Non, je ne regrette rien – French Pyrenees Sept/Oct 2012

26th September, 2012

by Di Neema
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The club was ensconced in three gîtes located close together in the village of Les Cabannes, near Tarascon, Ariège. Le Grand Gîte (The Singing & Dancing Gîte) was the largest with ten incumbents plus a trio of campers. Le Regatcho  … (The Seriously Hard-climbing Gite) housed six and Le Parsou (The Slightly Bemused Gite) were a foursome always playing catch-up because they arrived halfway through the fortnight, (oh no, we’ve already been there … yeah, we did that during the first week ….. etc etc) The weather was a bit mixed to begin with so that the first week alternated climbing with a little sightseeing in Ax-les-Thermes, Mirepoix and the like. The temperature hotted up in the second week so seeking shade became paramount and days-off were taken by more than one.

Although we could find no Wi-fi in the village one of our party had a convoluted BT mobile package which meant she could get the weather forecast each day – a godsend for planning around the rain during the first week.

A meet lasting two weeks is not for the faint-hearted and before we left the UK there had been several Excel spreadsheets whizzing around covering bed nights, bedding and car hire . The attention to detail over car hire permutations tested just about everyone (I did take a quick look and, horrified at what I saw, blessed the fact that I was in a UK car).

The handful of UK vehicles wended their way south by a variety of routes (no two cars actually went the same way thus proving the Pinnacle Club is nothing if not diverse). One party braved the cheap but exhausting drive-all-night scenario and therefore risked driving into any of the innumerable iconic plane trees that line French roadsides. A tragic early death, yes, but alleviated by the knowledge you would die in your sleep (surely everyone’s preferred option). The rest of the group obviously flew, mostly to Carcassone or Toulouse, and less obviously to Nice. Although airport car hire ensured optimum flexibility for climbing days, some took the train which comes right through to Les Cabannes from Toulouse.

The climbing in this area north of Andorra benefits from easy access (in fact you could even walk to the crags at Calamès if you based yourself in Tarascon itself), covers a wide range of grades, and boasts angles from the gentlest of slabs to overhanging monsters. Choose your rock – limestone, granite or gneiss, and your route length – from single to 20+ pitches. Everything is pretty well-bolted although some of the multi-pitch routes do have traditional protection. French guidebooks will soon be supplemented by a forthcoming Rockfax guide.

I can report there were a couple of fiascos involving the President and rucsacs, on the same crag and on the same day.

Climbing in Party Two (a fact important for narrative purposes), the first fiasco saw her descending and climbing again the first pitch of Pour Lubeline on Le Pilier de Cathares. Why? Was the climbing so good she had to do it twice? Alas no. Short term memory issues ensured she left the small red sac containing trainers, water etc nicely displayed on the ground and would only remember when she reached the first stance.

Later, Party One dropped too low on the descent path and were obliged to hack back up the zigzags to their sacs (all of course unbeknown to Party Two). Thinking Party Two would repeat their error, Party One brought down the sacs belonging to Party Two in an act of helpful insanity. The consequences of the fatal flaw in their logic finally revealed themselves but only to Party Two who, correctly cutting back under the crag to the bottom of the route, were confronted by A Wholesale Absence of Sacs. Initial consideration of a practical joke was elbowed out of the way by the presidential certainty there had been a robbery. The loss of one credit card, more than one mobile phone, the car keys (and therefore the chance the whole car now gone or trashed) was not an outcome to be made light of. Diligent searching in the undergrowth drew a blank and it was a silent and sombre trio who eventually descended the zigzags contemplating the ramifications of this calamity. Oh cries of joy! Helpfully if ostentatiously lined up on the main path were the sacs and Party Two soon began planning a theatrical revenge. A dramatic entry into Le Grand Gîte clutching a cauliflower (all they said they could now afford for tea) presaged a classic piece of tragic acting fired by their apparent devastation at Le Vol Français.

How named The Singing and Dancing Gîte? Two birthdays and a mid-meet party provided plenty of opportunity for show-offs, and a general lack of tolerance for one another’s Ipod playlists meant there was much musical variety. Highlights included Jo and Annie Auld Rope facing off in a high-toned rendition of Sparks’ 70’s hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, an equally high but altogether more excruciating version of Heart’s power ballad Alone by Annie and myself (well, just count those octaves), and I Know Him So Well with Annie and Sue (who knew the words so well). Five Do Bohemian Rhapsody was marginal but the choreography was really left a little wanting during Beyonce’s Single Ladies. But hey, at least we had a go.



