Tag Archives: Ariege

Crash Test Chris

14th June 2013

Baychon

Le Bon Sens – 6a – Lead
Mehare – 5+ Second
Pussicat – 6a – Lead
Oriane – 6a – Second
La Vista – 5+ – Lead

You would think that this trip just consisted of getting up and climbing. On the contrary, we had a number of routines which became part of this extended climbing trip.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

Mornings were not early. We knew they should b,e but we couldnt roust ourselves that well and so a leisurely breakfast and ubiquitous cup of coffee sorted us out for the short but beautiful drive down to Tarascon. Aston is a really sleepy village and nothing seemed worth rushing for when you’re there. A quick stop at the patisserie for Pain aux raisin’s and then off to the crag. On this day we were in for a treat.

View towards Andorra

View towards Andorra

Baychon is probably my favorite venue in Ariege. Set away from the crowds in an idil valley above a small Hamlet it has a real feeling of remoteness and solitude. Getting there isnt a problem unless you have a Chris with you. Then you have to contend with reversing out of a tiny hamlet which you should never have gone to in the first place. Chris needs to read more than one line at a time. Then the clearly marked ‘DO NOT DRIVE INTO THE HAMLET’ may have been on his mind.

Mountain Village

Mountain Village

There is though very good parking just across the road which made things easier and once again we were the only ones at the crag.

The tricky slab of Le Bon Sens

The tricky slab of Le Bon Sens

Le Bon Sens is a very cruxy 6a. The climbing is straight forward until you reach the slightly overhanging thin corner crack. You need to tackle this with conviction in order to make the jugs higher up. Once through here there is a technical corner but its all in the one move really. Pussicat was a far better 6a. Much more challenging with a very thin move onto the upper slab where friction is your friend.

Pussicat - not quite.

Pussicat – not quite.

Chris took on the devious Mehare, which has a step up that took me ages to figure out. It’s completely off balance and at no point did I feel in control. Great fun! Oriane proved to be Chris’ undoing on this day.

Chris on Oriane

Chris on Oriane

Too many long and tiring days probably contributed but Chris came off a couple of times, both at very unexpected points and probably due to a lack of concentration. I think by this time we were all feeling the heat and after one final route called La Vista, which was confusing, we made tracks back for an early supper (after our traditional Leffe at the hotel of course).

The river kept rising cos of the meltwater. Kayakers dream

The river kept rising cos of the meltwater. Kayakers dream

In the evening we set off on a walk through the woods up the valley. The river produces a wierd effect. The air surrounding it is freezing, but either side it was boiling. Just goes to show how cold the meltwater was. The woods turned out to be a great walk. By time we returned it was pitch black and very spooky.

Spooky Woods

Spooky Woods

Clearly this trail is an old shepherds trail, with now unused field systems either side. It gives an insight into times long gone in the area. All we needed was Bears and Wolves and strangely enough……………….

Cheesed Off…. Literally!

13th June 2013

Calames
Sector Le Col and Presse Puree

Kecsecsa – 6a – Lead (partly dogged)
Le Goujon de Plus – 5 – Second
Lichen – 6a+ – Second

OK. Lets get this straight. When you go on a climbing trip where you’re burning calories by the trillion you should loose weight not gain it. However, if your continental diet consists mainly of Bread and rich French cheeses then this may not be the case.

Tarascon with Roche Ronde and Calames in the background

Tarascon with Roche Ronde and Calames in the background

Our diet included masses of the said French cheese and lunches were to be savoured with fresh fruit and bread accompanied by Brie, Camenbert, Emmental and a hard cheese that I cant remember but which was lovely.

So having returned to England following the trip it was no suprise to learn that both Chris and Tom had managed to put weight on!!! It must have been a close call though given the amount of sweat and effort we put in over the duration. On this day we returned to Calames as storms were predicted for the afternoon and we wanted somewhere easy to get into. Strange then that we headed for the highest and furthest point away from the car park.

The view from Presse Puree

The view from Presse Puree

I had returned to try the 6a bolt on flake route called Kecsecsa. This proved to be my favorite route of the whole trip. Despite twisting my rope around a draw I found this one challenging but OK. A great overhang followed by amazing slab climbing in real exposure. Terrific.

Tom on the tricky Le Goujon de Plus

Tom on the tricky Le Goujon de Plus

Chris picked a hard 6a+ to cut his teeth on and despite early setbacks did brilliantly to get through and reach the top. He gave me a bit of catching practice but got through what was a bold section near the start (I never like that as you always think you might deck)

The crux

The crux

Toms lead at Le Colon Le Goujon de Plus was a strange one bending around a cave entrance and needing clever footwork. This one is a lot harder than it looks and when Tom found a Krab (he’s been hunting for free be’s) he thought his luck was in. Unfortunately it had been left there because the in situ malion was in bad repair. Better luck next time Tom.

The final overhang on Lichen

The final overhang on Lichen

The Griffon Vulture had disappeared later in the day to be replaced by ominous thunder clouds which duly did their thing scaring us to death. It’s no fun carying a sack of mettle gear in a lightning storm.

Joe, here's a roofing job for you!

