This guest post is from professional climber Paul Robinson, who is currently in France on a round-the-world bouldering trip. Paul's first ascent of Lucid Dreaming (V16) was featured in the film "The Hardest Moves" at last year's Reel Rock Film Tour.
Great rock is a huge part of what goes into an amazing area, but there is so much more that is needed to truly make an area world class. Presenting the five areas that truly stand out in my book.
5. Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, USA
The climbing areas of the Ozarks are situated deep within the forests of Northwest Arkansas. The rock is impeccable sandstone that seems to have been built for climbing.
Much of the climbing is located in and around the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. The ranch is an amazing place to call home base as it offers cabin accommodations and a truly relaxed southern lifestyle. The problems range from very easy classics to some of the hardest and best climbs in the country. This is not to say that the easy climbing is not amazing either. There is also incredible potential for development of new areas.
As the Ozarks are located in an area with a very low population density, it is uncommon to see more than one group of climbers out at the boulders on any given day. The town of Jasper hosts some fun restaurants and the local climbers are extremely friendly. The Ozark Cafe in downtown Jasper is great for a warm bite to eat after a long day of climbing. They also have an excellent breakfast menu with low prices.
The best season for the Ozarks is between October and March, when the temperatures are cool, the friction is perfect, and there are no bugs.
4. Buttermilks, Bishop, California, USA
I first visited Bishop at the age of fourteen. This was the first major climbing destination I had ever visited, and is one that I will always hold close at heart. Since my first trip, I have been back almost every single year.
The boulders are huge granite eggs sitting along a hillside below the beautiful eastern Sierras. With 14,000-foot peaks looming just a few miles away, it’s hard to keep your attention on the bouldering. There’s climbing for every ability level, and some of the best problems are well within the moderate category. The Buttermilks are also known for their colossal boulders. Some of the boulders reach heights of more than 50 feet and blur the line between highball bouldering and free soloing.
Not all of the climbing is terrifying, as there are hundreds of great climbs within close proximity to perfect gravel landings. The town of Bishop is also a true delight, with great places to eat, drink coffee, or just hang out on a rest day. One such place is the Looney Bean, located in downtown Bishop. It is a great place to grab a cup of coffee and meet some local climbers.
The best season for the Buttermilks is between October and late April. The rock in the Buttermilks is sharp and if it is too hot out it will chew your skin up quite quickly.
3. Rocklands, South Africa
Ever since my first trip to Rocklands in 2008, I have had a hard time saying a bad thing about the place. The climbing in Rocklands is located within the Cederberg Mountain Range about three hours north of Cape Town.
After passing through the small town of Clan William, it is another thirty minutes to the climbing and accommodations: camping for the thrifty and old farmhouses for big groups who want a roof over their heads at night. Both forms are incredibly inexpensive.
The climbing in South Africa is like a dream. The rock is bulletproof, orange-and-grey sandstone and is generally very featured, with plenty of hand holds. The problems range from extremely easy to very difficult, but lend themselves more to moderate and easy climbing.
Living in Rocklands is very relaxing and feels very much like a vacation. If you’re not climbing, you can watch incredible wildlife, visit the beach and hang out in the sun. I start most days with with a long, relaxing morning, followed by a great session of bouldering, and ending with an incredible “braai” (South African for BBQ) feast of amazing local meat and vegetables. The nights are generally mild, and the lack of a large population lends itself to some of the world's best stargazing.
The best time to go to Rocklands is between May and early September, as these are their winter months and tend to have the coolest temperatures, between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Ticino, Switzerland
Located only an hour and a half north of Milan, Italy, the canton of Ticino in Switzerland has some of the best bouldering on the planet. Gneiss lines nearly all of the valleys
Ticino has many bouldering areas, some of the most famous being Cresciano, Chironico and Brione. All of the areas in Ticino are named after the towns in which they are located, and all are world-class.
The rock in Ticino seems to be featured just enough to make climbing possible. Most of the climbing in Ticino is at the more difficult realm of the spectrum, but there are also quite a lot of moderates that are just as impressive.
Driving to many of the climbing areas in Ticino truly feels like going back in history. The towns that make up Ticino are small and extremely old, and littered with stone buildings and frescos painted hundreds of years ago. The scenery is amazing and the steep river-cut valleys are breathtaking in the fall when the leaves change.
The best time to climb in Ticino is between October and late March. The winter can be bitterly cold, but lends itself to great conditions if there is not too much snow.
1. Fontainebleau, France
Picking a favorite movie or food can be difficult, but my favorite climbing area in the world has to be Fontainebleau.
“Font” or “Bleau” (pronounced “blow”) has it all. It is located a mere forty-five minutes south of Paris and is home to some of the best climbing in the world. The rock is a dark grey sandstone packed with incredible features. The climbing ranges from very easy to extremely hard, and there are hundreds if not thousands of problems at every single difficulty level.
Font and climbing have a long history. People have been climbing here for about a century, and the sport has become engrained into the culture. It is not uncommon for entire families to be seen out at the boulders on the weekends, trading attempts on boulder problems throughout the forest.
Much of the climbing is located around the towns of Fontainebleau, Milly la Foret, and Nemours. The landscape is very flat and many of the towns are based around agriculture. There are hundreds of farms that line the roads as you drive from area to area. The scenery within the forest is incredible too. Trees, ferns, and moss reflect the light differently at all hours of the day. There is also a ton of wildlife--if you are lucky, it is possible to see a wild boar during your climbing day.
The best season for Font is between late October and the middle of March. The winter can be rainy, but it’s the best season for friction on the extremely friction-dependent sandstone.