Into the Durance and a couple of days at Les Traverses

With a weather system sweeping down from the north we escaped the forecasted snow in the Oisans and made the 2 hour hop over to the Durance valley south of Briancon. Briancon calls itself “La Ville Qui Grimpe” and lays claim to be the sunshine capital of Europe. There’s certainly plenty of rock and sun in evidence, and the great thing about the climbing in the Durance is that within a driveable radius there are over a hundred crags from less than 1,000m altitude to well over 2,500m and facing all directions – it’s almost always possible to find good conditions.

Les Traverses are a series of about ten mostly south facing crags above the small village of La Vignette. The rock is a really interesting limestone that looks more like quartzite, with tightly packed folded layers interspersed with chert-like lumps, making for a positive, crimpy style.

On our first day we explored the sectors above the road, starting with secteur Initiation, which rather under-sells itself, as the grades range from 4b to 6c. We did most of the routes at the trickier left end of the crag and they were all really enjoyable.

Dropping down rightwards you arrive at sector Jonathan and a stiffer and longer set of routes mostly from 6b to 7b. I had a reasonable stab at a first 7a of the trip, Los Bonobos, a bit too pumpy for my current level of fitness, but 12CB4.

After a day in the Embrun area, see next post, we were back at Les Traverses to sample the sectors beneath the road, starting with Lezaroide.

More stratified, wavy rock and routes up to 20+m, again with a good spread of grades. The pick of these are probably the collection of long, sustained 5cs on the right, while the harder routes on the left are shorter and a bit cruxy.

There’s also a less frequented shady side further right which has a bunch of interesting but sandbaggy routes up a series of inverted flakes – lots of underclings and not much for the feet.

Dropping down a bit further right you come to another sector initiation, with a handful of friendly, short 4s and 5s, encouraging Helen into her first lead post her broken ribs.

Further down and right again is sector Tuti-Fruti which is described as “a little polished, but worthwhile”. I did one of a few new routes on the left – these certainly aren’t polished, and are unlikely ever to be – the rock is a bit like one of those craft knives where as soon as you’ve worn out one bit you just snap it off and there’s a new one underneath… Reassuringly spaced bolts though!

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