South France Sport Climbing

On Sunday I returned from a two week trip to South France with Vivien, Glyn and Luke. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for most of the year. Living in London and working full time I don’t get out to crags as much as I’d like, and it’s not easy to work on hard projects during a weekend trip with no idea when I might be able to return.

So I was excited to be somewhere for a decent chunk of time and to have the opportunity to really try to push my grade. Before this trip my best redpoint was 7a. Towards the end of last year I came close to ticking both a 7a+ and a 7b, but didn’t quite manage it. Since the new year I’ve tried to step up my training, and I’ve been regularly climbing 7b’s indoors. So my objective was to do one or more 7b routes, and also to try something harder to see how it felt.

We headed to Avignon on the seasonal direct Eurostar service, which was pretty much the most relaxed, easy way you could get to south France. Step aboard in central London and emerge just under 6 hours later at your destination, having spewed significantly less CO2 into the atmosphere then you would have done on a plane. I do hope they expand this service beyond the current Saturday-only offering.

Vivien’s parents live near Avignon so we headed there initially. Worryingly it was bucketing down with rain but we consoled ourselves with some tasty food and wine!


The trip was initially conceived as a 2 week stay at the infamous Céüse. I was excited to visit this legendary crag for my first (but surely not last!) time, but unfortunately the weather when we arrived was a lot colder than it usually is for the time of year. Céüse sits at about 1800m, and there was actually fresh snow up there. A different plan was called for, and I’ll have to go back for Céüse in the future!

We cracked open the Languedoc-Roussillon guidebook in search of something a bit lower down, and liked the look of Seynes. The next day the rain had stopped so off we went…



Seynes has a lot of tufas!

I spent the first day getting into the swing of things. It was actually my first time on real rock for the year, so I wanted to remind myself how to do footwork!

On the second day, I got my first decent tick. Si! J’y étais gets 7b in the guidebook, but Glyn and Luke both thought it was soft, and UKC gives it 7a+. It was a great route and the grade doesn’t really matter, however it left ambiguity about whether I’d achieved my 7b goal yet!

Trying to fit in with the locals by wearing a stripy t shirt!

On Si! J’y étais. Trying to fit in with the locals by wearing a stripy t shirt!

The following day I wanted to try something harder, so decided to get on Le chute du rastaquouère 7b+. This ended up being the best route of the trip for me, but things didn’t start well. I began getting the clips in and working the moves. Initially the moves were hard but also very enjoyable. I got a fair way through the route but started to get completely shut down. I felt utterly drained and eventually resorted to clip-sticking through several bolts before lowering off before the end. I had kind of given up. I couldn’t climb 7b+.

Then Luke actually looked in the guidebook and pointed out that I had taken the wrong line. It turns out there’s a bolt line which branches off from Le chute du rastaquouère, unmarked in our guidebook, which I had mistakenly followed. I later found out that this line gets 8a. No wonder I couldn’t climb it!

Luckily I’d left my rope hanging. I jugged back up with lots of huffing and puffing, managed to clip-stick to the lower off of the 8a, and then get the clips out of that section. Some time and loads of rope work later, I set off on the remainder of the correct line and finished getting my clips in. To be continued…

The next day was a much needed rest day!

Vivien being a very unsophisticated Frenchman, drinking red wine from a nut pot

When in France, drink red wine. Out of a nut pot if necessary! (As expertly demonstrated by Vivien)


Beneath the “Sunburnt Sector” aka Rouge Gorge. I have no idea how the rock got that colour.

While at Seynes we camped beneath the crag. This was perfect except for two things. One, there is a really annoying noisy road nearby, which kept waking us all up several times a night. Two, towards the end of our stay I learned from a local guy that people camping there was causing access issues which might jeopardise the access for climbers. Not good. So although it’s a great location, except for the road, I think I’d find a campsite next time.

On the rest day I tried slack-lining for the first time! I was terrible at first but was able to make a few steps without falling by the end of the trip. Which was progress, at least.


Luke looking steady


Glyn looking calm


Me looking disastrous!

Next day it was back to the project. My first go didn’t feel great but I spent lots of time really working the top section properly. I then gave Luke and Glyn all the beta and they both flashed it. On my next attempt I ticked it with much yelling and grunting. I tried really hard and was absolutely delighted to get it. And the moves are awesome. At the top I shouted “I don’t care if I don’t tick anything else for the rest of the trip!” – a sentiment that lasted at least until the end of the day! The euphoria of sending is short lived. That day I also did my first 7a flash (Au nom du pere) which got me pretty damn pumped.