Joe, here’s a roofing job for you!

The day was finished with Pizza in Tarascon at a Restaurant by the river where we watch the strange small dipper type birds dive into the fast flowing water. How they dont drown I dont know. Our cheese fest finally hit an all time high on this day as Chris and I had cheese Pizza and realised we’d OD’d. Maybe it was time to back off, but I doubt it.

Mountain Bells

12th June 2013

Roche Ronde

Entre Chat – 5 , 5+ -Alt  Lead
Cotton Club – 5+ – Second
Netoyage de Printemps – 5+ – Lead
Konslediz – 5+ – Second

This was slightly different from our last visit. Previously rain, this time bright sunshine and very hot. This remarkable outcrop was pretty quiet on this day, but I could image with the convenient parking it could get busy. Possibly the strenuous walk up to the crag might put a few off, that and the dodgy approach – one is polished and scary, the other steep and scary. Take your pick.

Roche Ronde main face

Roche Ronde main face

Roche Ronde is fairly vegetated, with detracts slightly from its routes and despite appearances is probably not as steep as some of the crags. But it has its charms, chief of which is the spectacular view down into the valley with the small nestled villages and the sound of church bells echoing up to our terrace. Its a venue to savour and relax at – except of course we were there to climb.

One of many villages nestled in the valley

One of many villages nestled in the valley

Another couple were on the routes we had singled out so we started on a two pitcher which turned out to be a bit overgrown. A shame really becasue Entre Chat couldbe a good route but in this condition it is just hard work.

Entre Chat with the impressive Roche Ronde rising up behind

Entre Chat with the impressive Roche Ronde rising up behind

Chris got the best lead of the day on Entre Chat which is probably the pick of the 5’s at Roche Ronde. My lead on Nettoyage was similar as was Konslediz. What we hadnt realise until we started to leave was that there were a number of climbs hidden in the small rvine to the left of the main venue. These actually looked in better condition, but we will have to sve these for another time.

Tom on Konslediz

Tom on Konslediz

On our return to Tarascon we made the now regular stop for provisions at the supermarket which included the necessary 6 pack of Ice Creams. You cant get them in less so we pigged out and went for a beer in town. The river was continuing to rise, an indication of the increased snow melt. It made for some reflecting on whether the snow in the high mountains would have cleared quickly. In hindsight though I think we need to be more aware of condition so that our plans more reflect what is possible rather than what we wish we could do. That said, it would take a lot of the adventure and uncertainty out of travelling which for me is a big part of any trip.

What a difference an hour makes

8th June 2013

Roche Ronde and Calames

Interdit Aux Veoce – 5+ Lead
Zebulon – 5+ – Second (Chris Lead)
Kecsecsa – 6a – Lead (dnf rain)

Our first day of very iffy weather. We awoke to low cloud and very damp conditions. The condensation in the valley is horendous when the humidity is high as it was on this day. With our never ending optimism in full flow we headed for Roche Ronde.

Now the sun comes out!

Now the sun comes out!

From a distance Roche Ronde looks fairly insignificant nestled below the larger venue  of Calames. As you draw near though the scale of this face become more apparent. Its a fairly long and tough walk up through the forest on slippery rounded stones. When you find the base of the crag orientation is not obvious. On this visit we went up the central gap which actually is a nasty approach and I rekon you should avoid this route. There is a more hidden approach which is a lot steeper but is a lot safer and not so polished. Keep your eyes open for a tell tale arrow point leftwards into the trees as you traverse below the lower face.

The weather closing in.

The weather closing in.

Unfortunately our luck ran out this time and steady drizzle KO’d any chance of climbing so we trudged out…. only for the sun to come out and transform the day. If we’d waited an hour we would have been OK.

Packing up in the car park below Roche Ronde

Packing up in the car park below Roche Ronde

Instead we made our way to Calames and the Presse Puree sector. I kicked off on a tough 5+ called Interdit aux velos. Tucked away in the corner it is innocuous enough, but has a difficult transition from the slab to a rib. A good route to get started on.

Tom on the tricky part of Interdit aux velos, Calames

Tom on the tricky part of Interdit aux velos, Calames

Chris’s route Zebulon was in the mould of a trad route, with some tough bridging to start with and a bold move around the bulging overlap. I’d had in mind the idea to try a 6a called Kekcecsa. This is unique in that it has a bolted on flake! The route though looked excellent and I was making good progress when a boom of thunder announced the arrival of a thunderstorm. The circling Griffon Vultures had long gone heading for shelter and we were forced to do the same fleeing off the crag with our rucksacks full of iron mongery.

Chris starts on Zebulon

Chris starts on Zebulon

The thought of being caught out on the crag in a lightning storm is frightening. Even the locals get off quickly when a storm approaches.

A hot meal always cheers you up when it rains. Chef Chris at work.

A hot meal always cheers you up when it rains. Chef Chris at work.

With a changeable weather settling in and an unsettled day behind u,s we had to make a decision on whether we stayed or went for Spain. I think there was only one choice really.

