Les Gorges du Tarn

Chris and I didn’t realize it at the time, but we coincidentally planned our France climbing trip in decreasing order of approach times. At Céüse we did the famous 45 min- 1 hr grueling uphill approach every day and then at the Ardeche our approach was flat and about 20-30 minutes long (once we figured out how to do it and didn’t have to employ kayakers to get our gear across the river), though it did involve easy traversing on cables for a small part of it. There were also scorpion sightings, humongous river otters and hoards of French tourists in mega-industrial “campsites”- it was pretty intense.   The approaches at the Gorges du Tarn were quite a bit different… on average they were about 2 minutes long. In fact, a lot of the best sectors are right off of the road which runs parallel to the beautiful (and cold!) Tarn river.  In fact, the whole setup was pretty similar to the Ardeche; in other words, a ridiculous number of limestone crags surround a river in a remarkably striking Gorge. However, the differences were only improvements- the rock quality is way better and there were much less tourists.

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We arrived during the early afternoon and found a camping spot at Le Beldoire (whose office has an autographed photo of Dave Graham… aka I think quite a fair number of climbers pass through this conveniently located campsite). It was July in France… aka it was very, very hot so we waited until the afternoon crags got into the shade and went to check out Arc en Ciel and Calmes Vouz. We started on some short routes at Calmes Vouz, which was interesting because Les Gorges du Tarn is known for their monster routes, yet the first ones we did were maybe 6 bolts long.

We quickly fell into a schedule of morning climbing at sectors that had shade in the morning, chilling for a few hours during the hottest part of the day and then climbing in the late afternoon/evening at sectors that get shade in the afternoon.

We spent many mornings at L’Oasif, that has a lot of superb sport routes that start on an overhang and finish on a more technical and vertical rock. I projected a 7a extension of the 6c route “Cosmopolite”  called “Le cout de siècele” that I eventually sent! By this point in the summer I had already been climbing pretty much non-stop for 5 weeks so I was pretty spent and every day I felt more tired, so sending a 7a took me many more efforts than it would have otherwise but I was pretty excited to have ticked something hard at the end of our trip.

We also spent some time at Gullich where I tried a good 6c+ called “L’effect larguant”. Like “Le cout de siècele” it involves a hard overhang into techy but easier climbing. However, like a lot of routes at Le Gorges du Tarn, it gets pretty damn runout. At the top there was a probably at least a 20 foot runout but it was on 6a climbing so it was actually pretty damn enjoyable. In fact the run-outs on the harder terrain were shorter but made me a lot more nervous!

ImageDue to the less than ideal conditions our skin got thrashed pretty damn quickly. Unfortunately we really were not there during the best conditions and I imagine that this place in the fall is absolutely incredible!

Like in Céuse we encountered some more French summer thunderstorms.. but this time it luckily happened only once and on a rest-day. In fact conditions were the worst when we were driving back from getting lunch in Millau, the closest big city. However, it was while driving that we saw a huge light and heard a crackle of thunder at the same time and we realized that lightning had struck maybe 100 feet from our car! I had never been that close to a lightning strike and it was both cool and freaky at the same time. I would have expected that this would have happened at Céuse when we were at the top of a hill in a mountaions area… aka sitting ducks for lightning… than while driving, but c’est la vie!

About 4 or 5 days before we planned to leave back to Barcelona I abandoned the idea of trying to onsight hard routes and instead started to do more easier routes, basically because by this point in the trip I was exhausted. I had never been on such a long climbing trip and also had never really tried routes at my limit for such an extended period of time so I was actually surprised by how tired I got! I wasn’t particularly sore, I just found myself waking up every day more and more tired and with a certain type of energy missing. My body was asking me to rest so I decided to just enjoy easier routes and then take 1 or 2 weeks off upon returning to Barcelona.

