Claret is one of the premier crags of L’Herault region, so it would have been remiss not to pay a visit. However, we didn’t have fond memories of our only previous encounter – a baking hot day; all the holds facing in the wrong direction, or polished, or both, and the grades feeling desperate. That’s my excuse for leaving it until our last day based near Thaurac (about 25 minutes away) and it only squeaked into the schedule because the alternative was Hortus! 😉

It’s undeniably in a cracking spot, overlooking a sumptuous patchwork of criss-crossing vineyards, resplendent in their November orange and red hues.

The crag isn’t too shabby either – an impressive sweep of striated limestone, about 30m tall and varying from bob-on vertical to properly steep!

… with the usual, “welcome, take good care and be careful” sign.

We made the beginner mistake (probably repeated from our previous visit – when will we ever learn!?) of heading straight for the “easy routes at the end” which of course are always the polished sandbags. In mitigation, we of course had to do Miss Helene, 6a. Lovely orange rock with large, flat holds, but the giveaway is the tick marks on tiny crimps which are now preferable to the polished jugs. It’s a bit of bugbear of mine, and as true of Chee Tor as it is of Claret – given that polish so obviously increases the difficulty of the route, why don’t they change the grades!?? OK – got that off my chest…

Just to the right of the Escalator sector, there are a couple of recent additions that didn’t make it into Rockfax, and therefore with a good chance of being less polished. Echelle de Riche Terre takes a steep corner and looked fun – 5c+ my arse – it’s got a really steep move to gain the chimney. It was all starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day, and I was wondering if we should have gone to Hortus after all. The redeeming feature was the shared lower off with the adjacent 6c, Le Mythe de Sisyphe. This proved to be an absolute belter, and not in the least bit polished. Things were looking up.

Le mythe de Sisyphe, 6c, with the not-much-easier 5c of Echelle… taking the corner on the left.

A local couple arrived at the foot of Le Mythe… as we were putting the clips in, and kindly changed their warm-up plan to Le Pompon, 7a – “Pas de problem – it’s easy for 7a” although she didn’t make it look particularly easy. Nonetheless, this dangled the temptation of a 7a with the clips in, which I couldn’t resist – fabulous route, though I wouldn’t have managed it without Helen having spotted the cunning beta to use a layback flake to overcome the biggest of the overhangs.

Our new friends took the opportunity to practice their English (and we our French) as we covered a diverse range of topics from hunting and Foi Gras (she’s a vegan animal rights activist) to regional accents and British food, plus of course recommendations for further crags to visit (Face Sud at Saint Guilhem Le Desert apparently). Fun banter.

Further right the main theme of Claret is unrelenting steepness, compounded by the undercut base of most of the rock.

Like all such crags everywhere, this has spawned the construction of elaborate and fragile-looking piles of “cheat stones” to enable the first holds to be reached.

On the uber-classic Coït ou Double, this has been taken one step further with the installation of tree trunk to overcome the initial overhangs. Very sensible, as the rest of the route gives an outstanding 6a, which otherwise would be an unbalanced 7-something.

With little left in the tank, we headed for the far right hand end and sector Mascarade, for the namesake route – an unlikely looking 6b, with fierce layback moves low down and glorious jug-hauling at the top. A very productive day and a redemption for the crag – good decision after all 🙂

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