Well, I would have done it eventually, but I have to pace myself’.

Ibuprofen: Another miracle cure for the aches and pains that a workout in fontainbleau will generate. Many climbers load themselves up in the the morning to help combat any off-piste action the night before.

Crash Pad: Also know as the forest sofa, these handy sitting and sunbathing platform are a must for any climber, who hasn’t paced themselves correctly.

Font 7 & 8’s: Whilst at first a guidebook conceived to take honed climbers to the serious end of the font grading system, it is now more commonly seen in the hands of female climbers and dubbed the guide to the best backs in the forest.

off-piste: A common situation in Fontainbleau, as poorly marked circuits and geographical embarrassment result in a Ray Mear’s survival experience to relocate your bags and lunch. It translates to Off Road, which is something only to be done in hire cars.

Bloc: French for Block.

Coaching in Adventure Sports

Many people consider coaching adventure sports to be different from coaching any other type of sports, and whilst this may hold true to a certain extent, the underlying coaching principles do still apply for adventure sports. What this mini article is going to do is explain a little of the scientific understanding of how we learn and why coaching adventure sports is different.

Firstly in order to learn we need to take in information, we do this via a short-term sensory store (STSS), which feeds our short term memory (STM) which in turn can eventually lead to us developing long-term memory (LTM). Various experiments have shown the STSS has the capability of holding a large amount of information, however most of it is filtered out or lost over time as it moves towards our STM.

In a classic experiment by Miller (1956) that looked at the limits of STM, in this experiment he found that we have a limit of 7+/-2 pieces of information and that it can be held there for around 30 seconds. More importantly for coaches he also found that you can chunk pieces of information together, so STM can hold 7+/-2 chunks of information. Where a chunk might be a group of movements that a climber or adventure sport has already learnt.

What this means for Coaches is that when we are teaching people we need to limit the information so that we don’t ‘overload’ our students. This is often best achieved through a progressive approach to teaching skills. Where adventure sports can differ from more mainstream sports is that anxiety and fear can play a large part in performance decline, through one of several hypothesised processes that will have an effect on those 7+/-2 chunks of information we can process.

One of the most popular processes related to anxiety is Processing Efficiency Theory (PET) developed by Eysenck & Calvo, (1992). PET states that when we are anxious our ability to process information is compromised by the anxiety that takes up processing power in our brain, what this means is that those 7+/-2 chunks of information are reduced, and the more anxious a person is the less information they will be able to cope with.

What this means is that as a coach in adventure sports we need to be able to see when someone is scare or anxious and perhaps remove them from that situation in order improve there ability to learn. An alternative approach is to slowly increase the stimulus that is inducing the anxiety, so in climbing that would be to do smaller routes or boulder problems first, before moving onto bigger and harder routes.

As such a progression in terms of not only difficulty of skill, but the environment in which those skills are being taught is important to the coaching of adventure sports. To view a more complete article on coach adventure sports please visit a fuller article on my website

Eysenck, M. W. & Calvo, M.G (1992) Anxiety and performance: the processing efficiency thoery. Cognition and Emotion, 6, 409-434.
Miller, G. (1956) The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Gaia: Onsight or flash?

Well there is always something going on on UKC, this time it seems that the discussion of what is and what isn’t an on-sight, this time though the controversy has come because the person who climbed the route downgraded his ascent to a flash, not claiming the Onsight because of he’d seen Hard Grit, where in the opening sequence we see a visiting French climber try and break his leg by falling off it!

Now Alex Honnold, has torn us a new view of trad climbing in the UK. I reviewed The Sharp End, and American film where Alex ripped up the Czech Republic. From this film this guy has not only balls but no shortage of climbing ability as well. Whilst I feel it is a noble act for him to put his hands up and say well I saw someone climb in on a video a while back, he still hadn’t touched the holds or felt the moves.

Now there was a lot of talk of how seeing someone climb a route could totally blow your on-sight of a route. Now whilst ethically this may be the case from a scientific stand point observation can have several effects. In particular seeing someone climb a route allows you what is describe as observational learning, by seeing a video of a route, and watching it over and over and then using this to aid you imagination of that route will help you remember the key crux sequences before you get on a route. Imagery as it is called is one of the most common mental skills that any athlete athletes use to enhance there performance.

However in the report on Climb Magazines website, Alex mentions only seeing the film on TV, he doesn’t talk about watching it repeatedly to analyze the sequence. Similar effects of imagery can be had through simply looking at the route from the ground, and carefully planning and mentally rehearsing your attempt before you head off.

