I know I have been going on about autumn a bit lately but after five years in the subtropics these beautiful trees and burning red vines just melt my heart. Chateauvert, in the south of France, offers both excellent climbing and the chance to do a little more leaf gawking.
Correns boasts that it is the ‘first BIO village’ in France and the farms in the immediate vicinity produce any number of BIO approved products. Predictably the area is therefore home to quite a number of woolly jumper wearing hippies all of whom came out of the woodwork for the local fete, which was held while we were visiting. Sadly, the Vallon Sourn’s most famous residents (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) were not in attendance.
Nevertheless, it was a really wonderful evening. There was a big tent out on the grass serving local BIO wine at delightfully French prices (i.e. dirt cheap compared with Australia) and the fresh faced locals sat and stood around in the chilly autumn evening conversing with typical gallic animation. Inside the town co-operative building there were the remnants of a feast of some kind (I really wish we’d known about that part earlier!) and a local bluesy, folky, gypsyish band featuring an accordion, sexual cello moves and one of those gangly dark haired boys that teenage girls fall in love with. I demonstrated my Wuthering Heights (a la Kate Bush) dance moves and was not at all out of place.
The fete was just across the playing field from the Municipal Camping, where we stayed. You can forget about wild camping anywhere in the entire district of Correns – there are signs up everywhere prohibiting it and apparently it is policed pretty thoroughly. The Municipal Camping is a small little campground with a decent unisex shower block and a nice sheltered spot for sitting and eating out of the rain. There are no cooking facilities provided. The guy who runs it is quite friendly and has a bunch of climbing guidebooks for you to borrow for a quick look and he also sells them, without a mark up. The wifi is pretty good but costs an extra three euro a day.
The little convenience store in Correns sells more or less everything you need and at reasonable prices. The local BIO wine is quite good and for about twenty five euro you can get yourself a ten litre goon bag. Which we did.
The most convenient crags are on the road between Chateauvert and Correns. On the right side of the road (as you drive towards Chateauvert) there is a clear and cool river and a number of picnic spots. These would be absolutely packed in summer (apparently 300 cars park along the road in summer each day) but in Autumn there is only the occasional family.
While we were visiting the local council was surveying visitors on their opinion regarding proposed changes to the parking situation (at the moment you park pretty much at the crag). In typical governmental style, the outcome has already been decided – by next summer you won’t be able to park along the road but will have to walk or get some kind of shuttle bus from the villages. If they don’t improve the walkway (currently you have to walk on the road) this will really suck. There was some suggestion that they might hire bikes out cheaply but even at a couple of euro a day per person, on top of the camping fees, that could dissuade a lot of climbers (well, tight wads like me anyway). I also don’t fancy cycling with a climbing pack and sharing the road with crazed french drivers.
Anyway, for now the parking is great. Climbing on the river side is prohibited but you can climb pretty much anywhere you like on the left bank of the Argens. There are 36 little sectors and a large overhanging wall (the Grande Face) dominates the view of the crag. Access from the current car parks is very comfortable – stairs have been built into the hill and chains put in where necessary. There are just a few annoying spots where you need to walk across slabs of doom.
The Grande Face is home to most of the higher grade climbs in the area. It stays more or less dry even in constant rain but at least one route houses a very active beehive. It is worthwhile making a thorough visual inspection before setting off on your climb. Belaying in this area is a pain because there isn’t anything to anchor yourself to and you’re standing on a slab. I have noticed that there is a strong relationship between how unpleasant the belaying position is how keen the climber is to climb in a particular location.
For those who aren’t quite up to on-sighting 7bs (or doing laps of them, like some of the locals do) there are a number of sectors featuring just 4′s and 5s. Given the convenience of the crag it isn’t surprising that a lot of these are fairly polished. Some of the bolting is a bit sketchy as well, considering the grade. The 6b crusher has quite a bit to choose from: There are quite steep lines with big tufa jugs and a lot of vertical stuff with pockets and crips. Of course, if you choose you can also cheese grate yourself on the ever present slabs of doom.