by David Flanagan
Front cover of Essential Fontainebleau.
The first thing that strikes you about this guide is the size, it's A6 which really is pocket size. Size is probably a vital issue for a bouldering guide as compared with a guide to multipitch or alpine climbing but none the less you could easily boulder with this guide in your pocket if you were so inclined.
I'm a bit of a map geek and spend a lot of time pouring over guidebooks but strangely for such an important bouldering area there isn't one bible for Font, each of the guides has its strengths and weaknesses. The purple guide is a bit of mess, lots of flicking from one page to another as it has a separate map for each circuit in an area. The Blue Steve Gough 'OTE' guide is good in some respects - it shows all the problems on each map - but it is a nighmare to use, the index is crap and lots of the maps have inserts that are randomly rotated relative to their parent - lots of twisting the guide and head scratching. The 7+8 guide is a thing of beauty but for the majority of climbers the problems it details are just too hard (cetainly for this one).
This guide has 176 pages and contains details of 350 classic problems in the forest. Being a selective guide to somewhere so extensive as Font opinions will differ about what is considered classic but its not really that important, the main thing is to get you to the boulders especially as every area has marked circuits so its always possible to find some problems of roughtly the right difficulty.
Edited by Colin Lambton and John Watson this guide is straight to the point, at the start is all the information you would expect about accommodation, transport, ethics etc. The maps are oriented to the direction one approaches from and each area map occupys only one page. These two facts will be a great relief to users of the Gough guide.
For each problem detailed there is a photo, this is practical in that it aids recognition but it also gets the blood flowing and makes the guide much more browsable, the reality is that guidebooks are the perfect toilet reading and their appeal in this area has to be considered at least as important as more practical issues. Otherwise we would just be downloading all our guides from the web.
With sterling nearly at parity with the euro the £9.99 price converts to only €11.13 which is a real bargin considering most of the other guides are €25+. I recommend this guide for any visitor to Font for its compact size, clear layout, ease of use and great price.
You can preview an excerpt of the guide on issuu.com