Sat 30th Jul - Sun 14th Aug, 2016
Ariege - French Pyrennes
Members: Ann Waters, Steve Waters, Christine Beeston, Geri Mihalkova, Roger Mapleson, Bridget Mapleson, Duncan Lee and Vicky Alderton.
Guests: Mike Tempest, Jemma Waters, Carys Mapleson, Owen Mapleson and Kieran Lee.
Having sprained her knee whilst sneaking in one last training session Vicky was slowly recovering when she uttered the following words whilst setting up camp.
“I’m not sure what hurts more. Standing on my good leg to pump the airbed or using my bad leg.” Cue a blood curdling scream and the odd expletive.
So ended the first Saturday of the meet during which, all bar the Maplesons, had arrived and either pitched tents or moved into a cabin. The campsites swimming pool was also tested out and found to be a suitable place to cool off.
Sunday greeted us with low cloud and drizzle, which teased us by almost clearing out before returning with a vengeance in the afternoon. Thus, most people’s activities centred on the campsite where football, swimming, bird bingo and lego entertained children of all ages. Mike and I had a wet run down the valley and back and Steve peddled off up the Col de Molehill (33m)…oops, sorry, I mean Col de Pailheres (2001m). Ann then informed me that it was imperative to clean her teeth before setting forth on a walk to a col with Geri and Christine, foraging as they went. As the weather continued to deteriorate we could at least check on their progress by the lightning glinting off Ann’s smile.
Monday again greeted us with low cloud swirling around the valley but soon cleared out and allowed us our first proper look at the mountains around the campsite. These summits however had to wait for another day as most folk drove down the valley to the local crag, Rocher de la Galline where the keen team of Mike and Steve virtually ticked the crag. Christine and Geri took it all at a calmer pace and warmed up with 4 routes on the sunbaked granite slabs of Secteur Initiation.
As all this activity was going on Ann and I walked down the valley to the crag with Kieran and Jemma who peddled part of the way before a spectacular wipe out that saw her going head first over the handlebars. Driver error or shoddy equipment? Who knows but either way, “magic cream” and sweets dried the tears. Once we finally reached the crag Ann and I snatched a few routes including her “hardest route in years.”
Tuesday saw the first forays onto the impressive Dent d’Orlu as Mike and Steve headed up to the South Face for a tussle on the classic 5 pitch Terre Courage (max F6a). They confirmed the routes quality, and the reputation that the local grades have for being distinctly Yorkshireesque, so all in all it was a tough day on the hill that ended with a well-earned beer at the fine café at La Maison des Loups. Christine and Geri meanwhile headed back to Rocher de la Galline and enjoyed themselves on a couple of excellent 2 pitch routes (F4+) as Vicky, Ann, Kieran, Jemma and I checked out the market and the public foot spar in Ax les Thermes. Later Ann and I joined Christine and Geri at the crag for a couple of quick routes.
Wednesday was glorious and saw a positive flurry of activity. Mike and I sweated our way up to the impressive but friendly East Face of Dent d’Orlu where we were treated to the sight of a lammergier gliding across the face as we geared up. We then swung leads up the excellent 11 pitch Fleur de Rhondo completing the route in just over 3 hours. The panoramic views from the summit were fantastic. We could even see the sun glinting off Ann’s freshly cleaned teeth on the opposite side of the valley as she, Christine and Geri enjoyed a hot walk past the Étang de Naguille to the Couillade d’en Beys. As all this was going on Vicky, Kieran, Steve and Jemma visited the wolf sanctuary, just up the valley from the campsite, where everyone had fun and ice-cream. Wednesday evening saw the arrival on the Maplesons thus completing the turnout.
Steve got up early on Thursday in order to avoid the heat and peddle up to Plateau de Beille (1780m), a regular stage finish on the Tour de France. Thankfully he failed to find any Columbian fans to punch as he laboured ever upwards but sadly he does insist on wearing lycra. This does pose the question of when does a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) become an OMIL (old man in lycra)? His early start meant that he was just getting back to the campsite as the rest of us departed. Christine and Geri took a rest and went shopping whilst the rest of us headed up the valley to the relative cool of the tree shaded Blocs d’Orlu which provided great entertainment to all except Vicky who did a bit of studying instead of bouldering. Suitably tired we visited the excellent café at the wolf sanctuary for lunch before rain rolled in and washed away the rest of the day.
