Welcome to the Features section of the BlueDome Climbing pages

Climbing Magazine (USA)

Snippets from this months November issue 164 of the ever excellent Climbing magazine has a curiously high British content. News of Ian Vickers on sighting various 5.13's such as Eqiunox at Joshua Tree, an article by Fliss Butler on the stresses of competition climbing an article on Johnny Dawes (The Leaping Boy, half man, half monkey, half sane)and an article on Training by Ben Moon and a full page shot of Neil Gresham on End of the Affair !

Is this all the influence of British ex-patriot Dave Pegg, who is now associate editor of Climbing ?

There are also articles on the awesome Black Canyon of Gunnison, bouldering around San Francisco Bay and on Tennessee sandstone (with rock that looks amazingly like our very own gritstone).

Far From The Madding Crowd?

Quiet areas in France, The Doub's and Valley of La Loue.

How about getting away from the the hordes of holiday climbers in the better known climbing areas of France

The size of the horde of arriving German climbers amazed us when we woke up on Good Friday. Closer enquiries revealed that an article in previous issue of Rotpunkt magazine was responsible. The local French climbers were amazed about how we Brits knew about it, we were the first they had seen. As an area it will become more fashionable with a wider French audience after topos and further details are published in forthcoming issues of Vertical magazine. Where am I talking about? The Doubs, and the Valley of La Loue.

It's only about six hours drive from Calais, close to the town of Besancon, and near the Jura Mountains. The French come here to climb because it is possible to do so without frying to death on routes, in midsummer. It's a refreshingly new area, with spectacular and beautiful limestone countryside. Even if you do not climb, it is an area well worth a visit because of the excellent variety of walking, (much of it way-marked) and many specifically prepared mountain bike (VTT) trails. The climbing is across a wider variety of grades than many other areas of France and thus make it accessible for the family climber, you often see whole families enjoying themselves climbing together; with routes especially equipped for kids. They are well bolted, and the crags are the sort of places were a picnics at the foot of the crag are called for. On La Barmaud alone there are over 100 routes between French 5 and 6c. All grades mentioned are French.

Not Too Hot To Climb In Summer?

The climate is pleasantly warm from Easter to October. You don't have to queue for polished routes, as is increasingly becoming the case at places such as Buoux, and even Verdon; although the above mentioned magazine articles will  undoubtedly increase the numbers coming to the Doubs. It is an area under rapid current development and the atmosphere amongst the local climbers reminds me of what it was like in the late seventies and early eighties in the Luberon, and the Verdon Gorge, i.e. feverish new route activities. It should not be a surprise to see new routes being equipped whilst you are on some of the crags.

A good place to base yourselves is Ornans, which is 26km outside Besancon on the D67. The people in the tourist office in the village are very friendly and helpful, and there is plenty of free information to be had e.g. to mountain bike trails. There are many campsites around, but a particularly well placed one is on the Chassagne St. Denis (D241) road just outside Ornans. It is clearly signposted and is about 100 meters from the outdoor Municipal swimming pool. La Barmaud is five minutes away from this campsite, and is the line of crags above it and woods. It has over 140 routes on it, mostly suited to the mid grade climber. In France mid- grade climbing seems to mean in the sixes, people learn to climb on what would be VS in the UK. The routes here are on excellent pocketed rock, mainly walls up to 40 meters high, with good, mostly new equipment though there ought to be more lower-offs. A long sling and screwgate krab may be found useful to arrange some lower offs from the many trees at the top. Please don't kill trees by directly putting your rope  around them. This burns the phloem and scars and kills the tree eventually.

Campsite Crag

The setting is very peaceful, being in a quiet woodland surrounding undisturbed by tourists. There is parking on the first left hand bend on the D241 heading away from the campsite to Chassagne. From here, facing the campsite, head up the left hand track for about 200 meters to a widening (parking is possible here also). A faint track leads from the left edge of the widening and goes to the top of the crag in about 50 metres. Either abseil down or find the fixed rope descent. Access is also possible along the bottom of the crag, but use the above approach first and follow the crag along to find out the most convenient way back through the woods. Some of the best routes are Adherente volupte (5c), Fluide tropical (6b) and Aquabon (6b/c).

Many route names are painted on the rock on most of the crags visited, and this helps navigation considerably, bearing in mind that this crag is over 1km in length. The topo was produced in 1991 and is available at the Cafe du Pecheur in Ornans, price 25FF. Incidentally French topos seem expensive for what you get because a lot of the money goes back to the crag equipment fund. This topo was produced by the Gang Des Allumes de la Grimpe (Club GAG), a name that's fairly self explanatory in translation (i.e. they are climbers in the know).

