Text and pictures © 2004-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"When on the wall, the bottom of the learning curve can be the top of a long free fall..." — Brutus of Wyde.
Left: Jerry pulling the overhang of the Cascade sector.
Right: Vincent booking some airtime on a seemingly impossible 7a.
There are many, many cliffs in Provence, a wide area of France loosely covering the southern Alps down to the coast where the Calanques mark the limit into the sea. Ceuse is the northernmost cliff and although developed much later than the Verdon, Buoux or others, it is now very much in fashion. If you go any farther to the north, you end up in the heart of the Alps, in Devoluy or Briançon.
Looming right above the bigger city of Gap, the impressive cliff of Ceuse looks like a Utah mesa. Some say it's the most beautiful cliff in the world. I rather feel it's the hardest. Where I onsight 6c anywhere else, I get whipped on 6b at Ceuse. But Jenny loves it: I guess the tiny finger pockets make nice handholds for her ! Personally I find that the moves offer no great variation: find a hole or a small pocket and pull on it hard while you can't see your feed trying to edge another tiny hole below, and hope you can hold long enough to figure out the best hole above. So small hands will find plenty of tiny limestone holes to hold onto... provided you have the finger strength. One thing for sure: the view is great and there's usually water for a five star bivy.
Left: Jenny and Christine racing up the warm up routes. Who seems to be having the easiest time ?
Right: Enjoying the wet day in Ceuse.
Apparently Ceuse can get people tuned in various ways. Just as we were beginning the walk down the trail after our day of climbing, we were looking on the many climbers on the hard 7 grade routes. One in particular was getting towards the end of his very long 50m overhang, then a sudden ripping scream and the guy falls, falls and falls... stopping 10 meters off the ground. Then the realization: "Shit, I was concentrating so much on the route that I forgot to clip all the last draws !!!"
Left: Christine in the Cascade Area.
Right: Hubert working the moves of Bibendum (7b)
Right: The mesa-like cliff of Ceuse at night.
Left: About half of the cliff of Ceuse provides stiff overhangs such as this one, a paradise if you can climb in the 7 or even above, much above...
Right: Road-trip ready car modified into a (tiny) camper in its first, not too solid nor comfortable, version.
Left: Climber on 8a overhang at Ceuse.
Ceuse may be the considered by some as the best cliff in the world but personally I just find it... hard. Hard to pull on those little pockets. Hard to keep going when I'm already 2m above the last bolt and shaking like a washing machine. It just happened that when we last went in late autumn there was nobody else there. Nobody except for Arnaud Petit and a climbing partner taking a 'rest day'. After I complained that there aren't any trad lines in the area and that the aspiring trad climber has to go far away in order to keep the cams from rusting, he recommended we climbed Natilik, at the very far end of the cliff. So in spring we are back with a full rack and ready for a very atypical route. Or as ready as can be for trad on limestone.
Left: See the horizontal slit in the nose ? It's right where Natilik traverses.
Right: Immersive view of the cliff near Natilik which is the crack just right of the rightmost tree. It follows the crack system up to the roof, traverses underneath to the left, then ramps back to the right and exits on the summit slab.
Left: Jenny at the end of the 2nd pitch, an offwidth that takes medium to large cams. Worried about what's coming next ?!?
Right: Jenny traversing under the roof (3rd pitch). The ramp is visible on top of the image.
Right: The famous 4th pitch: 25 meters of 'ramping'. It's flat and you could fall asleep just about everywhere without risk of falling. The problem is when you get to the end, it narrows into nothingness and you can tell that you somewhat have to get out of that position but by then it's impossible to roll over. I would describe that move as an improbable combination of beached whale move and boulder sit start. I always considered the 'sit starts' of boulderers ridiculously contrived, but when I'm so twisted into that move that I can hear my spine grind, I actually wish I'd done more of them.
Left: That's me on the last few strenuous moves after the end of the 'ramping'. Full air action. Parachute optional. If you compare with the previous image, you can tell there's a lot of distance to cover.
Right: Jenny on the last move of the 4th pitch. Plenty of open space underneath.
Right: As bonus, the route tops out near the summit of Ceuse that plenty of regular sport climbers have never seen. The city on the right is Gap and on the left is the Bure Peak in the Devoluy. Yes, there's a ski-lift near the summit, although there's seldom enough snow in latter years.
Right: Bouldering in the evening at Orpierre. Unfortunately a house has now been built at this very spot.
Left: Playing on a boulder on the road towards to cliff of Orpierre, unfortunately now part of a private property.