The overnight rain soon cleared on Friday morning as Steve and Mike headed down the valley to check out the fantastic looking limestone crag that is Calames. Shame Steve forgot his boots! Despite this Mike got a few good leads in and Steve managed to follow 5+ in trainers. Meanwhile back at camp Roger noticed that the forks on Jemma’s bike were the wrong way round and would thus have made it harder to steer! The mystery of driver error or shoddy equipment was thus solved. Once the bike had been corrected team Mapleson and I headed down to Rocher de la Galline for a few quick routes. Christine and Geri went to check out another crag near Ax but sadly their bushwhacking exploits resulted only in scratches and a tactical retreat.
Saturday was scorching as the Maplesons, Geri, Christine and Ann headed over to the Val d’Incles in Andorra for a walk around the Pic Noir de Juclar Loop (18km with 800m of ascent) which provided them with excellent scenery to admire and greenery for a herbal tea courtesy of Geri. Roger half-heartedly tried to suggest that it must have been a sleeping potion rather than apathy that caused the mass afternoon snooze that took place instead of the scree ridden slog up to the summit (2627m) but either way they all enjoyed their day out. Mike and I headed down the valley to the glistening mountain of rock that is the highly impressive Le Quie de Sinsat. The long hot slog up to the upper walls certainly worked up a sweat, as did the old classic route Peppermint (F6a max) which proved to be distinctly hard work for the grade and nothing like as good as it was cracked up to be in the guidebook. The first 5 pitches were enough for us as the remaining 2 pitches looked verdant to say the least. Once back at the car we cooled our feet in the river and tested the waterproofing on the key for Mike’s hire car (thankfully they were) by immersing them in the Ariege.
Sunday’s weather was again fair and thus resulted in a flurry of activity. On the climbing front Christine, Geri and Bridgit headed to Sector Initiation at Calames where they enjoyed themselves on 4 fine routes (F4-5) on perfect rock. The keen team of Mike and Steve visited the East Face of Dent d’Orlu where they had fun on the slabs and overlaps of the 11 pitch classic Tapas san Dalles which they danced up in about 3 hours. The days none climbing activities included a day checking out the downhill mountain biking routes above Ax where Carys, Roger and Owen managed an incident free day despite Owen getting in some big jumps. The big event of the day was the meet leader testing out her knee with a walk up to Plateau Beile (1939m) armed with walking poles and a knee brace. The splendid views around the surrounding summits outweighed the discomfort in the knee, thankfully.
Monday was another busy day. The Maplesons, Christine and Geri all headed down to Rocher de la Galline where they did several of the fun 2 pitch routes on offer. Mike strolled up the valley to the tree shrouded cool bouldering circuits up at Le Blocs d’Orlu and Kieran and Jemma had lots of fun on the tree top rope walkways at a nearby play park.
The blocks were again visited on Tuesday, this time by Kieran and I, where in Kieran’s words we had a “good session” and he earned his ice cream by doing 10 marked problems including a blue. Christine and Geri also headed up the valley later in the day by which time it was raining as they went marmot spotting. Strangely the marmots had more sense and were staying in their nice dry burrows. Those that headed down the valley stayed drier for longer. Mike and Steve headed to the lower walls at Sinsat where they got half a dozen leads in each before the rain arrived (F5-6a+). The Maplesons walked to one of the areas numerous castles and discovered its gruesome history.
The overnight rain soon cleared on Wednesday morning as Mike and Ann headed down to Calames where they enjoyed the multipitch classic of Pour Lubeline and bravely pushed past an impressively horned wild goat in order to get to the summit. The rest of the team, including Vicky for once, headed down to the lower walls at Sinsat where numerous routes were done at Sectors Odin, Petits Pimous, Gland Lucides and La Grande Dalle. During all this activity Vicky decided that she could bear it no longer , donned her knee brace and tentatively followed a couple of routes as the knee slowly ballooned. Later that day Steve pedalled forth once more. This time going over Ax 3 Domaines (1380) and the Col de Chioula (1431m).