Lets start as we mean to finish

6th June

Calames – Ariege

Les Instantfataux – 5+ – Lead
Blues pour un chat noir – 5+ – Lead
Les Herbes Amieres – 5+ – Second
La Nauc – 6a – Lead (dogged)

We lucked into a quiet campsite in a little village called Aston,; in fact we were the first ‘campers’ of the season which entitled us to a free night and choice of any pitch on the site. Tucked away in a narrow valley it sits next to a fast flowing (very at this time due to snow melt) river, the roar of which keeps you constant company but doesnt detract from a good nights sleep.

Noisy Neighbours

Noisy Neighbours

We woke up on our first morning raring to go, so it was into the  hired ‘Cashcow’ and off for a morning coffee in Tarascon. This leisurely approach meant we managed to arrive at the crag as the sun started beating down, a lesson quickly learned which we proceeded to ignore for most of our ventures to the crags. We were just not early risers.

Walk in to Calames

Walk in to Calames

The sunny weather by all accounts was unusual for 2013. Up to this point the weather in Ariege had been poor so it seemed a good omen. One of the most notable crags in Ariege is Calames. You can see it clearly from Tarascon and the number of different sectors makes it an obvious choice for an opening venue. Tom, Chris and I are used to some arduous walk ins. Cornwall has plenty of them, but with the heat the walk up through Bedeilhac and across the ridge felt tough.

As is often the case, finding your bearings is difficult, but we rocked up to Sector Le Papy without too many wrong turns. What I like about French Sport crags is that they write the name of the crag on the rock! How cool is that. It didnt seem to help us though as I picked out a three star 5 called Theiere de jardin and proceeded to immediately go off route and climb its neighbour Les Instantfataux which was a 5+.

Chis starts off on Les Instantfataux 5+

Chis starts off on Les Instantfataux 5+

This is something to bear in mind. The routes are tightly packed. Unlike the routes we are used to in Cornwall where an obvious line is picked (which could meander around a bit) the limestone routes sometimes just go straight up. Looking for a line is likely to take you off route on many pitches. Just follow the bolts. It makes for some different climbing as it pushes you through territory you might not naturally take on. At the same time it tends to make the climbs more difficult and sometimes a bit weird. By the time I left Ariege I was loving it, but to start with it feels a bit ‘false’.

Chris high on Les Instantfataux

Chris high on Les Instantfataux

So to the climbing. My first route, Les Instantfataux turned out to be a cracker. Both Chris and I led this one. I soon discovered that many limestone routes are about small crimpy holds and delicate footwork. I needed to trust my feet and work through some of the tricky technical sections. To be honest, on this first day I was struggling to be confident in my footwork, but this soon evapourated as I got a few routes under my belt.

Chris on the headwall of Blues pour un chat noir 5+

Chris on the headwall of Blues pour un chat noir 5+

‘Blues’ turned out to be significantly harder, making me realise that there are 5+’s and 5+’s. Similar for the most part to LI, the headwall provides some hard technical climbing. It was around this point that I started to realise that my earlier view that 5+ equated to around VS 4c back home was seriously flawed. It seems that a 5+ tends to equate to 5b back home putting it nearer E1 at times, but obviously with bolts.

Tom on the first overhang of Les Herbes Ameres 5+

Tom on the first overhang of Les Herbes Ameres 5+

This of course is where the idea of comparing grades falls down. You can only really compare the technical grade for the most part. While I climb hard on trad routes, I definitely on the whole dont climb as hard as I had to on the sports stuff. This was a refreshing change, although it took me until almost the last day to switch off my trad head (with the little voice saying “dont fall, dont fall”).

Tom on the tricky bulge of Le Nauc 6a

Tom on the tricky bulge of Le Nauc 6a

Chris made a good job of the first pitch of Les Herbes Ameres, a tough 5+, before we decided to look at a 6a called Le Nauc. This is all about one sequence through a bulgy section and my head let me down big time. Daft thing is its well protected as the bolt is in exactly the right place (unlike some routes we did later on). Still a valuable lesson learned. Go for it…

The trudge back was made sweater when we stopped off in Tarascon for a Beer at Le Hotel Confort, a residence clearly aimed at the touring biker, but which served up ice cold Leffe beer overlooking the river.

Leffe time in Tarascon

Leffe time in Tarascon. Calames is the smaller outcrop dead center of the picture.

Back at the campsite, we commandeered the barbeque hut for our private kitchen/diner, a luxury we retained for the duration of out stay in Tarascon and had our first helping of Tuna Something. A very tasty dish which hit the spot, but the recepe for which is a closely guarded secret only known to Chris.

Dinner!

Dinner!

Rise of the Super Foreigners

France and Spain 2013

5th June – 16th June
Ariege and Ordesa

P1050718

Take three Brits with minimal language skills, no experience of Sports Climbing and little idea of how to pack a rucksack so that it weighs 20 kilo’s and you’ve got the makings of a great trip.

This was our first great adventure into the world of alpinism (not really but it sounds good)  and climbing on bolts; and we demonstrated considerable naivity to back this fact up. The comments of “its only 6b+” and of course we can do 16 pitches in a day” evaporated after our first single pitch route. This though didnt detract from what was a brilliant trip which taught us a lot about limestone crags, French curry powder and mountain weather.