Orpierre is another one of the many cliffs of Provence, the difference with Ceuse is that it houses hundreds of moderate routes.
Left: Summit of one of the long routes, with the village of Orpierre below.
Left: Old chapel among the olive groves, typical of... just about anywhere near the mediterranean sea. The cliff is visible just right of the cross.
Right: The south face of St Julien looming above the olive trees.
Left: Jenny on the last few meters below the summit of St Julien.
Right: Trying to reach the too far handhold on the slab of St Julien, above Buis-Les-Baronnies
Left: Autumn colors in the shrubs below the cliff.
Right: Profile of the south facing wall of St Julien. Plenty of easy to moderate routes there.
The small town of Buis-les-baronnies is surrounded by several high-class cliffs. From the long easy to moderate routes on St Julien, to the parking lot cragging at Hannibal's pass, to the hanging stalactites of Beaume-Rousse...
Left: Taking a break by the river while climbing at Ubrieux, at the entrance of Buis les Baronnies. A very family friendly site.
Right: Vertical panorama off the summit of St Julien.
Left: The thin summit ridge of St Julien.
Right: Typical limestone slabs of St Julien.
Left: Tunneling on an easy route of St Julien.
Right: Reaching the summit of St Julien, above Buis-les-Baronnies.
Left: Climbing at St Leger du Ventoux. Lots of routes starting at grade 6 and going way beyond that. Great site, with both shadow and sunny side and a small river in the middle where to wash away the grit and sweat accumulated during the day.
Right: Sleeping in the car after a day of cragging.
Left: Panoramic view of the St Julien cliff above Buis.
Right: Panorama taken from the summit of St Julien.
Right: Les dentelles de Montmirail
Left: Les dentelles de Montmirail, in the middle of the vineyard of Gigondas, Cote du Rhone. You climb during the day and drink wine at night. Like you need an excuse after a day of climbing...
Right: Getting the old crack-climbing gloves for the yearly outing.
Left: The crack is ok, but reaching it is another story entirely.
Right: Mean crack pitch on the top of the Dentelles.
Left: Summit of the Dentelles.
Right: Cave pitch on the Dentelles.
Left: General view of the Dentelles from the Gigondas side.
Right: General view of the Dentelles in the evening.
Left: Climber on one of the multiple summits of the Dentelles.
Left: Some distance inland from Nice, the cliff of Aiglun has some of the hardest long routes in the world, such as an 8 pitch route averaging 8a ! For our first contact with the cliff we try 'La cerise' which tops out at 6c.
Right: Already on the first pitch it's very steep but the limestone has excellent friction and varied moves.
Left: Finger shredding pockets.
Right: More cheese grating.
Left: Higher up on the route. Very sustained superlative climbing. A true first class, too bad there's not much else climbable by use mere mortals.
Left: One doesn't need to introduce the most famous cliff in the world with Yosemite. But although I've been there almost 10 times and sweated more than my fair share, I have very few images worth showing of the Verdon, except for some base jumping. The reason may simply be that when I'm there I'm too busy climbing !
Right: Here we are on 'Les Caquous', a route that is somewhat different from the usual tiny limestone pockets of the Verdon. Lots of insecure layback, with very sandbag ratings. The french rating system is supposedly based on the ratings from the Verdon, but apparently it has mellowed out as it got farther away !
Left: Nice to get in the shade on the upper part of the route. We were leaving sweat marks in the crack.
I've spent a lot of time climbing in the Verdon, but strangely I've never brought back very good pictures. I must have been to busy climbing to think about it...
Right: Most of the classic and best routes in the Verdon are on the north side. For once we decided to go check out the south side. The routes are shorter, the rock not as great, but still there are some interesting routes.
Left: Two climbers on the south side of the Verdon.
Right: Large flake dominating the Verdon.
Left: After the previous route, the summit of the flake.
Right: Hubert and Christine climbing next to us.
Left: One of the so many excellent slabs of the Verdon... a few minutes before a sudden thunderstorm would drench us to the bones on the last two pitches. At least this time we didn't have to bail and walk back the very long trail back to the road.
Right: Jenny nearing the summit.
Left: A view of the summit ridge of the Sainte Victoire.
Left: One of the cliffs of the St Victoire with heavy weather coming in.
Right: Climbers at the Sainte Victoire.
Left: The large hole on the descent route of the Ste Victoire: windy and slipery smooth rock.
Right: Jenny climbing the limestone of the Ste Victoire, end of a very long pitch.
Left: Slab climbing.
Above: Day panorama of the Sainte Victoire.
Above: Evening panorama of the Sainte Victoire.