“How’s that?” sorry I mean Auzat, was Steve and Mike’s destination for the day on Thursday. Trees shaded the base of the fine granite walls and even provided dappled light on some of the routes thus taking the edge off the temperature. Suitably inspired they ticked off 9 routes (F4+-6a+) including the classic Sabine (F5+) and an impressive lob off another 5+ by Steve. Vicky, Ann, Kieran and Jemma opted for cooling off by playing by the river Oriege and inevitably it all ended up a bit on the soggy side. The rest of the team headed out to Dent d’Orlu where Bridget, Owen and Carys walked up the normal route to the impressive summit. Christine, Roger, Geri and I headed round to the East Face where we made a mass ascent of the excellent Tapas San Dalles. Geri and I led the way with Roger and Christine following behind. Once we had done the excellent crux pitches we settled down to watch the entertainment below having promised to wait. Christine put in a fine battle on the reachy F5 pitch and even resorted to aid but alas “Oh knickers” was the cry as she lowered back to the belay and handed the sharp end over to Rog. Roger’s victory cry as he pulled over the overlap on the next pitch (F5+) was distinctly less polite and thus could not possibly be published in the newsletter.
Upon reaching the summit we were treated to the superb views and a stunning flying display as lammergier and griffon vultures circled the peak gliding gracefully along the thermals. After all the days exertions the entire meet met up for a last meal at a pizza restaurant in Ax where hummingbird hawk moths entertained us as we waited for the food. Latter Jemma amused everyone by following the huge icecream desserts around the table. Owen was so impressed by the size of his dessert that he felt obliged to photograph it for some strange reason.
Friday morning saw the departure homewards of Christine and Geri but the foraging continued right to the end as they scrumped apples in an aire. Not being satisfied by what she could reach Geri got in a last climb for the trip and headed off up the tree.
Those of us lucky enough to have more time in the area set off to Auzat to sample the fine granite on a crag that felt a little like Tremadog, which is no bad thing. Lots of routes were ticked off from F4 –6b with the highlight of the day being Carys’s first lead (Tomio F4) which was followed by Kieran thus giving one of the lowest average ages for any team of KMCers for some time; if not ever. The big drama of the day happened as we were leaving as Jemma tripped and banged her head on a rock in the path. As always with head injuries there was blood everywhere but thankfully it looked much worse than it actually was and a spot of super glue at an excellent French hospital did the trick.
And that folks was that. Saturday morning saw people heading off at a variety of times for the long journey home. Or in Vicky, Kieran and my case a quick 45 minute drive down the valley for an extra week of luxury in a gite.
Thanks to everyone who came along and helped to make it a most enjoyable couple of weeks in a great area.
The Ariege region on the French side of the Pyrennes is home to literally hundreds of crags, stunning shapely mountains, superb hut to hut walking tours, ski lift assisted down hill mountain biking and crystal clear rivers and lakes, ideal for wild swimming. Basically this area provides something for everyone who loves being outdoors surrounded by wonderful scenery. Well, unless you like your mountains snowy in summer that is.
The rock climbing in the region is extremely varied in nature with limestone, gneiss and granite crags all within 30 minutes drive of the campsite. These cliffs also differ considerably in height with everything from bouldering on amazing looking granite blocks at Laramade to the 24 pitch expeditions on the beautifully pointy Dent d’Orlu. The spread of grades in the area also suits all abilities and styles from slabby F3’s and 4’s al Ax-les-Thermes (the nearest crag to the campsite) to upside down F8c’s in the caves at Sabart. Which reminds me, there’s also lots of caving in the area for wet days or aspiring troglodytes.
Topos for the climbing areas can be found here: http://cafma.free.fr/ and there’s also an English Rockfax Ariege book available.
We’re going to the Orlu campsite, which offers great facilities and is ideally placed for many of the climbing/biking/walking areas: http://vallee-orlu.com/en/campsite-qles-ioulesq/description.html. We’ll be camping but there are also cabins available to book. The campsites web site states that they recommend booking a pitch for your tent in advance.