Now for most people when we climb observation of another climber on the route can also improve our confidence to be successful. We often do this subconsciously by judging the person who we are observing against our own perceived ability. So if we see someone succeed and we perceive them to be less able or equal to ourselves then our confidence in achieving that route are increased. There is a lot of research that points to an increase in confidence leading to an increase in physical performance. Again given that Alex won’t have know Jean-min from the Hard Grit film he can’t judge his own ability from that.

As such all the bully about whether or not it could justify an on-sight ascent by many of the armchair critics on UKC (see thread), is just unnecessary. I have never meet Alex, and can’t say if he is a nice guy or an arsehole. However his climbing speaks for itself, I’d give him the on-sight as improving on his style of ascent in this case is going to require us to know exactly how many times he saw Hard Grit and when take was, which just beggars belief.

Good luck to Team America on the rest of their stay in the UK, and I hope they ignore many of the comments on UKC

Snap Shot of my Minds Eye – How was it made?

A few people have ask how it was made, in an attempt to answer this question, I am going to concentrate on the last Deep Water Soloing section, which was by far the hardest most intensive section to produce. It all start with a friend who had a poster by Dave Hockney, he did some famous photomontages. I was out climbing Electric Blue and decided to try and make a massive photo collage. I eventually after two days got all the photos for the collage (over 100 images), it took days to stick all the images to a piece of A1 card!

I lost the collage several years ago. However I still had the negatives, a week of scanning on a flatbed scanner later, followed by a week putting them together with adobe Illustrator, and I had the ‘master’ collage. It then occured to me that I could take a photo away, then save as a Jpeg, and keep doing this until there were no photos left. I would then be able to use each image as a form of stop animation.

I then used Final Cut Pro to zoom in on each JPeg and animate them. This took about two weeks of work, as each frame had to be animated individual. Meaning that each frame had to have an X,y vector start point, a %zoom start point and then an x,y vector finish point and % zoom finish point. The next frame would then have to start at the exact coordinates at were the previous frame finished. So it was an slow and fiddly process!

It wasn’t until several years later that I film people slowing, which happened to be from a similar location, it was then possible to simply add it to the collage.

So that’s how I did it!

Mount Snowdon?!

Well this week on UKC the debate over how the media refer Yr Wyddfa or Snowdon. Now typical any journalist worth their salt on BBC or ITV will refer incorrectly to Wales highest peak as Mount Snowdon. Now obviously this has the potential to get proper mountaineers backs ups. 

Now simply adding a mount in front of the name is nothing to the damage the average Englishman can do to the welsh language. I was once ask for direction to Dolly-girl-loo, it took me a while to realise they wanted to head to Dolgellau or Dull-geth-lie.
However, I want to start a new campaign to rename Snowdon, to simply The Mountain, its a concept that comes from Talkeetna, Alaska. Where all local refer to Denali (notice I didn’t call mount!) as simply The Mountain. You get great conversation like “you going up the mountain”, “No, I just been up the mountain”. It gets real fun if you not going up THE mountain, but going up A mountain, it certain turns head.
 It would also stop all problems with pronunciation.

Coaching Workshop for Climbers and Instructors

There are a series of workshops on offer for climber over the coming winter months. These workshops focus in on different techniques and skills that climber will find invaluable when it comes to improving there own climbing. The concept of the workshops are they will give climbers the tools to go away and improve their own climbing, by giving them a few simple exercises and activities to use whenever climbing.

The workshop can be book via the beacon climbing centre at the cost of £10 per person per session. The topics and dates of the workshops are:

The Training Basics – Tuesday 25TH November
Before you rush head long into training it is vital that you spend the time available focusing on what is important to YOU, and the climbing you want to aspire to. This workshop looks at methods to identify your needs and how to set goals that will keep you motivated. We will also look at warming up and the types of training you might need.

Improving Technique and Aerobic Ability– Tuesday 2nd December
Having a large aerobic capacity, and being able to save energy whilst climbing, will make all the difference to you climbing. This session will show you ways to improve both you aerobic and technical ability every time you go climbing.

Improving Strength and Power Endurance – Tuesday 9th December
This workshop looks specifically at all the ways that we can use the climbing wall to develop both strength and power. We’ll talk finger boards, campus boards, lock off, dyno’s and lunges. We will also look at ways to fight the pump and develop your tenacity when the going get tough, through interval training.

Introduction to Mental Skills for Climbers – Tuesday 16th December
Sport Psychologists have shown that the best athletes have several key mental skills. So whether it be imagery/visualisation, self talk or the ability to cope well on the sharp end of a rope. Here we cover several key skills that will help your mental performance. So if you freeze when above a runner, or just can’t seem to remember a sequence, here we cover a few of the most basic psychological skills.

