Valle de Claree

There’s a tonne of climbing to the north of Briancon which we hadn’t previously explored as it’s a 45mins drive from Roche de Rame and generally a bit higher altitude, and so colder. Time to extend our horizons!

The Claree valley runs to the north of Briancon – bisecting the main Montgenevre (to Turin) and Grenoble routes, and is a tranquil oasis away from these busy thoroughfares. There are a bunch of crags that all look worthwhile, and we picked Paroi de la Grotte above the village of Pampinet for a first peek.

The path is pretty obvious providing you take the fork leading up to the crag from this considerable cairn.

The huge scree slope isn’t quite as grim as it looks, with a decent zagging path through it, but the guidebook 15mins should be taken with a pinch of salt! The crag faces west, so no point rushing to get there in October, though a keen team of Italians were already in action as we and the sun arrived at around 12:30. Chilly with a bit of a northerly breeze coming down from the Alps.

The crag conforms to the classic “Grotte” layout – tough stuff in the middle and easier fare on either wing (easier being a relative term!) I warmed up on Crotte de Bique, 6a+, which offers very good climbing on sharp, incut holds, following a cunning line up to and through a steepening.

Helen led Chavroux, one of the two 5s that bookend the crag, and reported it tough!

I should have known better than to try Pere Noel est un Ordure – the name amused me, but carried a hidden warning as the crumbly, cruxy 6b+ was a bag of Ordure.

Moving rightwards into the centre of the crag, the angle rears up. There are a couple of 8as in the Grotte itself, but everything else is graded 6b-c/7a despite clear indications to the contrary. Judging by the number of very strong looking climbers (there had been a steady stream of arrivals) dogging these routes, it wasn’t just a case of us having a high-gravity day!

I chanced my arm on Age de Glace, 6c, covering the ground but resorting to carrying a clipstick – some of the run-outs between bolts, given the fragility of the rock, were just too harrowing!

Helen recovered some degree of respectability with a smooth ascent of Rantanplan, 5b, the rightmost route (still not a giveaway!)

The shadows from the opposite hillside start to encroach around 5ish (short days in these parts) allowed an early finish before damaged egos extended to other body parts! For future reference there are a small group of 6c/7as on the left hand side which do look worth a return trip.

Back in Vallee de la Claree a week later, we visited another couple of crags.

Lacou, set at 1,750m, is a tiny granite crag in a gorgeous spot. You can park more or less underneath it (except in high season when the road is closed and a shuttle bus runs). It’d be a great family stop off.

As befits its stumpy height, the grades are a bit sandbaggy. Here’s Helen on Silecon Vole, 5c

… and I found the hardest route on the crag WELL worth its modest 6a!

Back down the valley, above Plampinet, we’d seen a recommendation for Falaise des Ecureuils in an article on the Durance: https://climb-europe.com/rockclimbingshop/destination-article-durance-valley-top-10 including the comment: “… great soft touch F6’s” It gets a good write up in the guide too.

The first thing to say is that the access has changed – the road indicated was closed and the bridge was out. Not a problem – there’s a better approach if you park at the gravel pull off on the south side of the main road bridge and follow these signs:

This runs parallel to the waterway for a few hundred metres, passing a log cabin, then bending sharp right to slope gently up to the crag – remarkably, the 15mins approach in the guidebook is quite generous. You can’t miss the crag – it’s immediately off the path. Quite impressive!

I’d got my eye on Scorpion, 7a, and jumped straight on it. Wow, it’s steep! Great juggy climbing but the obvious crux move – a powerful layback off a (partly drilled) flake to surmount the roof – needed more beans than I’ve got at my disposal! Other than that, I gave it a decent effort.

Time to reset the ambition and try one of the “soft touch 6s” – New Balance, 6a. Great climbing on generally good holds, but definitely NOT soft! Here’s Helen making good progress…

… and look how far out from the base of the route the rope is when she’s pulling it… 4m overhang in 20m is stiff for 6a, however big the holds are!

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