Climbing the Fontainebleau Big Five in a Day

© Flinn McInerney

Solly Kemball Dorey writes about how he ended up climbing all of the Big Five classic climbs from 7C to 8A at Cuvier Rempart, Fontainebleau in a single day.

On the ten hour car drive retreating from Ticino to Fontainebleau due to the never-ending onslaught of rain, we had plenty of time to spy weather windows and discuss different plans for the next day. 

Finally, we came up with the idea of trying the Big Five at Cuvier Rempart. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we would get up early and could go and have a play until the rain ended the day. Knowing our luck with weather, it would come in sooner rather than later!

After loading up on pastries on the way to the crag and watching Ty Landman destroy all five in a day on 'Between The Trees', the psych was high, and we thought collectively we'd be able to get up the Big Five.

When we arrived they loomed over the top of us. Having never seen them before, our plans quickly went to the back of my head. After a brief warm up we decided to get on Fourmis Rouge (f7C) first. Adam suggested it was the easiest as he had done it previously, so it might be a good entry to help warm up.

Solly on Fourmis Rouges, 7C  © Flinn McInerney
Solly on Fourmis Rouges, 7C
© Flinn McInerney

On the first few attempts the big slap out left felt too far and powerful, but after finding some more technical beta with higher feet and balanced positions, I found myself at the top. One down. That was supposed to be the least challenging, but it really put up a fight. The goal of completing all five in a day felt pretty far away. Hopefully the Bois would get the next one…

We moved on to Tristesse (f7C) as the move off the pinch looked mint. It took a few tries getting the foot to hand. I felt close… I shifted to a stiffer shoe for some small edges and a big slap. Didn't feel too bad, damn it's a cool move. While topping out I jokingly turned to the Bois and said 'Come on then, one of you gotta get up the next one!'

Solly on Tristesse, 7C  © Flinn McInerney
Solly on Tristesse, 7C
© Flinn McInerney

Big Golden (f7C+) was up next, and on first glance I thought this would be light work. The holds looked massive and feet even bigger, but how deceiving looks can be. We seemed to be bashing our heads against a wall watching what felt like hundreds of different betas. They all ended up being dead ends. There must be some mutants in this sport - how the fuck did Jerry and Ty just campus into the sloper so casually?!

I sat out and ate a pastry whilst watching the Bois, hoping that one of them would figure out the key to The Big Golden. But at this point it felt like our goal was impossible. I had completed two of the Big Five, but we all felt thwarted by The Big Golden; and it wasn't even the hardest bloc of the circuit. 

After my break I decided I may as well carry on trying. No point moving on yet! Let's just rat the edge, try as hard as possible to release the heel, and bump up to what we'd guessed was a good side pull.

Once I was on the edge for the first time, it suddenly felt usable, and somehow I found my way to the top.

Leo on Big Golden, 7C+  © Flinn McInerney
Leo on Big Golden, 7C+
© Flinn McInerney

What was going on?! Three down and it was actually on! One of us would be able to get up the 8A, and Big Boss we'd be able to scrape our way up pumped surely?

Leo was already trying to figure out the beta for Atrésie (f8A), and after a while of figuring out what looked like the crux he managed to get almost to the end but then he dropped off. He said he couldn't get anything off the crimps, there was nothing to them. It turned out we had mistaken the crux, but thankfully he had worked out the beta for the first half.

I texted Dave to say we were attempting the Big Five in a day and discussed our predicament with this boulder. He explained we hadn't even got to the crux yet and so we needed to try the top.

We built a sketchy pad stack and by standing on shoulders I managed to pull on into the higher moves. After a few attempts, I figured them out; for me it was just piecing all the puzzle together. It's on, moves done in three parts. One good go and it would be done!

I checked the time on my phone, it was 12:30pm. The prospect of rain was looming large, and the humidity in the air felt even closer. A few minutes rest and it had to be done, in a go, or the goal would be over. 

Pulling on, everything managed to slot into place, feet felt perfect, hands hitting the holds and sticking like glue, I found myself searching for the blind foot underneath the bulge and precariously throwing my heel up high and into the crimp rail.

Some light splatter had come down, and as I slapped to a sloper I felt on a dot of rain on my hand. Physically it had very little effect, but psychologically it brought me out of the state of flow and gave me something to worry about - and a reason for failure. But fuck that, let's get up this bloc!  

Huffing and puffing, I felt like I whaled my way up it. 

Ned Feehally climbing Big Golden &copy Nick Brown  © Nick Brown
Ned Feehally climbing Big Golden © Nick Brown

What was going on?! Four out of five down, and what looked like a simple one left to do, just gotta pull some energy out of somewhere!

I wanted to take my time, get a breather, but the rain loomed closer than ever, light dots appearing here and there. The pressure was truly on, this had to go down in a few goes or all the effort would feel like it was for nothing.

I calmed my breath in an attempt to lower my heart rate… How did something as meaningless as climbing five boulders in a day make me feel like I was both running away from a bear and chasing a deer?

The Big Boss waited, and in true video game style, it was the final test before getting the crown, the princess, or - in my case - a thumbs up and a fist bump. Dave also added an extra level that he'd done it in three goes in 2008 so the high score had to be beaten. 

Flash, go, found my way into the slot, up into it, I was committed; top all the Big Five or nothing...

Too far right. 

Second go Leo suggested a different method on the bump; more my style, shoulders not biceps...

Too high.

It was on though, I just had to be accurate.

Nerves kicked in, and a few foot slips on the first move meant no beating Dave's high score today, but the win was still on the horizon. 

Third good go: bump, I'm in the hold. The top's easy, but my chalk is gone and I can't feel the holds, they feel slimy, but it's now or never. I'm getting pumped and if I fall off now there might not be another opportunity.

I stuck a heel by my hand. It felt like I was either going to get up this boulder or die trying. I rocked up into some better holds at the back and I ran to the top, psyched out of my mind.

I did it! All five of the Big Five in a day. Who the boss? I'm the Bawse!

No more than five minutes later the rain came in. For the first time in the trip it had waited for us, and had given me just enough time to complete an arbitrary goal, set for no reason other than to try hard and have a bit of fun.

Cheers Bois: Adam Smith, Leo Skinner and Flinn McInerney, collectively we did The Big 5 in a day.

'The Bois'  © Flinn McInerney
'The Bois'
© Flinn McInerney

You can watch the film of Solly climbing the Big 5 in a day below:

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Legendary day out, dans la foret!

21 Mar

Almost climbed the height of Stanage

If Ste Mac was a boulderer!!

Great stuff - sounds like a brilliant day. Font always delivers (except when it rains of course)

21 Mar

Excellent read…thanks.

21 Mar

Confused why he keeps asking the wood to climb ;-)

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