Also very close to this campsite is La Breme, a dominating crag overlooking the D67 near the joining of the rivers Breme and La Loue. Parking is at the road junction below the crag, and the approach is directly up to the crag in ten minutes. The rock is good rough limestone, and some of the routes travel up blank looking terrain at very reasonable grades on positive holds. Such climbing is very good for the ego. To do the some of the routes here and at La Barmaud in one run-out and belay back on the ground, it is necessary to do the routes with double 50m ropes, or the pitches will have to be split. Take two ropes, as it is more fun belaying on the ground. There are over 150 routes here, and like La Barmaud there is a good variety across the grades, but the crags are not hard mans paradises. A new topo is apparently under preparation.

Plenty of Potential

The newest development, and the crag with the most exciting potential is at Hautpierre Le Chattel. It is up to 100 meters high, and in places is very steep. There is much more here in the higher grades. Older, partly aided routes have been re-equipped and free climbed. One of the Best of these is Vie Des Crecerelles (7a/7a+). There will be a lot of 7/8 grade climbing here shortly as the pace of development is frantic. The development is catering for the "pleasure climber" also, with slay routes in grades 5 and 6 being added to the wings of the crag. Hautpierre is at about 650m altitude and is cooler than the others on very hot days, and the views across towards the Jura are superb. To get to the crag follow the D67 from Ornans towards Pontarlier, and turn left up the D244 to the small village of Hautpierre Le Chatelet. The road takes you just below the crag. Before you reach the village, park at a large memorial cross by the road, next to a shack covering a cattle drinking fountain. The path dips under the fence just before the cross, and contours to the crag in about five minutes. I don't know exactly how many routes there are at present, but there is no shortage.

Harder Routes

The crag I enjoyed the best was Rochers du Quint (pronounced like the philosopher Kant, appropriately enough as many of the routes make you think). Up to 35 meters high, it is confusingly also known as Baume les Dames, but they are one and the same. The excellent quality of the rock here is given away by some of the route names such as Petit Verdon( 6b+). Ozone (7a) is an essential tick, with brilliantly sharp holds and flutes. Also A Chacun.Diamant (7b)+ is great fun, especially if it is raining, as it stays completely dry. Many of the routes have tufas to pinch-grip and of course gouttes. It is a good crag for the grade seven climber, there being 48 routes in that category. For the super-heroes there are six 7c+, ten 8a/8a+, four 8b/8b+, and two 8c routes, enough for a week at least, even for Dougie Hall. Quint is on the outskirts of Baume les Dames, 30km from Besancon on the N83. It can be reached cross country from Ornans quite quickly. Just before the N83 drops down the hill into Baume les Dames town, turn right down a minor road towards Champvans les Baume. Just before the hill drops down into Baume les Dames again, there is a right turning at a mini roundabout, with a convenient signpost to Rocher du Quint. Follow the road under the railway to a parking spot peacefully situated by the river Doubs. The crag is about 200 metres to the left, the rocks to the right are a climbing playground called Baume Rousse that has 50 routes of their own. The 1992 topo is available from Libraire Papeterie J.M. Blanchon, in Baume les Dames. Gilles Blanchon, the proprietor equipped and climbed many of the routes himself.

The final crag I shall give details of is Pont de Roide. It is not very high, 10-20 meters, but it is over 1 Km long. It is in an exceptional setting below a nature trail/fitness circuit and picnic spot above a tributary of the Doubs. Even though the routes are short, they make up in quality for what they lack in height. There are plenty of easy routes in grades 4 and 5, but treat anything harder with respect, the grading is arid. It is a good place for a mixed ability group with something to entertain all standards of climber. A topo is under preparation, and will be available in the village. The village of Pont de Roide is 40km from Baume les Dames. In it, on the right bank of the river (facing upstream) is a minor road, the D124 and is signposted to the Site Protege Des Roches and Parcours Sportif Mais Pour Tous. Follow the winding road until it ends at the parking spot after about 5 km. The crag is found by following the fitness trail (doing the exercise activities illustrated on boards is obligatory !). About 50 metres, after exercise number 6, a path leads down to the crag.