Coaching Workshop of Instructors – Monday 16th February
Further to these workshops for climbers, there is also a Coaching Workshop for Instructors, this 2 hour workshop looks at how instructors can improve there coaching, by looking at the underlying core coaching principals, the psychology of anxiety and performance, whilst relating them back to teaching climbing and adventure sports.

Workshop FULL – If you would be interested in this workshop then please contact the Beacon at the above link and register your interest. If there is enough interest further dates will be laid on.

The Very Big and the Very Small

Pete Robins was close to having one of the best days climbing it is possible to have in North Wales. To start with Pete rocked up to the Rainbow Slab and very narrow missed out on making a much converted ascent of Johnny Dawes The Very Big and The Very Small a F8b(+) slab. Failing that Pete nipped up the Pass to try a boulder problem that is at the other end of the vertical spectrum, ‘Pool of Bethesda’ first climbed by Paul Higginson is the hardest roof problem in the pass if not North Wales.

Despite trashing his fingers on the painfully thin slab, Pete got the ascent of Pools of Bethesda. If your interested in where the name comes from it is in reference to the famous picture of a load of dogs playing pool, and the story goes that Paul walked into a bar in Bethesda and saw that exact scene! Still its not as bad as the full name given to and reference to Manchester Dogs another of Paul’s problems at angel bay.


I was out with a friend climbing the other day, and he was trying an extremely hard slab route, rumoured to be F8b/+ slab on Slate. As I took photos he climbed with confidence to the crux, however after failing several times to link through the crux he said that he couldn’t do it today, because he didn’t believe his foot would stick to the crucial hold.

Whilst it might sound a little bit ‘Matrix’-esque the fact is that self belief is a key ingredient to so many thing to do with climbing that you simply have to believe. In particular lack of belief brings about doubt and that doubt starts a negative spiral in thoughts and then actions that can only lead to failure.

The trick is to identify what doubts you are having and why, if they are irrational then try rationalising them. So my foot won’t EVER stick to that, to, my foot won’t stick to that ALL the time but it WILL stick one in every four attempts. Which to the sensible people among us would mean that in theory we to have at least 4 attempts before you start to get frustrated.

So if you find yourself saying or especially thinking things like i will never, its impossible or similar totally irrational thoughts. Shout STOP, then write down those thoughts, have a look at then at a different time and try to rationalise them.

Cautionary Tales

For the purpose of these stories various facts about the incidents have been changed, their are no names, no location, no mention of the victims sex and even the cause and details of incidents have been altered to protect the anonymity of the victims and highlight other possible causes of similar accidents. The tales are based on real events from across the globe some of which ended in death, serious injury or just embarrassment. What each incident highlights is thin line we all walk as climbers and the choices that we make can have effect on the outcome of an incident.

The first incident starts at the end of a route, the climber is satisfied and content with what they have achieved, sitting at the top of the cliff the climber removes his helmet, loosens his rock boots and brings up the second. Ropes coiled, the pair set off towards the descent, a misjudgement leads them down the wrong gully and one simple slip on damp grass results in a long tumble. He comes to rest and is rescued his helmet clipped neatly to his harness, the question is; would he have fractured his skull if he’d been wearing it?

This climber made a full recovery over time, and still climbs to this day. Its just nowdays he wears a helmet until he is all the way down. I go further and recommend that at busy crags, especially in the mountains and at sea cliffs that the helmet should be worn until you’re out of the fall zone of debris. I have seen some very near misses at Gogarth and Cloggy with large falling rocks narrowly missing those sat waiting at the bottom of routes. On the international meet in May this year I witnessed a TV size block narrowly missed a climber scrambling to the base of a route, not that a helmet would have made much difference if it hit them, but it might make a difference with the accompanying debris.

The second story starts at the top of a crag before an abseil to gain the start of a route leads to tragedy. What happen to the climber between the top of the cliff and their final rest place could all be conjecture, and most of what follows is. However importantly any of these could have resulted in the same serious or even fatal consequences.

The abseil was retrievable, the incident was a catastrophic failure of the belay or simply abseiling off the end of the rope. Unfortunately all could have been prevented, and whilst you might think you know whom this incident refers to, there are several incidents across the years that this could have been based upon. What I want to concentrate on here is the ways in which a repeat of this can be prevented.

The climber was abseiling to get to the base of the next route and was about to climb back up to the belay. Even if you aren’t returning to the same belay then consider backing up exsisting abseil tat. I have on more than one occasion thought, no I won’t leave a sling, a nut, a cam its too expensive. I have used this argument when abseilling off a big wall on a trip where DMM gave us a rack. On reflection I equated my life being worth less than a cam, wire or sling that had been given to me. We are all worth that extra wire in an improvised retreat in bad weather, a sling to back up that rotten sun bleached mess round a tree.

