Les Traverses & St Crepin – French Polish Before and After

We’ve been visiting France to climb for over 35 years (a terrifying thought in itself!) and can still conjure up a vague recollection of effortless smearing up seemingly blank slabs from those early encounters. Not that polish wasn’t a problem even then on some of the long-established venues like Saint Victoire (the word patinee was soon added to our vocabulary) there was just a lot of rock that wasn’t!

This thought was brought to mind by a visit to Les Lyonnaise, a fabulous newly-developed sector at St Crepin, and contrasting it with a particularly slippy experience the previous day at Sector Jonathan on Les Traverses.

A visit to Saint-Crepin is like an anthropological journey through the history of French sport climbing.

The first sector you arrive at after about 10 minutes on a good, meandering path that skirts fields, is Guele de Loup, a throwback to the 80s heydays, and reportedly un peu patinee. We didn’t stop to investigate for want of disturbing the French family observing the weekend ritual of Le Picnic et L’Ecole d’Escalade. Next up, along a very well-made path beneath the crags, is Zatopec, a more recent addition but mostly 7a and up.

We pressed on for sector Les Lyonnaise, highly recommended with 3* in the guide and the added bonus of being Bien Equipee! Navigation note – be sure to take the upwards fork here (if you pass this sign you need to zag back upwards to the right path)…

This leads up into a narrow gorge, via a good zigzag path, and up about 100m vertically to reach the crag. The 25mins approach in the guidebook is a bit optimistic but it’s a pleasant walk.

You can’t really get a good overview of the crag as it is set amongst trees, and it is worth bearing in mind that it doesn’t come into the sun until around 1pm. We warmed up on Teou, 6a+, which had a tricky move off the deck followed by an interesting groove and easier slab.

The guidebook promises of Bonne Adherence and Bien Equipment were both fully justified (and whilst I argue that “Too many bolts” is an oxymoron, you wouldn’t have wanted many more!) Thus encouraged, we did a few more routes in the middle of the crag, including Le Minimum, 6b+, La Derobe, 6b+

Scrappy start followed by thin, clean corner and huge pull over the finishing roof.

… and Douceur et Delicatesse, 5c / 6a+

Perhaps the main event of the sector is the impressive trapezoidal slab which bounds the left hand end of the climbing, with two stunning routes: the eponymous Les Lyonnaise, 6b, and Au Bout de Monde, 6c.

The former starts with a grunty steep flake which protects the stupendous upper wall, where finger-slots appear as if by magic to ease your passage to a slanting splitter crack. The latter has a steep but easier start, with the crux at around 10m where the angle rears up and the holds run out. Tenuous, techy moves bring a good flake edge to hand, then a two-finger pocket – there’s not much for your feet but the friction is superb and you are soon back in balance. Interest is maintained, with more slots and pockets, and more solid smearing (if that’s even a thing…)

Just beyond the crux on Au Bout du Monde

Both routes are completely outstanding, and can be enjoyed without the slightest anxiety – I counted 17 bolts in just short of 30m climbing. Lowering off, I couldn’t help but feel privileged to enjoy them before the demon patinage takes its toll. Go do them now – they’ll be a different proposition in 5 or 10 years time!

In early October the sun heads down beneath the mountains opposite at around 5:30pm bringing a natural end to the day. Fab views down the valley, with Fort Mont Dauphin catching the last of the rays.

The tales of pristine rock, great friction and closely spaced bolts were in stark contrast to the previous day. We’d made a repeat visit to Les Traverses, mostly so that Helen could lead some of the routes she’d enjoyed on a top-rope whilst recovering from broken ribs a couple of years ago. https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2018/10/02/into-the-durance-and-a-couple-of-days-at-les-traverses/

The top “initiation” sector is a bit of a misnomer, with routes up to 6c, but it’s relatively newly developed and the grades are pretty fair.

OK j’y vas, 5c
The imaginatively named “8”, 6a+

You get a good view of Sector Jonathan below…

… and owing to a rubbish memory (I even forgot to check my old blog post) I ended up making another doomed attempt on Les Bonobos (a 7a I’d marked down as “one to come back for when I’m stronger” – turns out I’m not!)

Much more fun was Perile Jaune – a brilliant 6a on slightly “Gogarthesque” rock.

So far we’d managed to avoid the dreaded French Polish by dint of careful route selection, but I made the mistake of “one more route” and inevitably ran out of luck. Le Grande Chemin, 6c, looked to be a classic line (it is!) but has seen a fair amount of traffic. The patinage, combined with the broiling sun, tired arms, sore toes, and spaced bolting all added up to abject misery and mild terror – ground barely covered, but no injuries sustained! What a contrast!

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