It's full summer, and like last year we have left our cosy hobbit hole of bouldering for the airy heights of Mordor sport climbing in southern France. It's good to make sure that we can still climb for more than four meters. So where better to head than to the steep mega-routes in the Gorges du Tarn?
The morning view from the van out into the French countryside.
Leaving Font came too soon, as always, although setting off at 10pm instead of 10am mitigated the bereavement a little. Climbing had been relaxed and sociable as summer stole our drive in the final few days, wandering round hot sandy bouldering sites and playing on anything that caught our eyes, then finishing the van (again) in the evenings. The late departure meant a night's sleep next to a tiny fishing lake, and an early start the next day. At some point we acquired a hitcher, Silvio, who told us about the "Puys", volcanic craters that characterise the beautiful country along the A75 south of Claremont-Ferrand.
We were headed to the Gorges du Tarn in the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France. The rock is uber-pocketed dolomite limestone, mostly unpolished, and on the whole relatively hard, long routes - although there is plenty of easier stuff dotted about too. The routes are worth climbing just for the views, down the gorge and up to the plateau high above. Most days we watched vultures slowly circling above. Their collective name when they group in the manner is a "kettle of vultures".
Most of our climbing was around the secteur Planète Causse, mostly owing to our location. We joined Alice, Reuben, Wojtek and little George at Camping la Blaquière, the most friendly, lovely campsite just down the road from Les Vignes. Planète Causse, l'Oasif, Grand Angle and Trésor du Zèbre were around twenty minutes walk under the huge cliffs that bulge alarmingly over the road.
The climbing was pretty interesting. The rock is delightful, with long, sustained routes on pockets that vary between the ergonomic to the bruising. As a venue for our first sport climbs in a year, it was quite demanding, physically as well as mentally; the routes are bolted for safety rather than comfort to preserve the aesthetic of the rock. Be as it may, Sam onsighted several 7a's and dogged some harder routes, highlight being Flexion, 7a, because of it's flow (and the fact it was pretty much all jugs), and I onsighted some low 6's. Jeux du Plage made for a beautiful 6a at Trésor, incorporating all kinds of styles of climbing, although the grubby 6b: Ne Chiez pas sous les Surplombs to the left of Grand Angle was my secret favourite.
It was also awesome to see the others climbing hard. Wojtek onsighted routes up to 7c, Alice climbing tonnes of high 6's and 7's, and Reuben doing some awesome stuff on his first sport climbing trip on real rock. George didn't really climb anything, but then he's six and so excused. He is an excellent belay buddy.
One day we hired canoes to paddle a 12km section of the Gorge, the 'most exciting' section. It was quite exciting as we navigated into every tree and obstacle in the river, really testing out the resilience of our battered blue chariot, keeping pace with Alice and Reuben whilst Wojtek and George disappeared off into the distance. It is definitely an awesome way to explore the Gorge, and nice to be the danger-boaters careering down the river instead of the nervous paddlers as usual. Made all the better to pass a soaking wet and not-so-smug Wojtek re-entering his vessel. Apparently trying to film yourself going through the rapids standing up can lead to capsizing... Who knew?
Climbing in the Gorges du Tarn did push us out of our comfort zones a bit, some more than others. It felt quite novel (the first couple of times...) on approach, to be hauling up a bag with a rope, harness and a whole load of clinking gear as opposed to our usual backpack of a crash pad. And to be climbing up to 40m instead of four brought a whole new set of challenges to overcome...again. Because despite our preference for boulders and a general aversion to the rope variety of ascending rock, we keep doing this, every summer. We shelve the pad to go cranking up some big walls only to get a mega-pump on after ten moves. Lovely views though, when we eventually make it up there...