Les Calanques

For the past few years Cathy and I have spent October working and sport climbing on the Mediterranean. This year we chose the Calanques followed by Buoux. Both in Provence in south France. 

Calanques was our first destination. We stayed two weeks in the town of Cassis, about 15 minutes from Marseille. Cassis is a postcard-beautiful town, full of French tourists there for the sun, water and wine. 

Cassis is on the edge of the Parc National des Calanques, where we climbed. The word calanque means inlet in some ancient language. We climbed the limestone walls lining the inlets. The climbing is less about challenging moves and more about the beautiful location with adventurous routes over the water. 

American guide friends Eric Larson (left) and Chris Wright (right) and Jacob Schmitz (not pictured) visited us in Cassis for a few days. We ate, drank and climbed the route Sur les Traces de Gaston. Eric, Chris and Jacob didn't stay long because the North Face of the Matterhorn was coated in ice for climbing. 

Chris at the start of Sur Les Traces de Gaston on the Aiguille de l'Eissadon. This is a 6-pitch sea cliff traverse that Kathy Cosley and Mark Houston recommended. Gaston Rebuffat was perhaps the most famous French alpinist and grew up in Marseille, climbing in Les Calanques. 

Eric on the first pitch of Sur Les Traces de Gaston. Falling off this pitch would mean getting wet.

Cathy high on Sur Les Traces de Gaston. 

Cathy is a green speck on the penultimate pitch of Sur Les Traces de Gaston. 

Chris knew about the wine and food in Provence. He shopped in the Cassis market and prepared us this lunch. 

Chris also introduced us to these AOC wine regions: Sancerre and Chateauneuf du Pape. These wines are always good, but probably cost a fortune in the US.   

Cathy and I climbed many long routes after Eric, Chris and Jacob left. This is Le Pouce Integral, a four-pitch 6a near En Vau, the most famous calanque. 

Cathy on Futurs Croulonts, 100 meters of 3-dimensional 6b chimney climbing above the placid water. 

Our most memorable day was a linkup of Traverse Ramond and Traverse Sans Retour, 700 meters of sea cliff climbing, traverses and rappels. Here Cathy starts Traverse Ramond with a rappel into a tunnel. The anchor was a thread in the roof of a natural window.  

Cathy and I death-gripping the anchors and quadruple-checking the system on the third rap into Traverse Sans Retour, the route after Traverse Ramond. The rap station was overhanging and smooth. To prevent a pendulum on the diagonal third rappel, we clipped bolts on the descent. The sea below was raging and frothing. The wind was blowing. Sans Retour means No Return. 

Cathy after the terrifying rappel.  

The Traverse Sans Retour is a route-finding challenge. The current English guidebook is almost worthless. Fifty years of bolts, pins, slings, old ropes and new anchors make confusing route options. 

Cathy on the crux traverse of Sans Retour, 50 meters above the raging whitewater. 

Cathy emerging from a belly-crawl above another chasm of raging water. 

Our last climb of the trip was a linkup of La Civa, a 5-pitch 6a on the lower cliff, to the ultra-classic Arete de Marseille, the sun-shade line on the high Grande Candelle. 

Sunset from our rental in Cassis. The Grande Candelle, our last climb, is right of the sun. Now off to Buoux to pull on some of the best limestone pockets in the world.