Kathy and Mark go rock climbing • September 28 - October 12, 2009

With the summer guiding season ended, and in search for warmer weather, we decided to take a wee bit of a vacation. Back in our younger years, the after-season road trip was a classic tradition. Perhaps trying to relive our youth, we packed up the car and headed south. Still car-camping after all these years... (Though a couple days into it we did buy a small table and some proper Quechua folding chairs. And before our next such outing, we promised ourselves to purchase a decent sized walk-in camping tent.)

We first visited les Calanques way back in the autumn of 1980. This is France's miniaturized, but still beautiful answer to Norway's fiords. Nearly 30 years ago we spent several days camped out on the beach, alternately climbing, skinny-dipping, basking in the sun and drinking very cheap wine. Perhaps it was the wine, but on our return, we were amazed and how little we remembered.

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The Calanques lie on a contorted piece of Mediterranean coastline between the wonderful little town of Cassis (seen here), and the not-so-quaint city of Marseille. We stayed in the "les Cigales" campground in Cassis. Genial!


One of the many outdoor eateries that line the back streets of Cassis. The fixed-price 28 Euro menu includes Fleur de Courgette Farcie, Ravioli d'Homard (lobster) and Panne Cotta for desert. Yum!


A typical view in the Calanques. This is the Calanque Port Pin, not far from Cassis.


For our first climb, we did a classic, waterline traverse, the Traversée du Bec par le Bord de Mer et Arête de l'Extrême Bec. In this photo we have finished the traverse part and are about to start the Arête.


The route passes by the amazing grotte du Capelan.


One of the harder crack pitches, only meters above the sea.


The last bit of easy walking before the Arête.


Nearby we also did a very fun, and amazingly easy route called the Dièdre Guem. Only 4 pitches long and rated about 5.4 (4b), this route had some of the most frictious rock we have ever seen.


The classic last pitch of Dièdre Guem.


On another "adventure" climb (or more accurately, a traverse), this one is the Traversée Ramond.


This route finishes with a wonderful last few airy but easy moves above the deep blue sea.


Here is the famous Calanque d'en Vau. Countless classic routes on limestone pillars and faces. Unfortunately, it has been loved almost to death, and many of the routes are quite polished. Back in 1980 we were dropped off here by a boat, with a couple pack-loads of climbing gear and groceries. We'd hide our camping kit in a cave during the day.


This was a busy weekend at En Vau.


There are also many inland routes of a more traditional sport climbing nature. Here Kathy is on a route at Colline de Lun, near Sormiou.


Time for something completely different. We rented an unsinkable kayak and made an epic journey from Calanque de Port Miou all the way over to Calanque Morgiou, along the way exploring several amazing grottos and tunnels.


Lunch at Morgiou. Fortifying ourselves before the long paddle back to Cassis.


After giving our paddle-weary arms a rest we did a couple more very fun routes on the east face of the Bec de Sormiou.


The view of Cassis from the impressive cliff of Cap Canaille.


Eventually we had to say goodbye to the Mediterranean and head inland.


With a few days left, we decided to visit the small village and rock climbing cliffs of Orpierre.


The old town of Orpierre. Very narrow winding streets, arched passages and entry ways.... This is one of those remote French villages that have nearly died, as inhabitants fled to the urban centers. Fortunately, Orpierre has been rejuvenated and, arguably "saved" by the influx of hundreds of climbers.


A few of the limestone cliffs of Orpierre. Though the rock looks a bit scruffy, it is studded with both holds and bolts. There are hundreds of routes here, nearly all of the well-bolted, and many in the easier grades.


Kathy on an Orpierre classic, "Brazil". Eight pitches up to 5.10a (6a) on a sunny south face.


On another route, the big traverse on Le Maître de la Danse, much easier than it looks.


Autumn colors.


Another route we did, Merci Madame de Maire, about 5 pitches with a couple 5.10a (6a) in the lower part. All very well protected.


And finally, it is time to head home and start packing for our upcoming trip to Nepal. Early morning sun lights up the village of Lagrand, as we start our drive homeward.