Late addition to the party was the Gothic Witch who found the whole experience wickedly funny ……




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Sandy and Lotty’s Excellent Adventure

26th September, 2012

One Saturday, Sandy Bagge and Lotty Choss took the opportunity of some late summer sunshine to snatch some stars in the Pass and to celebrate Lotty’s birthday of 3 years previously.  Their experience must be shared to correct the wording in the new Llanberis guidebook.

Bole Way VS 4c4c4c (One star) Carreg Wastad

Start at a rib with a vegetated, slimy and mossy groove at either side about 100 feet right of Trilon, 30 feet left of Main Scoop Route, 300 feet below an odd shaped rock, up a bit from Shadow Wall and quite a long way from Pen y Pass car park.

1. Bridge up the rib and groove looking optimistically for gear until standing airily on the top of the pillar, still looking.  Make use of a jammed rock below your feet to protect a precarious step onto a vegetated, sloping gangway then commit to 2 over-hanging pinch grips whilst swinging out and right. Congratulate yourself on completing the ‘awkward’ move then realise that the expected handholds have not materialised nor has the gear or indeed your balance.  Wobble onwards looking for gear, ignoring the inviting crack in the detached block.  Ascend the ramp through gorse and heather, looking about ever hopeful for gear, until you reach a steep wall emerging from a peaty hanging garden of heather.  Climb the wall to the holly trees and a dark, prickly belay in the slot behind (‘cosy’).  Pick the spines out of your fingers before bringing up your second.

2. Climb the left hand holly tree as far as gravity and your personal weight allows before its sagging trunk negates all advantage and returns you to the belay.  Climb the steep, grooved slab on small crimps, looking for gear, until a loose handhold provides reassurance.  Ignore the nut-sized crack behind it.  Step right onto the rib and continue up it for a long time, looking for gear, until you reach a decayed ivy root and a sense of security.  A sling round the left-hand root seems slightly more solid.  Look for the ‘obvious block’ – don’t find it and press on to the over-hang.  Look for gear.  Don’t find it either and instead, traverse the wall below the overhang on matchstick sized footholds and an overhead pinch.  Contemplate the dripping, hanging gardens of Babylon to which you are heading.  Pick out the one dry nodule of rock to stand on and pull into a streaming, grassy, muddy groove with a crack behind the vegetation.  Hoick out several tussocks of marshy grass and find some gear.  Try to dry your hands and shoes.  Go up the steep and ‘interesting’ groove which gets less vegetated as you progress.  Stuff the crack with gear to keep in practice and because you’ve brought it all this way after all.  Squeeze between the roots of some more holly trees and belay behind in a damp corner.  Ladies with broader than average hips must choose another climb.

3. Decide to do the ‘Original Finish’ as it’s only 4b and you have had enough.  Ascend the steep wall behind the trees on greasy sloping holds, using the trees as required plus a sapling above for protection.  Try not to slip off too often.  Struggle round the arête, looking for gear and ignore another crack in another loose handhold.  Move along the ramp utilising all your friction skills and some novel left hand under-presses.  At the gorse garden either shred your body as you try to fathom the guidebook’s wording of ‘easily’ or, better, descend the face and hand-traverse the ramp.  Don’t give up on gear yet.  At the knobbly sloping platform progress carefully towards the large heather patch growing on clumps of earth perched on rock (probably).  Now you can give up on gear.  Kick steps in the earth and reach the next holly trees.  Belay here and hope your second does not notice the long sagging ropes across the void.

4. Climb the holly tree (again) onto the steep headwall on sloping holds and algae, looking for gear.  Carefully lay a small nut on top of a shallow, nut-shaped dent and breathe a sigh of relief.  This and the sling in the treetop provide security for the leftwards traverse of the lichenous, earthy, damp wall and slab to the overhanging, undercut, wet, final wall.  Climbers of 6 feet 6 with a large wingspan may find the final moves 4b.  Place some gear (!) then aid climb the overhang to the first positive, solid holds on the climb – the top!  NB Don’t let your second over the edge until she has retrieved your friend and foot loop.

How we laughed when we finally stood upright on level ground.  What a good joke the new guidebook had played on us!  For those with no sense of humour, amend the wording in the guide as follows:

Bole Way HVS 4c 5a 4c 5a

(i)                  Cross out the star

(ii)                Amend ‘well-protected’ to read ‘hardly protected at all especially on the hard bits’

(iii)               Cross out all references to ‘easily’

(iv)              Add ‘wet’, ‘overgrown’, ‘earthy’, ‘slimy’ etc liberally throughout the pitch descriptions

(v)                Add ‘loose’ on pitches 1, 2 and 3.

(vi)              Amend ‘interesting’ to read ‘horrible’ or ‘nails’.


Sandy Bagge and Lotty Choss



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