Sector Damned with Canyon in the background
© Kevin Avery, Oct 2008
Beautiful wall climbing at Le Boffi
© Kevin Avery, Oct 2008
Le Boffi, Gorges De La Dourbie, France (UKC Database)
It is now commonly known that France (along with Spain) is home to some of the finest limestone climbing in the world. Huge crags of perfect rock are everywhere leading the likes of us Brits to declare, "it's just not fair!" Many times I have been to southern France, driving towards our destination only to pass wall after wall of perfect rock within an hour's reach of the road that has never even been touched. Le Boffi is one such crag that I had spotted before when on a trip to Gorges Du Tarn in 2003. Visible from the winding road that leads from the south down into Millau, its grandiose stature is obvious. However, it wasn't until 2007 that I learnt of its recent development for climbing. An Scottish ex-pat that I met in Tarn asked me,
"Have you climbed at Boffi yet?"
"Where?" Was my ignorant reply. After the ensuing conversation I found out that it was situated fairly nearby in the Gorges De La Dourbie that runs into Millau. However it still did not click in my mind that these were the walls I had seen from afar. He then told me that it was better than the Tarn, had every type of route, sun and shade but unfortunately no guidebook. (Although this guy did not seem to think a guide was necessary! ) He told me that,
"The line looks good, it has bolts and you try to climb it!"
Of this I was not convinced, but it was nice to see that he hadn't completely lost his (British) spirit of adventure. So, on a recent trip to Gorges Du Tarn in June of 2008 I spotted a new looking guidebook in the tabac in Le Rozier. "La Dourbie" read the cover. So this was it, the French had finally worked it all out and were ready to part with the secrets! It was to even be home to a Petzl Roc Trip (although I later found out it had already had one in 2006.) So I hatched a plan to return in the Summer of 2008 and fortunately, I was not to be disappointed!
A Brief History
I am not sure of the exact history of climbing at Le Boffi. The guidebook says that a few routes were bolted in the 1980's around the "Generation Myth Errant" sector but the main phase came about during the 2000's with the addition of many new routes and the "via ferrata" courses. A Petzl Roctrip was held at the crag in 2006 (a great video of which can be seen below) and this year (2008) many more sectors were bolted for another Roctrip meeting, further hi-lighting the potential of this amazing area.
Video: Roc Trip 2006 at Le Boffi (http://en.petzl.com/petzl/frontoffice/Sport/static/Video/escalade/video/petzl_roctrip06_video.htm)
Rock Type - Limestone
Le Boffi from the N9
© Kevin Avery, Oct 2008
Fripouille Gratouille F6a
© Kevin Avery, Oct 2008
In terms of climbing styles, Le Boffi basically has it all. Stupendous lines up walls, slabs, overhanging caves, grooves and cracks are available in abundance and the quality is simply superb. The climbing tends to be on a mixture of pockets, edges and large slopers and is delightfully varied. The setting is beautifully tranquil, perched high on the hill above the village of La Monna with Millau and its impressive viaduct providing the backdrop. If you long to get away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Tarn then this is definitely the place to be. Grades start at F4 and go all the way up to F9a and judging by some of the neck-craningly steep unclimbed projects that have been equipped, I am sure standards here will continue to be pushed even further. The walls offer both long (60m) and short (15m) routes and some multi-pitch stuff (3 or 4 pitches.) I have to say that in terms of routes of an easier standard, the quality and selection is wonderful. Many pitches of grade 4, 5 and 6 exist here, most of which are 30 metres in length and on perfect rock. It really is a crag for everyone wth routes of all grades mingling in amongst one another. This is particularly pleasing for mixed ability teams as it means you can find a sector with a route to suit everyone and you don't have to waste time wandering between crags or have to split up your day between a number of different venues.
A 70m rope is generally the required minimum these days although 80m may be useful on some routes. I would suggest taking at least 15 quick-draws including some longish ones as many of the routes actually follow proper lines rather than straight-up blankness. The routes are all well equipped with solid expansion bolts and good lower-offs.
"La Dourbie" published by the Club Alpin Francais (2008) is the definitive guide. It is available at a cost of 22 Euros from the tourist offices in Millau, Nant and from the tabac in Le Rozier. The guide also includes climbing at the superb Cantobre, further up the valley. This is another world class venue for the F7b and upwards climber.
