News spreaded like wildfire. There was this place, this Gorge, with long overhanging routes in the upper grades and potential that could possibly last a life time. La Baleine or better known as just Saint Leger, this crag lies under the foot of the Mont Ventoux in the Vaucluse département, France. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves under this huge massive, a whole valley of bolted rocks that makes you oohs and aahs as you pass by, hoping that your biceps would not explode just from what you see. You knew, that if you haven’t fingered a french 7c in your life, this isn’t going to be your playground. And so consequently, many elite climbers came, and climbed here. Everyone that came, came again and again and again. Just like we did, for the last 20 years.
The thing about the Topo…
I remember digitalizing my first personal topo for this area. There were little information except a few handwritten pieces of paper that was handed down between the climbers. Seldom would you find an area that would be a habitat for more than 100 routes in the French 8th grade, all in one valley. Seldom would you find such high quality endurant routes clustered in one area. Seldom was there such a hot secret spot that was known between all elite climbers. However, there were also problems that rocked the existence of this climbing area for a long, long time. Therefore, there was no official topo available until in 2008 when the first Guide-book was published and printed. Shortly after, Rockfax came out with a publication too. The problems however, didn’t end there. For many years, Sector La Baleine was officially non existent, until finally, after numerous efforts and negotiations of the FFME/bolters with the local Landowners fruited, it was then “opened to the public” and the “additif du Topo” (updates-to-go) came out. Recently, a few more sectors were born. Sunny and suitable for winter.
Cliffs as far as the eyes can see
The walls on each side of the valley stretches about 3-4 km and is divided by a river that can turn into a dangerous wild water terrain after phases of long, heavy rains falls. In the summer the idyllic river becomes a favourite spot for river hikes and sunday excursions for the young and old. A little path leads left from the Gite “La Bergerie” into the Gorge leading you to the all the various sectors.
More than 400 routes are spreaded out in 10 main sectors. It would be impossible to name any recommendations as we have not climbed any route that sucks, until today. The climbing is technical, sustained and sometimes crimpy ledges on long, long walls, often overhanging. Sectors North and the “newer” sector La Baleine are usually packed on hotty days. A quieter alternative could be sectors FFMeuh and Pranania on such days. On cloudy, or in the colder months, the southern Sector has some really great 7a+ s to get hold on before you move on for more “serious” climbing on the overhangs. Since this area has seen quite some traffic in the last few years, you will find that some routes starts to get polished, especially those in the sun packed sectors.
When it’s good, then it’s good
The valley is good to climb on whole year round, except after long periods of rain, or on very hot days in summer, or when winter is at it’s peak (=shortly before and after Christmas, the sun disappears early behind the Mt. Ventoux) If you think you can hide under the overhangs during rainfalls, you ‘ll be in for a surprise to find how permeable the wall is to seepage and water. We have seen how little waterfalls appear right in the middle of the wall and at some instances where walking with an umbrella under the overhang could have proven useful. Most routes are in the sun, which makes it more favourable to climb in the cooler months of the year = spring or autumn. There is usually a breeze in the east and west sectors of the valley. You will find sustained climbing on ledges, awesome moves and plenty of tiny tufas in an overhanging terrain that will leave your biceps pumped. A 70m rope is a must, but 80m is better, to be able to enjoy the longer routes without the fear of hanging endlessly at the wrong end of the rope.
The valley is packed on weekends and when news gets around that perfect conditions exist (i.e. when the tufas are dry) Certain sectors sometimes resemble an indoor climbing gym, when all routes are occupied. Even though a French 7c/8a isn’t a great deal anymore, (where 9c+ sets the highest level of sports climbing today) the gradings here are tough. Onsights are hard to come by and some routes has an extra portion of “engagé” for the fearless.
So climbing in Saint Leger today is still one of the hottest spots on earth, a favourite for the modern high leveled climber.
Information of the area:
Best time to climb:
Spring, Autumn, on sunny, winter days and cloudy, breezy summer days
70m and 80m (better)
“Escalade autour du Ventoux”, published in 2008
- Autors: Denis Haye, Vincent Cottalorda, Michaël Gay
- Available online and at Kiosks, Bookstores and Office du Turisme from Buis le Barronies.
Other Guidebooks that include this area are Rockfax Haute Provence and Jingo Wobbly – Avignon Solei
- Campgrounds at Buis la Barronie, Mollans sur Oevese, Entrechaux, Vaison la Romaine (opened till November!)
- Gite La Bergerie,
- Gite St. Leger
Buis-La-Barronie and bigger ones in Vaison-La-Romaine
Other climbing areas nearby:
- Buis la Barronie (south facing),
- Umbriex (Gorge),
- Le Groseau /Malaucene (West facing),
- Bedoin (north facing),
- Trois Riviere (north facing)
- about an hour or two away: Orpiere, Buoux, Venasque, Briancon
Bike up the Mont Ventoux (or drive up there), make a River hike through the St. Leger gorge, visit Vaison-La-Romain / Sault, pool day
Do not litter the climbing area, take your rubbish (cigarette butts, tape, water bottles, tissue) with you. If you camp in your van, leave no trace and keep the noise down and don’t wild camp in the car park. Avoid any arguments with the local hunters, or avoid certain accesses on hunt days.
Last but not least, you can help support those who maintains the climbing site by buying a local guide-book.