Keep Calamès and Carry On Climbing!

Our onwards travels with our counter-intuitive escape from rain-soaked Spain took us to the Ariege in the French Pyrenees, just to the north of Andorra. The forecast promised a generally improving weather picture, but only after we’d endured a couple of days of heavy rain, so we were pleasantly surprised when we woke on Friday to drizzle rather than downpour.

We set off, without huge expectations, in search of some dry rock, and decided to focus our quest on the area east of Foix which we guessed might be drier being lower and further away from the bigger hills. The following comments all come with the alliterative acknowledgement that a recce in the rain rarely results in a rave review…

Roquefixard is an impressive lump of rock with a castle on the top (allegedly…)

… and a fine outlook (but not today!)

Pereilles is a less impressive lump, but very accessible, and rather unappealing when soaked…

Funnily enough, looking back at a previous blog post from a sunny visit we’d forgotten, we quite rated it!

… and the clag was lifting to reveal a couple of the major nearby crags (for another day)

We’d also visited Le Carol before and been quite impressed:

Set on a fin of rock on the crest of a hill we had high hopes for dry rock, but not yet…

A Rockaroundtheworld 4-crag day is pretty much unheard of – three strikes and your out being an entirely respectable effort before declaring an early beer-o’clock, but on this occasion we persevered to have a shufty at Arabaux. The crag is well signposted from the parking next to the church…

… with a couple of handy signs and some hard-to-spot red arrows.

The Rockfax description is pretty vague and the crag location GPS marker is a few hundred metres wrong, resulting in a bit of a traipse around the hill to find the upper tier, so here’s a trail to save you the bother. About 50m after a signpost sends you left (red dots for climbing) rather than right (yellow dots for walkers) the path divides at a cairn and you head diagonally uphill with the occasional feint red arrow to encourage you. This brings you to level with a middle tier of rocks – ignore the temptation to head leftwards to investigate these (it’s where the bouldering is) and instead zig rightwards up to the next tier where you’ll rejoin the yellow dots and follow this good path leftwards for about 250m to reach the crag.

To be honest, we were somewhat underwhelmed – the routes max out at 14m and the first half of this is a blocky scramble, leaving the climbing crammed into a few awkward meters.

Nonetheless, we’d finally pinned down some (mostly) dry rock so we ticked a couple of YECTOYDs…

Helen on National Vin, V

and were rewarded by another vulture flypast…

Saturday brought the promised perkiness to the weather and we set off to explore Calamès, one of the premier crags in the Ariege and a full-on south-facing sun trap. We’d only had one previous visit to the area in late October 2014. We’d stopped by on the off chance of breaking the journey with a bit of climbing on the way to Spain, and ended up staying for almost a fortnight of glorious, unseasonal weather. It was so hot that we never ventured onto Calamès for fear of being fried! Fast-forward almost 8 years and we were in the mood for any sun we could get!

Calamès is a major crag with sectors spread across a great swathe of hillside, offering all grades and styles with over 200 routes from single pitch to 3 pitches long. The first offerings you come to are inevitably a bit polished so we headed up to Le Papy.

Le Papy on the left with the multi pitch Pilier des Cathares on the right
Helen on Le Nauc, 6a

Moving back rightwards there are a couple of harder single pitch sectors: La Vire aux Chèvres and Les Murettes

I had a pretty good stab at Quad Neuf Docteur, 7a, but found the spaced bolting and tough climbing a bit too much. A couple of the other attractive looking trickier objectives were occupied (the penalty for climbing at the weekend) so I ended up jumping on one of the polished horrorshows at the initial Les Grottes sector. The start of Zélopithèque, 7a, is pretty tenuous and I was glad to have stick-clipped the second bolt, but after that the climbing improves significantly via some really positive and surprising holds.

Loads more to go at, but probably worth timing the next visit for midweek.

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