The last half of November and first half of December saw us living in the south of France, an area almost saturated with good sport climbing. Boring stuff like work and short winter days meant that we became weekend warriors; the limitations actually made climbing trips more valuable, and despite the early nightfall the days were sunny and warm...when they weren't being spoiled by r-a-i-n.
A short travel-break in the forest allowed us to enjoy five days of rain trickling through the trees and over the rocks. To be fair, we did have a lovely day climbing with Will and Frances, who stopped off on their way to Spain, but that was about it...
On the way down, we stopped at sport climbing crag Châteauvert, an old favourite of ours, and were atonished by the warmth of the sunshine. We took as many of our clothes off as was vaguely decent with a Pompiere training course running next to us, and climbed about four routes in the 'Alex' sector, all 4s or 5s, and absolutely delightful. The day was super chilled and it was so nice being able to climb in near-nakedness after a few weeks of definite winter in northern areas. We spent a week nearby in Sainte Maxime, being spoilt silly by Uncle Guy and Mireille with amazing food and an apartment in return for some painting and decorating.
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The sunny climb lured us into a false idylism rudely spoilt by some surprisingly squally, and apparently totally unseasonal rain, for about... the whole week. The river next to our apartment grew increasingly torrid and the ducks, coypu and local alcies that had been scattered about the banks on our first day all vanished in favour of, presumably, more sheltered areas. We did manage to sneak in a day's bouldering at Vidauban. There is enough easily accessible rock here to get a good burn on, and some fun problems. It is also very beautiful, with rough red rock and a lovely view over the surrounding countryside. We left feeling satisfied, tired and raw skinned, to the pitter-patter of returning rain.
Our next destination was Buis-les-Baronnies, a few hours travel inland. We ended up sleeping in a lovely camper spot ten minutes down the road from Volx; this happens to be a bit of a climbing spot, coinciding with a surprise sunny morning. A series of cliff chunks overlook a cute town of the same name, and whilst some have been stuck with bits of metal to stop them falling on people's houses, others have escaped this and been stuck with bits of metal for climbing. A well-pierced outcrop, then. Time restrictions meant that we only climbed a couple of routes here, one rather strange and wandering, and a fun 6a. There was some kind of competition going on and so we were surrounded by talented kids flying up hard routes, the crag was busy, but with a friendly atmosphere and again a totally epic view.
Before any of the serious business of work began, we went climbing. Obvs. Adrian, Audrey and kids took us to a fairly local crag, Combe Obscure. It feels remote and quiet, almost a bit other-worldly, as we followed the rocky pathways up into the hillside. The cliff only appears at the last minute of the walk in, big scoops of grey rippled limestone mottled with gaping pockets. The climbing is slabby and delicate on the whole, and we worked through a series of routes following the sun. They were delightfully tehnical, although sometimes slightly too run out for our soft dispositions.
A week's work and some convuluted attempts to retain climbing fitness later, and daytripping time again - this time to a site called Baume Rousse that we had known and loved back in the summer. It was worth it for the views alone, across the valley to toothy Saint Julien, and then to Mont Ventoux hulking in the background with it's snowy cap. Happily we got some climbing in too, and as a final bonus all avoided falling off the ledges that were slippery with algeous mud.
Continued sunshine allowed us one more session up at Baume Rousse on our way out and a few more lovely climbs. This last burn left us feeling happy and glowy, and wanting more as we drove away from the warmth of the south for what we were hoping to be some top notch primo connies in Font, with not a breath of rain. Fingers crossed, eh.
A lot of the time when we were working we didn't have access to training facilities or indoor walls to keep our strength up. Long nights, and the time it takes to get anywhere on the small roads that curl through the hills, meant that climbing outdoors after work was impossible. So we had to get creative to maintain some climbing fitness, with homemade training aids, youtube yoga videos and by using what we had around us...
Naturally, conditions were not perfect. It was December. And the signature of this trip was wayward weather. But somehow we managed to climb every day, to the point that six days later we were shagged, and totally lacking in skin. There was an eerie fog about that left nearly everything dripping wet, but by sticking to clear areas and making the most of sunny breaks, we had a pretty rad time.
I was very excited to climb the two variants of Deltaroc (7a and 7a/6c+) as they are slabby aretes and not to my usual style, and as per norm laid a whole load of 'groundwork' (read, fell off a lot of different stuff) as well as climbing tonnes of thought provoking (haha) red problems. Sam made cracking work of a few soggy days, climbing amongst others: L'Abattoir (7a+/7a); Iceberg raccourci assis (7b+); Iceberg (7c/7c+); Crazy Horse (7b) and Sitting Bull (7c/7b+).
So not a total washout, then. Actually, lots of awesome climbing, spending time with lovely people and some unexpectedly balmy sunny days. Onwards to Christmas, to undo all our hard work, and then to 2017 and whatever it may bring...