Wednesday, 4 April 2012

France – its just a better version of Spain!

Morning light at St Guilhem le Desert

This was the quote of the evening from Andy Mann during our farewell dinner last night. Whilst the few bottles of red may have helped to elevate his mood, I like to think he was genuinely high on the French life, sharing a feeling I have had for some time.

We met up with Andy by chance in Margalef and arranged to all meet up again in France once our respective work commitments had finished. This was Andys first time in Europe and he had taken the brave step of travelling alone, just a start and a finish planned, with everything free in between. Caro and I wanted to share with him a little bit of our heaven, and we tried to cram in as many special things as possible into too few short days.

Sunset over St Guilhem

The best bakery in the world, buttery golden light at St Leger, laughing with friends over great food and wine in a language you don’t understand, secret waterfalls on the way to the cliff, hanging hundreds of meters up from old rusty pitons, Souvenir du Pic! The result was exhaustion but was totally worthwhile, and based on the above quote, I feel like we did France proud.

End of the day in St Leger

You might have noticed the reference to old pitons in the last paragraph. Old pitons are certainly not the norm in these parts of the world, nor does their presence guarantee a great experience. However, the old pitions in question happen to be part of La Cadaire, a 4 pitch mixed multipitch in our local area of St Guilhem, and when combined with everything else the route throws at you, they offer a day out you won’t forget.

After finishing our projects in Spain last month, Caroline and I began preparing for out next trip to Sardinia. We have our eyes set on a few hard multi-pitch on the island (no, not that one!) and to give ourselves the best chance, wanted to practice a few little things before jumping in to the deep end.

I had on-sighted La Cadaire the year before and felt like it would be a great route for Caroline to practice dealing with exposure and her fear. The route is around 150m tall, and gently overhangs for its entire length, culminating with the crux pitch at the very top, a boulder 8a through a roof. From the base of the wall, the ground falls away steeply to the valley floor a further few 100m below, and as a result, you feel pretty out there as you cut lose at the lip of the roof, especially as the only gear is rusty downwards pointing pins! I wouldn’t say the route is ever dangerous, as there are a lot of pitons that despite their sketchy appearance actually hold weight. It is however far far away from your average day at a sport cliff – a great way to practice for the long runouts we are sure to find next month.

The amazing gorge of St Guilhem

Caroline dealt perfectly with the challenge, climbing smoothly and keeping a cool head for the entire route. Andy was swinging around on the static the whole time, capturing amazing pictures and video that we hope to be able to share soon. As we approached the top of the wall, the day finished better than we could have ever dreamed as two bas jumpers lined up and dived out over our heads!

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