Watch a video of the 2004 Petzl Roctrip held at Le Boffi:
Aspect and When To Go
Le Boffi offers sectors which face south and west (with some east facing walls) which makes climbing possible all year round. The west facing walls receive shade until 3pm and are a perfect place to climb in summer. The south and east facing walls begin to receive shade after 2pm meaning you can have a late start or combine these areas with the west faces for all day shade. Obviously if you climb here in the winter months you can chase the sun by climbing on the south faces all day or east in the morning and west in the afternoon. The best times to visit are probably September to November and March to June but it is also a good option in the summer due to the shaded sectors and regular cooling breeze which the crags seem to catch. Local knowledge suggests that climbing right through the winter months is fine and after all there is always the superb winter crag of Cantobre just up the valley, should you find Le Boffi to be a little too cold. The crags offer some dry climbing in the rain but do expect to get a good soaking on the walk in and out! That said, the weatherproof climbs are generally going to be in the harder grades as most will be found in outrageously steep caves. Most routes do dry very quickly when the rain stops though.
The Sectors and Classic Suggestions
The guidebook shows 12 sectors although I would say there are probably another 6 that have been developed since it was published! There are approximately 300 routes in the topo but this could be nearer to 4 or 500 now! Grades range from F4 to F9a.
West Facing Sectors
Grotte De L'amour- A fine sector offering a number of routes from F6a to F8a+. Try Petit Nico F6a+, Mattet Ma Tique F6b+, the beautiful pillar of La Mere Denis at F6c, the long and involved Rust Never Sleeps F7a and the pumpy Viva Zapatta F7b. If that's not enough then there is always the stern pocket pulling that is required to escape the Grotte De L'amour itself at F8a.
Mauvaise Pente- This is most definitely a sector for mutants only! At the moment around 10 routes and projects exist starting at F8a and finishing at F9a, although I'm sure that development will continue. It is without doubt one of the most impressive walls I have seen for a long time! Worthy introductions include the first part of Mauvaise Pente at F8a+, an outrageous overhanging groove and Le Forcats Du Rocher at F8a with its technical lower wall followed by a wildly steep fissure system through the final headwall!
South and East Facing Sectors
Damned- This is a truly fantastic sector with something for everybody. It receives shade after 3pm and is home to many classic routes of all grades and styles on perfect rock. Try the delightful Pierre St Marc F4c and Docteur Globule F5c, both on wonderfully featured orange limestone or the slightly more technical challenges of Fripouille Gratouille and Prise Directe at F6a and F6b respectively. At F6c you have the superb La Regles De L'art, and if you long for something harder still then don't miss out on La Politique S'occupera De Vous F7a+, a long outing with some tricky and thought provoking climbing! Other recommendations would have to be the wonderful arete of Consomme Sans Somation F7b, the involved climbing of Sac A Glue F7b+ with its combination of pockets and slopers and the stupendous cave of Big Bug F8a+, a route which has already gained mega-classic status.
Canyon and Generation Myth Errant- These are both major sectors, particularly the latter as it was one of the first to be developed at Le Boffi. Both offer vertical to slightly overhanging, technical wall climbs with the odd steeper route thrown in for good measure. Beautiful lines abound in these areas. Most of Canyon receives some morning shade whilst Generation Myth Errrant receives the shade from around 3 pm. Some route recommendations here include the multi-pitch Retour Aux Sources F5c, Le Big Fuck F6a+, the huge pitch of Bric A Brac F6b, Vacances Printanieres F6c+, the wonderful corner feature of 95C F7a and the technical slopers of L'art Des Choix F7b. It is worth noting that many of the climbs here are very long and a good test of one's endurance. For this reason it may also be worth tying a knot in the end of your rope when lowering off.
Check (Weather.com) for up to date weather details.
(Map and directions from where you are - Google Maps)
Local Map (from Google)
The easiest options are to either drive from the UK, taking a ferry on route or to fly to one of the nearby airports and hire a car. Flying is a good bet, with many options from the cheap short haulers of Easyjet and Ryanair. I've flown from Liverpool to Nimes in the past which then leaves you with an easy 2 hour drive. I have also flown from Stansted to Montpellier, which is a good option if you are based in the south. Nearby Rodez also has an airport and is only a short journey away (Ryanair.) Check out www.easyjet.com and www.ryanair.com and see what they're offering. You can usually get a bargain if you're flexible on dates. Also see www.travelsupermarket.com as they generally search out the most competitive rates on vehicle rental.
Laurent Lanners on the magnificent Sac A Glue F7b+
© Kevin Avery, Oct 2008
If you choose to drive then have a look at www.ferrysavers.com who usually have cheap deals, particularly if you book early. I usually sail via the Dover/Dunkerque route but others exist and overnighters are possible which will cut down on some of the driving. When in France head for the A75 and follow it south towards Millau. If you're approaching from the south or west I would recommend getting on the A75 (from the A9 come off at Junction 31) and continue up to Millau, descending into the town after crossing the viaduct.
