The Calanques in the south of France offer some truly great accessible climbing…
One of France’s great natural beauty areas is just a stones throw from Marseille – the Calanques. One side of the Calanques plunge spectacularly into the Mediterranean, and the other has cliffs and boulders dotted with spare, drought resistant vegetation.
This range of limestone cliffs, fjords and rocky promontories, one of the largest rock climbing areas in France, extends for 20 km in length and 4 km in width along the coast between Marseille and Cassis, with the highest point being Mont Puget at 565 m. Quite beautiful with crystal clear water below.
It is a very popular region for hiking with well demarcated trails, but it’s the climbing we are here to talk about.
It is enormously varied with technical slabs, steep overhangs in caves, multi-pitch routes up to 250m long in the mountains, and steep single pitches right on the sea’s edge. In total there are around 2,500 bolted sports routes and around 1,000 trad routes. However, the cliffs exist within a very fragile eco-system and climbing is strictly controlled as excessive use has created problems of potential damage to this delicate micro-habitat. They are, for example, closed to the public between the months of July to September because of the threat of forest fires and some routes are closed periodically because there are nesting habitats in the vicinity.
map courtesy of : Escalade dans les Calanques
The rock throughout the Calanques is limestone. Great limestone walls plunging into the Med. Although the quality is, on the whole, very good, you need to ‘ware the outclumps of bushes and the occasional patch of rotten rock. Access by car is restricted in the Summer due to the risk of forest fires.
I have harped on a bit about the beauty of the Calanques, so have added the following video to bear me out…
You will need to buy a guide book of the region, and the following brief descriptions will show you why. There are far too many climbs within each spot for me to delve into in detail, but I will just give you a very brief idea of what is on offer in the Calanques.
The Calanque de Sormiou is probably the most famous climbing spot in this region and the most easily accessible – you can drive right up to the base of the cliffs and park in one of several private parking lots – not so easy in the summer months. Situated between Marseille and La Ciotat, it has 23 main climbing areas with multiple routes in each area ranging from 2 to 7a+. It has a total elevation of 150m (492 ft) and offers a wide variety of single and multi-pitch climbs in both trad and sport disciplines. The following video is taken in the cove of Sormiou:
The Calanque d’en Vau is another great area – #8 on the map above. The lagoon is flanked by cliffs on either side, 275m in length and about 45m wide. It has 16 main climbing areas with multiple routes in each one with levels from 2 to 8a… certainly something for everyone. Routes can be up to 150m high with a few long horizontal traverses. With some of the routes you have to abseil back down, but with others you can walk down on the other side. It has a maximum elevation of 150 m (492 ft).
Morgiou, #5 on the map and close to Sormiou has a maximum elevation of 150 m (492 ft) and has 13 main areas with multiple routes ranging from 2 to 8a.
Sougiton/Luminy, again 13 main climbing regions with a maximum elevation of 278 m (912 ft). There is some very challenging climbing here.
The great thing about the Calanques is that, restrictions aside, you can climb throughout the year although the heat in the summer is sweltering and you will need bucket loads of sun cream and a LOT of water. The sun, reflecting off the white limestone, intensifies the heat. But, as one satisfied climber put it: “Long route after long route with beautiful delicate slabs like I have never seen, huge juggy overhangs and everything in between.” And the deep aquamarine sea to collapse into at the end of a long, tiring but satisfactory day.
It is recommended to stay at Cassis rather than Marseille, as Cassis is a delightful little village/town with plenty of hotels and a campsite. Marseille on the other hand, has 1 million other inhabitants and all the hassles that go with that. Just getting in and out of the city could waste far too many valuable climbing hours!
A little bit of trivia – although for any Americans reading this, it won’t be that trivial. For centuries the limestone rock from the Calanques has been quarried and used all around the world. It is Calanques limestone that supplies the base for the Statue of Liberty!
photo courtesy of Wikipedia:多重アカウント