Shaking out at a jug on Le chute du rastaquouère

The following day was our last at Seynes. I was still really mentally psyched to climb stuff, but physically I was exhausted. This resulted in me eagerly trying several things only to lower off the second bolt pumped out of my skull! Oh well.

We headed back to Vivien’s house for another rest day.


Vivien needed to head back home at this point so we said goodbye to him and headed for the next crag: Buoux!



According to the guidebook, “in Buoux even the pockets have pockets in them!” That’s certainly true, and not a tufa in sight! It was good to change things up a bit.


Luke warming up on Récréativité 6b

Rose des Sables 7a, a fantastic line, and thanks Luke for the flash beta!

Luke on Rose des Sables 7a, a fantastic route which I was pleased to flash

I set about trying to climb the classic route of the crag: No Man’s Land 7b.

Getting the clips in No Man's Land

Getting the clips in No Man’s Land

Unusually for a sport route it starts with a traverse along a line of pockets. The climbing on the traverse is not difficult, but the feet are pretty poor and you end up quite pumped by the time you arrive at the more difficult crimpy climbing on the vertical section.

I had several goes on the first day, but didn’t manage to get it. The following day I felt pretty worn down in general, and fell off the 6c we were warming up on. So I was quite doubtful that I’d be able to climb No Man’s Land. After taking a long rest I got on it and really just thought I’d be going up to take out the quickdraws. But I surprised myself and somehow managed to pull through and make the ascent!

I was quite relieved. The traverse somehow made the route really mentally draining to redpoint – each time I fell I knew I’d have to do the pumpy traverse all over again which stopped being fun after a while.

After another rest day we decided we’d had our fill of pockets, so struck out for our third crag: Venasque.

Venasque was great fun. The main wall of the crag is ridiculously overhanging and full of jugs and flatties of varying degrees of positivity! It’s quite hard to capture the steepness in photos but at points on it you are almost traversing a horizontal roof.

Lowering off Petite Marie 6c+, into the tree!

Lowering off Petite Marie 6c+, into the tree!

Glyn on Les Petits Qui Frétillent 7b

Glyn onsighting Les Petits Qui Frétillent 7b, avoiding a bees nest!

I got stuck in and ticked Misanthropies thérapeutiques 7b on my first redpoint attempt. I then moved left to Aller Plus Haut 7b+, which took much longer, but I eventually got it after another rest day. No single move was particularly difficult, but it took a lot of determination to consistently not mess up whilst fighting through the pump. I could have used some more stamina! Finally, I also did L’Intégrale de Peuterey 7b on my first redpoint attempt.

As the trip came to an end, I was very satisfied with my progress and felt ready to return home. My body was quite exhausted and I’ve been resting up in the week since I got back. It was great to have the opportunity to tick off quite a few routes in a short space of time, and Vivien, Glyn and Luke were great company. I hope to do some more 7b’s and 7b+’s over the summer, and who knows, maybe even a 7c…

Glyn also wrote his own trip report

Easter snow and mountains

This being my first post, let’s get the awkwardness out of the way: I have decided to start a blog to document my climbing related endeavours. Mainly because I want somewhere to put my photos and an incentive to take the photos in the first place. So, to business!

As you may well have noticed, it has been unusually cold recently and there was a huge dump of snow about a week before Easter. Over this winter, I have been trying to build up some skills and experience with winter walking. I’m a fairly competent summer climber, and have wanted to get into winter climbing for a while. But to do that there are quite a lot of new skills to learn, first and foremost being an ability to move and navigate safely in the mountains in winter conditions.

Back in November I did a winter skills course at Plas y Brenin with Vivien. Despite there being sod all in the way of winter conditions at the time, it was pretty helpful in increasing my confidence with navigation to the point where I felt ready to go out without a guide. Over December I found myself in Australia, enjoying quite literally the polar opposite of winter conditions, but when I got back in January there was quite a bit of snow to be had.

So off we went, tackling Snowdon by the easiest route: the Llanberis Path. This turned out to be a sufficient challenge as we were confronted with complete white-out conditions and strong winds. We concentrated quite hard on navigation and made a point of avoiding large drops!

Here’s the platform of the summit station of the Snowdown Mountain Railway:


The following day, we walked up Y Garn from Nant Peris, and then descended into the Ogwen Valley. There was an absolutely fierce wind at the top and we got a bit disorientated, but fortunately managed to find the summit as it made navigating our way back down from a known point much easier.

