Free camping can be wonderful at times, and a little...trying at others. Some places, such as autobahn rest areas, we found to be unnerving at times. When you are sleeping in a car it's difficult to block the world out. The solution is to find areas to sleep that you want to welcome in; a blue-tit landing on the window sill in the forest, neighbours who brew you up a fresh coffee in the morning, watching leaves waft across the stars at night. Or, at the Holy Grail of convenience stops - recycling, a free toilet and water. In this manner, Savines-le-Lac provided four of the more relaxed nights of our trip, with some fantastic climbing and a lake thrown in. Winner!
After our triumph on Mont Charvin we were predictably totally shattered, so just retraced the hairpins and drove down the road to Château Miolans car park and spent a cosy night in the shadow of a looming precipice. We drove the rest of the way to Savines-le-Lac the next day, stopping only for a swim in a lake between Grenoble and Gap. Our route was constantly under threat from the Tour de France, which apparently is quite a big deal throughout the country (duhhh!), thus making the yellow-backed words route barrée as common in our field of vision as the vast array of mountains that competed for attention.
We quickly came across a free camping site near the florally lavish town of Savines-le-Lac that, as mentioned, was particularly convenient. It was nice, too, if a little dirty from human traffic; like the spot that we stayed for the first night, near the water lingers the faint but distinct smell of sewage. Stink aside, the site is large and relaxed and shaded by enormous, gnarled, seeping willows and straight-postured pines. It also has a nearby (but hidden to the un-enlightened) sport climbing crag called La Rochette, that sits just above the Lac du Serre-Ponçon.
Last light on the first night and the view from our sleep spot the morning after.
From amidst it's alpine surround, La Rochette is a dowdy lump of scrubby rock from afar, but changes once you stand beneath it. It is a quite large conglomerate outcrop; an undulating pile of cobbles and boulders, streaked with silky, flakey slate, both lovely and curious to look at and climb. It also commands a magnificent view over much of the lake and surrounding mountains, framed by dry grasses and scratchy trees. The routes were an absolute pleasure to climb for the most part, interesting and varied on different angles of rock, although the tendency is towards a bouldering style of climbing leading to a gentler finish. It suited us perfectly.
We had a pretty awesome last bit of sport climbing here and sent a few routes with it. The highlight had to be Sam sending Le Cri du Cerf (7b) on the first crack at it; a steep, powerful hangover project from 2011. Other good ones were Sam flashing the intriguing Baron Noir (7a+) fittingly at last light, Amber sending Le Gros Gallet (6c) and the tricksie Dead Zone (6b+) which has more to it than at first glance.
Amber gearing up for Le Gros Gallet (6c) [bottom left] and celebrating at the peak [bottom right]. And [above] Sam feeling smug on the rope descending from the top chains of Le Cri du Cerf (7b).
Overall, it was hard to leave this easy place, where we would eat, swim, climb, eat, sleep; and all in the peaceful sense that we would not be bothered by anything unpleasant. Sometimes a sleep spot bashes all the right buttons.