During our stay we also climbed at the sectors Noir Desir, Tresor de Zebre, Foetus, Navire and Moulin a Huile.  Here are some notable routes I did or tried:

At Tresor de Zebre (a particularly nice AM crag):

  • “Jeux de plage” 6a-  Best warmup I’ve ever done. Ever. It is 35m of heaven; it starts with a fun crack, goes into face climbing and then an overhung and is decently runout between bolts which makes it more interesting but not dangerous..especially when you consider 6a’s easy!
  • “Tarn is Business” 6c-  A hard crux down low where the bolts are a bit more spacey than you would like since the crux starts pretty much immediately. The rest of the route is very similar to Jeux de Plage… aka it has a lot of face climbing and overhang climbing on superb rock.

Foetus

  • “Gold Rush” 7a- Okay, I know I said I was going to stop trying hard but this line looked too good to resist, especially after I saw Chris do it. The crux features really, REALLY small holds and ends on another typical les Gorges du Tarn runout on easier climbing. Getting into the crux involved a really fun lateral reachy move for me that I enjoyed doing and led straight into slopey two finger pockets and an edge that I could fit maybe one or 2 pads on. I  tried it twice but never finished it.. the approaching sun killed my motivation to pull on those crimps!
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Most of the rock in the Gorges du Tarn hasn’t been developed… there is so much potential here!

On July 23rd we peaced out and drove back down to Barcelona. Chris was flying out the 25th but I still had about 10 days left to say my goodbyes to my Spanish friends and the city I was leaving behind before I would board my flight to SF on August 2nd. Those days were filled with me sweating.. a lot.. (Barcelona is HUMID), chilling at the beaches, complaining about tourists, hanging out with friends, and, above all… EATING! .. Here are some photo highlights of my final gastronomic tour of Barcelona

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Liquor selection at Quimet & Quimet, the best tapas bar in Barcelona shown to me by none other than Chris, hidden in Poble Sec

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Paella! My Catalan friend Laia was my go-to food connoisseur in Barcelona and brought me to this restaurant near the beach Barceloneta… she knows her stuff!

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At the Paradeta in the Born neighborhood of Barcelona fresh seafood awaits you.. all you have to do is say what you want and they will pick up the fresh seafood right in front of you and prepare it for you on the spot. Another successful Laia pick!

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Our cooked seafood at La Paradeta!

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I also indulged in the simple yet unique and delicious aspects of Catalan and Spanish cuisine.. here is a Torrada de Atún (basically toasted bread with tuna and olive oil.. ) at a random bar that turned out to be quite delicious.. and cheap!

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Before leaving it was deemed unacceptable by my two Spanish roommats that I didn’t know how to make a tortilla española (Spanish omelette) so I gladly attended a mini “Tortilla española class” in our apartment two nights before leaving.

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Went with my roommate to a bar on Aribau.. who’s name slips my mind.. that featured live Spanish music (aka some guys playing guitar and screaming songs at the top of their lungs) and free palomita! (popcorn)

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For my final night in Barcelona I went up to old civil war bunkers in Barcelona that provide a 360 degree view of the city with my roommate Ramón and my friend Laia. We went at night and the views were spectacular but we also brought with us a small Spanish picnic of Fuet, gazpacho, nueces, patatas, jamón serrano, pan, cerveza, vino… muchas cosas buenas 🙂

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Y, claro, mi último café con leche.
Of course, my last coffee with milk 🙂

The 7 months I spent in Spain were the best 7 months of my life for various reasons.. one of which is the psyched (international!) community of climbers I met who got me motivated, were patient with me, and showed me some of the best sport climbing crags in the world!  The culture, the people, the climbing.. all have affected me and caused me to grow as a person. Now in California I have taken  the things I love the most about Spanish culture and lifestyle and adapted it to my own way of living. Basically, I go a muerte while climbing , eat a lot of olive oil, and am more tranquila about life in general :). I know I’ll be back both to climb as well as visit this amazing region.. in fact… I already bought a plane ticket to return in the winter! What can I say, you have to aprovechar while you still can.

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