When March came around, I presumed that I wouldn’t have another opportunity to get into the mountains in winter conditions, but I was quite wrong. When the snow fell, the conditions were by the sounds of it as unpleasant as back in January. However as the Easter weekend approached the forecasts were predicting that the temperature would stay low, but the skies would clear up significantly. Awesome!

I got in touch with my friend Glyn (check out his blog), who offered that we could stay at his new house near Llanberis. He had quite a few other friends staying too, so it was quite a fun social gathering with plenty of psyche to go around.

On the Friday, Vivien and I headed up the Pyg track to Snowdon’s summit. The place looked amazing.





After getting up Snowdon, we wanted to go along the ridge to Y Lliwedd (the peak visible behind us in the photos above). This involved traversing quite a steep snow slope south of the summit. In theory there is a path but of course it was buried deep under snow.

As we started to make our way across we felt quite uneasy about the avalanche risk. The snow was deep powder covered with icy windslab. Each time we made a step, bits of ice would break away underfoot and slide down the slope, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence. We got about halfway across and started pondering what to do. There was another guy who was also going across, but he seemed less concerned and carried on. After some deliberation we decided to err on the side of caution – we went straight up the slope and topped out onto the ridge again.

So instead we went along the top of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, which I thought was fantastic. There was already a well trodden path and it didn’t feel dodgy at all, but there’s just nothing like the feeling of walking along a ridge high up in the mountains.

I was quite keen to go up Yr Aran, so we headed for it. This went less well as we encountered quite a bit of ice. We decided to call it a day and not to go right to the summit, but had more trouble with ice while trying to descend onto the Watkin path. It was a bit stressful but we managed to get down via a combination of careful front-pointing and a short abseil. We were pretty tired by this point!

Back at the house, the others were planning to do a group ascent of Snowdon’s Trinity Face. There were three teams of two, and it was suggested that Vivien and I could join as a fourth pair. We haven’t done any proper winter climbs before, but the others thought that given our summer climbing experience we’d be okay if we took an easy line.

I was quite excited to do this, but also nervous that we might be getting out of our depth. Trinity Face is huge and from the ground it certainly looks like it would be intimidating to be on. I’m sure it feels a lot less exposed that it looks when you’re actually on it, but still.

We planned to do it, but then bailed out at the last moment the following morning. This decision was probably catalysed by the fact that it was 6 AM and we were still shattered from the previous day! I’m sure it would have been fine if we had gone, but at the same time, I think nothing was lost. There will be other opportunities to do our first winter climb.

Glyn’s friend Tom has a great account of their ascent on his own blog. Meanwhile, we decided to head up to the Glyders. From Pen-y-Pass, we took the Bwlch Dwyglydion gully. Most of the way up we were wading through deep, quite wet snow which made for slow progress – I kept repeatedly putting a foot down to find myself buried thigh-deep. But as we got nearer the top the snow got harder and there was a bit of windslab. The gully also got steeper. We opted to avoid the snow slope and instead ended up scrambing over icy rocks, which was pretty fun.


Eventually we made it to Glyder Fach, and then walked back along the ridge to Glyder Fawr. As we walked past “The Nameless Cwm” I saw climbers topping out from a route. It looked pretty fun – can’t wait to have a go myself!


The next day was my birthday! Most of us elected to partake in some sunny bouldering at Porth Ysgo, although Tom and Charlotte still has psyche for more winter routes so struck off on their own.

I don’t boulder outdoors that much – I tend to think that once I’ve put in the time/effort it takes to leave London, I want to get a bit more out of my day (but this is mainly because I treat bouldering as training rather than an end in itself).

But a bit of bouldering from time to time is good fun, as in this case. The sun was shining and it was a lot warmer on the beach than in the mountains. Perfect bouldering weather really – the rock had bags of friction.



In the evening, Glyn had arranged a birthday get together at “Pizza and Pint” in Llanberis. Thanks Glyn! We even managed to stick some candles on a sticky toffee pudding: well classy!


(Thanks to Glyn and Amy for the last three photos.)

We finished off the weekend on Monday with a wander through the slate quarries.



I’ve never been in the quarries before and was quite interested to take look around. I managed to pick up a few bits of slate which will make great mats for the dining table.


There are lots of sport climbing routes here, which I’d love to come back and have a go at in warmer weather. I’ve never climbed on slate at all, but from what I hear it’s quite unique.

What a great weekend! Huge thanks to Glyn and Amy for putting us up.