Looking back at my last post on climbing in Val Durance or Briançon it has covered some of the most important areas of the region years back. We’ve been back. Again and again. The climbs are great, the views are superb (always!), and it’s been the perfect location to climb in summer. Isn’t that reason enough?
There’s a lot of shady places to climb on during the day. Even though most places are at 1000 m altitude, you still have 30°c during the day (just like this summer) and 7°c at night. I was determined to get the new guide book after hearing so much about new sectors, new routes, new places, even though we didn’t really needed one.
After buying the guidebook at the Sportsoutlet in Ailfroide, I realized that I couldn’t dispose of the earlier generation. Some of the older crags were missing, new ones appeared. So to not lose old documents, I will still have to keep them all now. Aaargh!
No big deal?
Nobody talks about it. Many of the suggested areas in Briançon Climbs will be putting your cars or vans to test. Dirt roads. Some roads are pretty easy to tackle, some might put you on a jumpy ride, and some, you hope you won’t meet another vehicle on the side…or damn, where’s the next bend when you can finally turn around and get out of the situation. The guide book talks little about the access – or any access at all. You will just have to read the map and every detail that’s DRAWN.
Our car has seen a few bumpy trips and we’ve never had a flat, neither have we killed and scraped a hole in the oil tank. Nevertheless, it calls for careful driving and plenty of nerves and some planning if you’re staying on the other end, or are moving around with your big camper van. (I do have some impression that most French and Italian drivers don’t give a dime of their cars. We do. Just a little.)
New land around Briançon
The new areas around Briançon are a dream. And ever since many other areas has been also newly re-bolted, most of those old routes are perfectly bolted for the weak and chicken hens. Thats big plus for me, especially when I’m still tackling on my fears while leading. Much talk about this fear has been rounded off by Erika in her german blog to motivate all those who fears leading. Perfect bolting helped me gain more confidence in what I was doing. There’s no other better practice, than to climb, climb, climb outdoors. So even if it meant stepping 2 grades back, I enjoyed much more lead climbs here than I did in my previous trips. Step by step to perfection.
Thats what I love about climbing in France. They put priorities in promoting their sports in this generation. Forget about ethics, safety comes first.
Ailfroide – Face bouc
Climbing in Ailfroide means climbing on granite. There are dozens of sectors to go to, and they are perfectly bolted for the novice and for the ambitioned pro climber. First time Multi-pitch goers will have a few selections to go on to without having to really sh.. in your pants. Again for the umpteenth time, we could not climb on them… our helmets were at home. (there where it wouldn’t get soiled or damaged. *rolleyes)
Terra Nova is a small sector with a steep 15 minute walk. It will take you on another cool and breezy wall that finds shade after midday. Theres a few challenging warm up routes at the front of the gorge, and a technical Terra Nova, 7c+ at the second last route of the sector. Its cool but not always comfortable to belay. Nice warm ups at the beginning of the crag.
While we were going to a new sector called Face bouc, dozens of sentences crossed my mind. “I was in Face bouc today” “A selfie on Face bouc”, “Pose up for Face bouc” Amazing rubbish in the head on such a wonderful day. Whichever way you want to see it, we were there. It was the hot spot this summer. Everyone came here and wanted to set a go on “Punishment Park, 7c” A crack that moves 35m up in a steep overhang. But don’t let go after the crux. It isn’t over till you’ve gotten the anchor (in your hands). Face bouc 8c, itself looks utterly amazing.
The overhang is in the shade after midday, it’s terribly windy and you’ll need your down or wind breaker here, even at 32°c. The sector with easier grades comes into the shade only in the late afternoon. And no, Cambon beurre, 7a+ isn’t a great route to “warm up” on. It’s more a test piece that makes your muscle turn sour too soon.
La Bruzet, Vallee de Claret
3 stars for a little sector that has a character like those in Frankenjura. No, you won’t find any finger pockets here, but a limestone on lines short and ledgy. They are pumpy and perfectly bolted. The wall is in the shade in the mornings, and the trees in front of the wall makes it stay cool in the early afternoon. For a 5 min walk, I’d say it’s a nice quick stopover when you’re coming from either Montgenevre or from Bardenochhia.
The walls in Le rocher qui repond isn’t new, but it has a few really cool (cold) sectors in the morning. Some old school, technical climbing on long, enduring routes. Good Luck 7a+, Shana 6b+ and Les 6 doigts 7b+ were some good lines in the sector. Plenty of easier routes/ sectors s in the 5th and 6th grades left and right of the sector, great for the families and kiddies. Generally, these sectors are great to pick out a picnic place a few meters below the walls.
