French Poudinage

Moving on from the quartzite theme of the last post, it’s time to celebrate another of the diverse rock types on offer in the Durance: Conglomerate (or Poudinage as the French nickname it). Regular Rockaroundtheworld readers will know I’m something of a pudding connoisseur, and there’s a great big slab of the stuff sat underneath Mont Dauphin, a 300 year old fortified town recognised as UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fort Mont Dauphin catching the last of the light at the southern end of the Durance Valley

As you’ll see in the picture above, there’s a long NW facing wall on one boundary which is perfect for shady summer climbing (needless to say we’re yet to visit). Round on the other side, the Fort is guarded by more steep walls dropping into a spectacular gorge, which are home to more recently developed SE facing sectors, suitable for the chillier seasons. No complaints about the walk in at Sector Rez de Chaussee.

Ground floor sign in supermarket later that day…

With its easterly aspect it’s absolutely scorchio whilst the sun is on it. We did Papy on Night, 6b (tough warm up) – here’s a team on it as we arrived…

Crade Climbing, 6b (easier)…

… and Beurk Fureur, 6c (tough move through the final overlap). Note to future self – the sun stays on the left end of this sector until 3ish.

Back a few days later on sectors Raph and Cosmos with a stunning set of 40m routes (and sometimes a bit more – be careful with the rope!)

Great to catch up with Neil and Clare (who we’d randomly bumped into a couple of weeks ago along with Hilary and Jon at the only open restaurant near Argentiere – small world!)

We warmed up on “unnamed 6b” on Sector Raph – something of a disservice to a fun, sustained pitch. The adjacent 6c is at least graced with a name: La Grandelle. I got annoyingly lost in a sea of pockets at the penultimate bolt (blame the slanting sun in the eyes rather than myopic route reading).

Picture courtesy of Neil

Good pitch and a real rope-stretcher if belaying on the ledge rather than the higher cable.

Moving over to Cosmos, here’s Helen on Caprice de Star

Meanwhile, Neil was taking advantage of the shade to do Empire Indescent, 6c (yup – seeking out the shade at the end of October at 1,000m!)

Neil and Clare recommended the adjacent Monumental Paradise, a monster 45m that earns its 7a grade for endurance (and the battle with rope drag!) without having any really desperate moves. Right up my street!

Catching the sun on the Headwall, with Clare on Empire Indescent in the foreground.
There’s an intermediate lower off so you can get down on a 70

By now, Sector Raph was well in the shade, and Neil made good use of the conditions to do A Ton Etoil, 7a – a fine finale to their trip.

Back a few days later for another helping of pudding, we plod up to Cosmos / Raph. It’s a lateish start, as Helen is planning a rest day on belay duty, and I’ve got a vague idea to try a couple of 7as once the crag comes into the shade.

Arriving to sun-kissed rock, my impatience gets the better of my planning, and I make the tactically naive decision to jump straight on Cosmos (in the sun and without a warm-up? Some might say stupid). Bizarrely, it pays off! The route starts with a first 20m of (tough!) 6a before a 20m extension that gets the 7a tick, so I guess that was a bit of a warm up. Pushing on into the 7a I made some good guesses heading through the steepening (there are so many “possible” holds on this crag, and not many that work, so you’ve either got to be strong enough to try a few, stubborn enough to redpoint or lucky enough to get it right first time!) and found myself into the technical steep headwall, and just refused to fall off. Happy days!

Here’s Helen approaching the crux of the first 6a pitch, having been sandbagged into breaking her rest day resolution.

With that unexpected success in the bank, we had an early lunch and I watched impatiently as the shadow moved across the Raph wall – ticking away the minutes until the soothing shade would cover the grey streak in the photo below – the line of Merveille 7a. Amazing to be seeking shade at 1,000m as the clocks are about to change!

Inevitably, I got bored and jumped on about 30mins too soon, then saw the error of my ways around the mid-height crux, so hung around for ages on a tenuous “rest” for the giant sun-dial to move on, then finally plop off spectacularly groping for non-existent holds a bit further up. Hey ho – some you win, some you lose. One to come back for with a bit more strength, more skin, and more patience!!!

An afternoon drive up the opposite side of the valley gave great views down to Mont Dauphin and the fortified village, and highlighted the NW facing sectors coming into the sun around 4pm, and staying that way until almost 6pm. Maybe worth an evening hit even at the end of October.

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