Saint Jean de Bueges

This charming little village is about 15 minutes from Thaurac, and the fact that it features a fairly major lump of rock is clearly advertised as you enter the valley.

The Roc de Tras Castel is clearly visible from the parking area, dominating the village, but your first challenge is to work out how to get there!

At the risk of spoiling your adventure, here’s some beta: Head into the village, crossing the river and passing the bar du chateau. Now turn immediately left through this archway…

… and follow the narrow meandering stone steps of…

… until you eventually pop out on the grassy hillside above the maze of houses and next to the ancient tower.

From here you either head straight up to the Pillier du Chateau for some multi-pitch adventures (see further down the post) or make your way rightwards to the Face Sud for single pitch cragging. Seen from beneath the Pilier, the south face looks quite modest, but it’s pretty extensive and the routes run to around 40m.

There’s a dedicated guidebook (though we couldn’t find anywhere to buy it) and also a pdf topo available online – not the most informative but it does the job, and most of the routes have grades (but not names) at the bottom:

Most people, us included, seemed to approach via a gently rising scree path some distance beneath the crags, before a final grungy pull up to near the far end (you’re aiming for the sizeable tree near the foot of the crag where it is split by an obvious wide crack system).

Alternatively, on our second visit, to the multi-pitch area, we spotted a series of bright yellow triangle paint markers just to the right of the Pilier du Chateau, which seemed to be taking a more defined route to the south face. No promises though…

Up at the crag there was a jolly weekend scene – bustling but not crowded, with people being considerate of the confined space at the bottom (especially around the point of arrival at the crag where the main concentration of easier routes coincides with a gap in the path, breached by a metal cable and a foot rung).

Luscious landscape of brightly-coloured autumnal vines and tree-clad hills framing the château.

Moving on to the climbing, the rock is very good, highly featured and with surprisingly little polish. The bolts are those reassuring chunky glue-ins, but a cautionary note: there just aren’t that many of them. We weren’t the only ones finding the gear a bit spaced, with regular remarks of “expo!” and “attention au vol!” from our fellow grimpeurs. A second cautionary note: the grades are quite stiff! You could comfortably add a letter or two (or maybe part of it is the aforementioned bolting – hard to distinguish the two factors). Anyway, in summary, it’s thoroughly enjoyable climbing but you’d do well to leave your ego behind.

Here’s Helen questing up the long voyage of Vous Avez Dit Classique, 5b, (the obvious crack line above the fixed cable).

I did the 6a to the right, Oh Les Bonnes Jours (just one tough finishing move) and La Paranoiaque, 6b+ up and obvious yellow corner (or rather almost did – I bailed before the top move as I’d no idea of the grade at the time and it was a L-OOO-NG way past the bolt!)

There’s a sector of trickier routes at the left of the face, at a slightly higher level.

I headed up in the hope that perhaps the harder grades might be compensated by closer bolting. Alas not (funnily enough a strong-looking French lad had the same idea and we shared a shake of the head and more mutterings of “expo” before he retreated down the hill again). I decided to at least throw myself at Bleu Mais Pas Saignant, 6b, but took the precaution of carrying our “Canne a Peche” – (fishing rod – as we’ve now learned the vernacular for clip stick) and confess to deploying it ahead of one particularly daunting runout. That’s after negotiating the bottom 30 ft wall including passing this fellow (about the size of my hand!):

40m of testing fun – must come back for more when I’m feeling brave!

A couple of days later we did indeed go back, this time with the plan to do one of the multi-pitch routes. They’d looked a bit busy at the weekend, with plenty of scope for criss-crossing routes and a tangle of ambitions.

We picked Le Coup de Grisou, an 80m 3-pitch 6a (having been flummoxed by the “5c” moves off the ground on L’Ombre de Chasseur).

Excellent climbing and stunning views down to the village

Again, worth having a bit in hand in terms of the grade, and you could consider a very light rack if you wanted to augment the bolts (the same goes for the single pitch routes). Two raps with an 80m got us back down to our sacks. A thoroughly enjoyable mini-adventure.

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