La Pimaï – Vallée de la Guisane
Off road lovers, this is your place to go. The guidebook doesn’t reveal what you will have to do with your car, but 8 km zigzag up a ski pist can cost you a few synapses to snap even before you reach the wall. Nevertheless, we spotted a Pössl van who’s dared to roar the roads up. The wall is north facing, it’s steep and slightly overhanging, but it’s not rain protected. So yes, the belayer will get utterly wet, while the lead climber wouldn’t even have noticed it’s been raining. Seriously, it’s not the place to come to if the weather is tricky and changeable, or if north winds blows. (even those of you who loves north winds, be warned)
The routes are FABULOUS. Very fine sculptured Limestone climbing. Warmups (6c pluses) in the middle of the sector, then move on either left or right of the wall. Hubby loved and ticked off “Wish I knew you before, 7c+“. You might be surprised to find a crowd in the weekends. Yes, climbers do everything, for a piece of good looking rock. If I would give all routes 5 stars, does it still count?
Nourotchou – Queyras
After seeing most of the other sectors around Briançon, another dirt road? No problem! (tar marked roads were more like…oh so old fashion.) To drive up here, you’ll need some careful planing in the high season (July / August). The roads are closed to any traffic during the day (8:00 – 18.00) You will find about 5 different sectors here with longer walks to the walls. We took a go on the wall with the shortest reach – Fleur Bleue and were rewarded with 3 different sectors on Gabbro stone. It’s a bit like basalt. The sectors on the left hand side are easiest, on the the right you will find much harder routes. There’s a small little area where a breeze blows all the time. Left and right are more wind protected, and sun trapped.
20 min access to the wall, described by the guide book, was challenging. I’d give 50 mins hiking in a pathless zig zag, crossing a swamp and little boulders to be more down-to-earth. Funny that in the old guidebook the access was explained differently. Nice lines to hit: la coupe des vices 7b+, special poups (2 Pitch in one with a min 70m rope) 5a/6b.
Climbing in areas around Queyras meant moving around in one of loveliest nature reserves of the region. You will also be permanently surrounded by marmots at all times. Don’t fall into one of their holes or try to take them home.
This sector lies actually just next to the busy main road that connects Guillestre and Briancon. It’s funny that we never came here to climb in the previous trips. Perhaps it gave us the impression that it could’ve been loud or too hot on a really hot day. 8 mins away from the parking lot, once you descend into this mini gorge you find yourself in another world. The canyon with a little waterfall, a little stream gushes through the middle separating the right and left walls.
The routes in this gorge has been existing a long time already. Newer ones popped out recently, making this place now very, very popular especially during the weekends. There are now a good mix of easier and harder grades in both sides of the wall making it really ideal to just hop over in 2 m to the other side. The routes are perfectly bolted. The limestone rock resembles a layered cake pressed into a harmonica. We had lots of fun despite the fact that it was so packed when we got there. We were still able to always find a free route to hop on. If it was occupied, hang your feet in the cooling water! And chill!
We saw other newer sectors in l’Argentière-la-Bessée, or Reotier near Guillestre. If you’re in discovery mode, you could explore the other dirt roads that brings you deep into the valleys, into little nature reserves with wonderful fauna and floras. Great for chilling out in the nature.
The classic areas like Grand Bois, Fessourier or Tournoux is still a great place on hot days. The access to these areas are pretty adventurous. Either you’ll face a dirt road ride, or have a hike on an airy Via- Ferrata. But these walls rewards you with great routes. Do not expect the via-Ferratas to be in perfect conditions. Rue de Masque is still the hit for everyone (especially families) due to it’s easy access and cool winds despite a burning 35°c at the parking lot. They’ve put up a few new routes and sectors, and there’s a new toilet too. Nice!
Pelvoux is something for hard-movers. It’s short and extremely maximum. We didn’t get very far that day. It was terribly hot. Even though it gets shade in the afternoon, it doesn’t immediately cool down. I did enjoy watching the little kids tackle the “not-so-easy” via-ferrata opposite. So amazed how many families go out with their little ones at such a young age. Chapeau! Take care on the access to the crag not to slip and have a free fall into the gushing river.
What a summer!
It was a splendid high season summer! I didn’t think it would’ve been much fun travelling in the high season together with the mass. We were lucky to have permanent good weather, each day no less than 30° c. We’ve seen our thermometers jumped to 37°c once in 1500 m altitude, but that was really just one exceptional day. The nights were always cool and great to sleep in. But honestly speaking, we slept often on even higher grounds, making it an extraordinary experience every evening. Who needs a 5 star hotel when you can have a zillion?
So even though this region is really perfect for summer, it’s even much better in autumn, when good weather conditions play along. There are many walls that are south facing and great for cooler days.
If you want to know more about the other areas and some logistics, read my earlier post on Val Durance, with the link right on top of this post.