An alternative hypothesis to the belay failure is abseilling off the end of one or both ropes. Either would have led to the same end; a simple over hand in the end of of both ropes would have prevented the climber abseiling off the end of the rope.

Even if they had done that they could still have caused a failure if the ropes were unequal lengths and the had fed one rope through the belay device whilst locking off the other, to make either side of the retrievable abseil equal. This would have resulted in the tensioned rope working like a saw against the belay, if it was rope on rope or rope on sling it could have quickly sawn through the tat, much better is to feed the rope through a mallion or carabiner

I did this when I was much younger, when trying to lower off a bolt using a prussic, the prussic lasted 5 metres of lowering before it cut through. Fortunately a handy tree cushioned the climbers fall on that occasion. I now keep all my old krab’s for ‘Bail out biners’ on sports routes.

I guess the take home message is be cautious when abseiling in any situation, and be extremely careful when making a retrievable abseil. Use a deadmans handle as a rule rather than an exception.

Another type of incident I have encounter, heard about and witness the pain of is the result of lowering someone off the end of the rope or nearly doing it. One of the most serious was when I was belaying a friend on Colossus wall, a 45m+ cliff. The climber lead up the route but a water streak high up made them take a large fall. A slight lapse in my concentration, meant that some rope slipped through the belay device before I arrested their fall. The climber was 40 metres up the route, the rope that I had let slip through meant that there was only 5 metres of rope left before it would have disappeared through my hands and up the cliff, and the climber taken a 20 metre ground fall. I have heard of similar things happening on long single pitch routes with only inches of rope left before disaster.

The solution is simple, if I had tied into the end of the rope it would have been impossible to let the rope run through the belay device. If you are on a route where you think the length of a pitch is near to or greater than half the length of the rope, tie into the ends. I have seen people be lowered off the ends of a rope on sports route and walk away as the rope was only 3 metres short. I have also see people with broken bones where the rope was 10 metres short, this is getting more common with 35 metre sports routes in Europe where you need a 70 metre rope. All preventable by tying into the ends of the rope.

The final story is one of particular significances, and one where luck if you want to consider this person ‘lucky’ played a valuable role. The climber was leading a route, and like many of us took a tumble. Now a hold could have broken on them, a foot could have slipped, they might of been off route or even simply been out of their depth, either way the leader fell from pitch two of a route.

As they careered downwards protection exploded from the rock as they passed the belayer the ground approaching fast. Other than the belayer the one thing that potentially saved both the climber and possibly the belayer was a good first runner. As well as keeping the climber off the deck it also prevented all the force of a factor two fall impacting the belayer and of course the belay.

Picture yourself out climbing with friends, I am sure that at one point or another one of them has weight the rope, fallen or needed to be lowered off after you have lead a pitch or you top roped them up a short route. How much harder is it to hold someone when belaying from above then when bottom belaying at a climbing wall? Now imagine a climber taking a lead fall in that manner. I doubt any of us could effectively hold a fall that way.

It is also the only possible way that the belay can fail by having a factor two fall impact upon it. So get some gear in early when on pitch 2 or above on multipitched climbs, it totally changes the dynamics of the systems.

The now imagine that the belayer in this incident is a novice second, left holding onto the ropes, unable tie a belay plate off let alone escape the system. This is not uncommon, I often see the more experience climbers leading all the pitches, with the second just along for the ride. Now stuck at the belay the second could have become reliant on passers by to come to his assistance. Would you have been able to sort this situation out if alone, would your second? As a Mountaineering Instructor I have taught many people the basics of self rescue, however it is far from easy, it requires practice in a safe environment and better still proper instruction from someone qualified.

More importantly, does the ‘passer-by’ have a level of knowledge with regards to first aid. Those first 5 minutes are often the most important for anyone who has had a serious accident, and getting some first aid training is vital for anyone walking the line like we do as climbers. Even assuming the best response of a mountain rescue team you should expect a 30 minute minimum response time, perhaps even considerably longer! Would you be able to take the simple actions requires to save a life?

I am an instructor now, many of the incidents mentioned that I was specifically involved with occurred when I first started climbing. I was oblivious to the dangers, in my case I got away with a few near misses, all of which have made me a better climber and instructor. However several of them could have been much, much worse. An old instructor adage is ‘it’s the risks you don’t know your taking that are going to kill you’.

KNOW HOW TO HELP YOURSELF – Get yourself on a self rescue course
KNOW HOW TO HELP OTHERS – Get yourself on a first aid course