Hot Rock meet: 29 March – 7 April, 2012
Le Manoir de Flassans [www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/brignoles/44870 ] turned out to be a newly built and well appointed villa that suited our party of eleven rather well. The absence of restaurants in the village was no problem after the night we arrived as several of our number showed skills as chefs that made eating-in a delight. Flassans is not one of the charming villages Provence is renowned for, but it did have a good bakery and some ‘corner’ shops. The house swimming pool got fairly heavy use considering the time of year; indeed Alex swam every morning before breakfast.
We fell into three groups: ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams of climbers and walkers. There are more crags accessible from Flassans than we could hope to climb on and almost all of them demanded return visits. From the Wednesday onwards the weather discouraged any of us from wish-list sorties further inland onto Mt. St. Victoire or into the Verdon Gorge (Ah well!). [Rockfax guide, France Cote d’Azur: www.rockfax.com]
Andy and I (the B team) made three trips to Chateauvert in all, an excellent limestone crag with next to no polish, though it is only yards from the road, where we knew there were multi-pitch routes to our taste. it was on the final visit that Andy topped out on the superb Colibri (5+) as thunder heralded what was ot come; lightning accompanied our retreat and we escaped by seconds the deluge that made drowned rats of those who made a more tardy exit. On earlier visits we had sought the shaded routes with interesting continuation pitches on Sector Technogene before tackling the eponymous route of the crag at 5+ and that was sheer delight.
Contrast the more remote crag Marinouns, one of those grouped under the general heading of Chateaudouble, where we climbed only once and in blazing sun; this one required an almost 30 minute walk-in! Yes, I admit the walk-in was actually down, but you have to think of the walk out too. Here the long 2- pitch route Un Point de Vie (5) was for us the best of the crag and one of the best of the week for both quality and variety. The crag affords an excellent view across the valley to the picuresque village of Chateaudouble.
On the seaward side of Le Coudon, a fortress-topped peak dominating the city of Toulon, there are three sectors. From beside the hang-glider launch pad two sectors can be accessed involving a rock scramble descent. On Sector Rose Marie the eponymous route (6a) felt like a trad. corner/groove and much easier than the 5s ,easier even than La chene at 4+ on Sector Grandes Voies. That last is a splendid route, which we took to climb out and so avoid the long drag back up to the hang-glider ramp on our second visit. Unreliable grades are as plentiful as excellent routes here. The more accessible Sector Baudouvin, however, was a polished horror we visited a couple of days later and quickly abandoned in favour of sightseeing.
It was on Sector Rose Marie that we had the pleasure of watching Alex and Derek do Paradisiac (6a+) and Microcosmos (6b+) while we ate lunch. They travelled with us that day after ‘disgracing’ themselves the day before by extending their climbing day at Chateaudouble into the darkness hours and causing no little anxiety in the rest of the A Team waiting to return to base and dinner. Ah, youthful enthusiasm knows no petty limitations!
Derek on Microcosmos 6b+
Alex on Paradisiac 6a+
The ‘A’ team’s first visit to Chateauvert had started on Sector Technogene with 3 excellent 5+ routes, all actually of widely differing grades, and then continued on the Eastern Buttress with L’essaim de nat (6b) and Reveil Matin (6b). All the routes were justly given 3 stars
Next they drove down to the Toulon area to visit Baou de Quattro Ouro. Following some desperate 5+ and 6a fingery warm ups they moved onto Sector Cayenne and the route of the crag, Cayenne, a brilliant outing whose line bore no resemblance to the diagram – was it really 6a+? The theory is that the closer you get to Toulon the tougher the grades. All were undoubtedly 3* routes.
With crags in all directions to choose from they now headed west to Les Marinouns (Chateaudouble) – a fine location leading to ascents of Sourir de chauve-souris (5+), Code Secret at 6b providing an excellent mix of tricky wall climbing and a technical impending wall. Also ascents of Oriane and Slim-fast up a technical slabby wall provided some entertainment until the desperate groove of Tuck-Tuck brought them to an unceremonious halt.
For something completely different they decided to try the granite of the Massif de l’Esterel at the Gorge du Blavet, starting with an off width crack with holds and bolts – was it, therefore, VS or E2???. It could be a good start to your off-width career. This was followed by an ascent of Supa Nana a brilliant long 6c pitch with a mid height technical crux and a desperate extended crux at the top just when you don’t need it.
Les Calanques is a very extensive area. They selected Les Goudes for the opportunity to do a number of multi pitch routes that don’t seem to be climbed that often – no shine, no chalk. Having made an ascent of Carte Postale – a 3 pitch route at 6b with surprisingly tricky route finding – they followed it by a few pleasant shorter single pitch routes on the flanks of one of the major rock fins
Friday’s storms coincided with an influx of weekend holiday climbers at Chateauvert on the ‘A’ team’s second visit. The second phenomenon was escapable but not the first, even under the cave-like overhang. The same storm that almost caught Andy and myself was crashing and flashing directly overhead as in some surreal drama and it was a race to get to the belay before the rain reached it.
Those of us who came to enjoy the walking soon sussed out what the area had to offer, even though in practice they rarely began from the point intended, did the walk planned or travelled it in the direction first thought of. Brilliant improvisation or thinking on their feet! On the down side they succeeded in losing the map near the start of one such walk. Most days a limestone ridge was selected, ascended and traversed, the ridges of Ste-Baume and the Mourre d’Agnis being good examples. The views were very rewarding and the paths generally good. Sometimes wild flowers were in abundance as with the beautiful dwarf irises. Delightful, well-maintained chapels were a feature on some of the walks.
By way of a scenic contrast, a much anticipated and memorable day was spent walking the attractive coastal path on the island of Port Cros , which is accessible by ferry from Lavandou. On their return, the villa’s private pool, though unheated, was nevertheless a bonus at the end of the day.
Compiled by D B