The climbing is situated overlooking the Gorges De La Dourbie above the village of La Monna. It can be reached within a short drive of Millau or Le Rozier (approximately 20 minutes.)
From Millau, cross the Tarn where it meets the Dourbie and take the D110 in the direction of the hamlet of Longuiers. About half a kilometre before you reach Longuiers a dirt road leads off to the right into the forest. It is actually marked with a notice board! Follow the dirt track (fine for a car) for about 500 metres until you reach a parking area next to a barrier and a pair of information boards.
From Le Rozier head in the direction of the Gorges De La Jonte but before leaving the town take a right turn over the river, in the direction of Montpellier Le Vieux. Follow a winding road up onto the plateau and continue to follow signs for Montpellier Le Vieux and Longuiers. Continue through Longuiers and about half a kilometre after the hamlet take a left turn down the dirt road into the forest and park by the barriers.
Walking from the parking takes 30 to 40 minutes depending on your choice of sector. You have 2 options, both of which are very pleasant and mainly downhill although unfortunately that means it's uphill on the way out! The most straight forward option is to take the continuation track behind the left-hand barrier (in the direction of the via ferrata) and follow this until you reach a notice board. From here take a steep and narrow track to the left of the board which leads down to the base of the cliffs. At the bottom turn right for sector Damned and the west face or left for sector Generation Myth Errant. A better option (from the parking) if you are heading straight to the west face is to take the track which lies behind the right-hand barrier. Follow this until you reach a large cairn and then follow a narrow track on the left which leads down into the woods. Eventually you join the path which runs below the cliffs. Be sure to turn left onto this and then follow it to the Grotte De L'amour and Mauvaise Pente.
Accommodation and Supplies
There is a wealth of camping, gite and hotel accommodation in the area so there should be something to cater for all tastes and budgets. The Gorges De La Dourbie is in close proximity to the large town of Millau as well as the nearby climbing hotspots of the Gorges Du Tarn and Gorges De La Jonte. In fact it is little more than a 35 minute car journey from Tarn to Le Boffi. A good option may be to camp in or around the small town of Le Rozier which is situated only 20 minutes from both and only 5 minutes from the wonderful Gorges De La Jonte. That way you have the choice of 3 world class venues all within easy reach! There are numerous campsites here, including one in the town itself. The Camping Municipal De Brouillet (details http://camping-lerozier.com/access.htm) is as good a place as any. It has excellent facilities and is situated within easy walking distance of the town where you will find restaurants, bars, bakeries, a tabac, cashpoint, supermarket and internet access. There is also a small but knowledgeable tourist information office (Tel: 00 33 565 62 60 89). If you are looking for a gite in the area then this website is particularly useful ( http://www.gites-de-france.com).
If you plan to climb only in the Gorges De La Dourbie then Millau may be the best base as it has camping, hotels and gites as well as a whole host of shops, restaurants and everything else you would expect of a large town including big supermarkets, banks and internet cafes. It also has a very helpful tourist information office (Tel: 00 33 5 65 60 02 42 or try their website http://www.ot-millau.fr/) who can put you in touch with many of the available accommodation options in the area.
If you run out of chalk then Intersport in the centre of Millau sells a small selection of climbing gear. The town also has a climbing wall (www.couleurcaillou.fr) where new route information is available.
There are numerous tourist attractions in the area so rest days need never be boring. Try one of the hugely popular canoe trips in the Gorges Du Tarn or alternately why not hike the GR6a (a variant of the GR6) which crosses the Causses. It's a beautiful outing which starts by winding its way steeply out of Le Rozier, up onto the Causse Mejean and then follows the rim of the Gorges before descending to join the GR6 at Les Vignes. If you're lucky then you may catch a glimpse of some very impressive birds, with Vultures and Eagles both being regularly spotted in the area. Oh and don't forget the via ferrata courses. If that sounds a little too strenuous then check out the impressive caves of Aven Armand and Grotte de Dargilan or visit the local landmark of Montpellier Le Vieux. And if cheese is your thing then I would definitely recommend a trip to sample some of the local roquefort. You may also want to take a drive to Millau in order to feast your eyes upon the breathtaking architecture of the Millau Viaduct. Built in 2004 and designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster, it stands at a staggering 343 metres in height, making it the tallest bridge in the world!