More Fun and Games

All the above crags were well equipped by sports climbing standards. A fifty meter rope (or two), 14 clips two long slings with screw- gate krabs, wine and beer and picnic kit are the essential gear required. Also indispensable is the Michelin Motoring Atlas and the main crags mentioned in this article can be located easily using it. There are many other crags in the area that we did not have time to visit. To name some :- Nans-Sous-Ste-Anne and Refranche (both about 35km south of Besancon. Falaise En Arc De Cercle near La Breme. Crags near La Barmaud close to the village of Cleron (La Roche du Cerf ?). An immense 150 meter crag called La Baume near Hautpierre and close to the Cascade de Syratu and also La Justice. Don't bother with Montfaucon on the outskirts of Besancon, it was the only poor crag we encountered. The not too distant Dijon crags of Saffres, Hauteroche, Brochon and Fixin are all good crags, and add to the large number of routes available in this generally unknown (to Brits) area.

Get Away From The Crowds

The Doubs undoubtedley worthy of a visit. It is away from the established oversubscribed areas visited as a matter of habit by British climbers. There are over a thousand routes in the immediate area, and they tend to cater for wider range of rock climbing ability than other French areas I have visited. Therefore the routes and area would suit a family climber, especially if they did not want to spend too much time travelling, or only had a week, but wanted the freedom of having a car with them. It obviously isn't Buoux or Verdon, but we enjoyed our visit, and will return to it soon.

Tell us about any relatively unknown climbing areas that you know about. Don't keep it all to yourself. E-mail to: adrenalin@zen.co.uk

Back to Start

Getting into Winter Rock

I asked my friend Peter Rowlands for a write up on his early experiences in winter climbing, Peter is known to all as' little pete' in spite of being 6'5", and is a regular at the Rope Race climbing centre in Marple. Peter is 17 and attends Stockport College. Peter was interested in winter climbing and this is his account of how he got started.

"I started rock climbing through a love of hill walking, spending time out in the hills with family and friends from school. many of whom were starting to get into climbing. I've been rock climbing now for about eight years and have had a strongly traditional upbringing in the sport. This comes from spending most of my time climbing with people from an older generation, no insult intended, it has been an excellent apprentiship.

I have always wanted to do some of the 'classic' mountain routes, and doing the long routes has been something I also enjoy. I suppose good general fitness and  having a desire to climb hard routes helps to motivate you towards bigger rock. The next step was to find a partner with the same level of interest but with a lot more experience!.

Fortunatly spending so much time at the Rope Race allowed me to meet a great many climbers of all backgrounds and abilities, this is where Rob Coppeck was putting up a card on the notice board asking for a winter climbing partner. Rob has many years of mountaineering experience and also holds the Winter Mountain Leader award. After doing a few indoor routes together and sizing each other up we decided to plan for Scotland. We also took in a few trips to North Wales and the Lakes before we tackled the Ben in winter.

The first trip to the Ben was a complete disaster, the weather was terrible and gave no let up for the whole week, undettered we made plans for a return. Second time round and we climbed, good weather and near perfect snow and ice. A route on Anoch Mor and then two routes on the Ben, Comb Gully and East Gully.

The partnership had formed and the next trip was put in action, a week in the CIC hut at Easter, the Ben beckoned. A busy week taking in Tower Ridge, Green Gully, 5 gully, Vanishing Gully and also Central Gully.

As winter 97 draws closer our thoughts turn to further climbs, Scotland again no doubt but perhaps further afield, being a poor student means lots of spare time but very little spare cash so we'll have to see."

I asked Peter to outline some of the things he felt would be of interest to others who want to get out in the winter, this was his reply.

"To get started a good background in winter hill walking is essential. Navigation, Routeplanning, Weather forecasting are key skills on top of all the basics of hill walking. You must add to this Avalanche awareness and an understanding of snow conditions.Get out and practice these as often as possible and don't ignore the fact that there are lots of climbers who you can talk to. Then comes Crampon and Ice Axe techniques, practice your rope work until it becomes second nature, learn about snow and ice belaying. It sounds a lot.....it is. If you are starting from scratch get out and do lots of hill walking, take time to find a good club or start using your local climbing wall, try some scrambling. Many centres offer weekend or week long training courses, apart from teaching you they are usually located in some of the best places for climbing. My main problem is doing this type of climbing on a student budget, the cost of getting the gear together can be expensive, for clothing, equipment and some boots my bills came to £1400, you could easily spend a lot more!"

If you have any questions for Peter E-mail me and I'll pass them along. Ed.

Back to Start