Sitting in France's Massif Central between the limestone plateaus of the Causse de Sauvettere and Causse Mejean, runs a huge rift some 500 metres deep and in places, 1500 metres wide. Dense woods of prickly pines, fast-flowing waters and sheer walls and pillars of the finest CaCO3. With hundreds of routes, an enormous range of styles, lengths and grades, easy access and a beautiful location, it's another European sport-climbing wonderland! From the shorter power problems of Sector Gullich to the 60 metre mega-pumps of Tennessee, Gorges du Tarn has it all! Quality in abundance in a beautiful and accessible location! How can you possibly ask for more?
Les Ailes Du Desir- An Experience
A couple more moves and I'd be at the belay, a good resting place from which to clip and lower back to the floor. Except, now other thoughts were entering my head, ridiculous thoughts, thoughts of not clipping and lowering off but thoughts of continuing! Thoughts slowly manifesting themselves into reality. Calmly I shook each arm, tried to relax and control my breathing. What did I have to lose? 25 metres had gone well and only another 30 to go! I stared across right onto the impending wall, draws hanging, taunting and beckoning me onto their steepening path and then disappearing onto the horizon and out of sight. They were spaced but from here, not too spaced. I thought about the consequences. "They're not mine, I'm not committed. Just a little look." My heart fluttered. Ninety-nine percent convinced I left the comfort of the corner and teetered awkwardly out right. Straight away the wall reared up and my arms felt the strain, harder moves than before and hideously exposed. The bolts now appeared miles away and the top was out of site, guarded by a steepening, a huge overhanging bastion that must be breached before victory. I fought my way onwards and upwards, in the zone, climbing in a trance. I dared not look down, the safety of my hallowed haven now a long way below. I looked up. Nothing, just an intimidating blockade of tiny pockets to gain what appeared to be a slight easing in angle. The holds looked small but the path was clear. I scuttled back down to an awkward shake and to suss out the moves. In reality I knew what to do. With quickening breath I forged on. Big span left, right up, crimpy pocket, I'm pumping now, losing control, blood banging in my brain. Desperate, I catch a deep a mono up left, draw in sight and jug above, right foot moves up, left scuffs. Draw. Jug. Jug. Draw. I hang in suspended animation, blood now booming, body shaking, arms solidifying. Unable to see, and unable to judge, shouts of "come on" momentarily break the haze. I grit my teeth, close my eyes and then... grab the quickdraw."Nooooooo," I scream! I'm off! Forty feet into space, a jump of disgust. Desire had been lacking. The wall had won but I'd be back.
A Taster-Best Sectors and Routes
The area has climbs of all grades from F5 up to 9a. There are even some initiation routes, suitable for young children or absolute beginners. Whilst it is famed for its massive single pitches, with some being as long as 70 metres, it's certainly not all like that! Although most are fairly long by British standards (ie 20 metres at least.) You may want to walk between a couple of sectors during the same day in order to accommodate sunshine/shade requirements or if you climb in a mixed ability team. This is never a problem however as everything is very accessible.
F5-6c: Numerous excellent routes exist in these grades, all on immaculate rock. Check out the following sectors and route recommendations.
Shadocks: All the routes are top quality, vertical to slightly overhanging, pocketed affairs from F5-6c with a couple of nice F7a's thrown in should you wish to push yourself. Six Bieres, Cafe at F6a+ is particularly good as is the wonderfully steep finish of Semaillou F6b+.
Figues au Cul: An excellent batch of technical outings (F5-6b,) requiring neat footwork. They also stay dry in the rain.
Tresor du Zebre: A great sector. Don't miss the mega Jeux de Plage, a brilliant and long F6a as well as numerous other superb routes from F6a-6c.
Club House: A wall containing half a dozen routes from F5-6b. All the routes are good but check out the juggy fun of Oh Lands! F5c, which is particularly entertaining.
Le Grand Toit: This area has some excellent easier climbs up to F6c, including some very good F4s. It also has some stern test-pieces in the F7's and F8's. All have the added bonus of being weatherproof.
If striking lines are your thing then don't miss out on the elegant C100 Francs F6c+ and the lovely laybacks and strenuous finish of Quelle Etait Verte Ma Vallee F6c, both at De Que Fas Aqui.
F7a -8a (and the odd harder one) If you operate at these levels then the Tarn has some of the best you'll ever do!
Planete Causse and L'oasif: Forty routes mainly in the F7a -8a bracket and some worthwhile F6's. L'oasif has steep and thuggy starts with less steep (but still sustained) uppers. Try Alambic F7a+ and the fierce start of La Page Blanche F7c. Planete Causse is generally a sustained bath of lactic acid with most of the routes being in the 30 metre plus category. Try Planète Causse at F7a+ which is a classic (and NOT easy for the grade) and L'oublie Du Temps at F7c, with no hard moves but steep and pumpy all the way to the chains.
Gullich: If short and steep is your thing then check this out. 8 routes from F7c+ to F8c. Bar Bitturique F8a is the sought after classic.
Tennessee: My personal favourite sector. Big and impressive lines offering absorbing single pitches of up to 60 metres in length. The arete of the route Tennessee F8b is a prominent feature from the road and highly photogenic. Take a long rope (be careful when lowering off) lots of endurance and a patient belayer! Try Une colonne derrière les verrous F7b, a beautiful and sustained corner line, the superb technicalities of Nom de Mostuejouls! F7b and the phenomenally long, Pyromania F7c+. At F8a, Les ailes du désir is also a must.
Other sectors include Le Navire which is great for routes in the F6b-7b+ bracket, Le Grand Toit which has excellent routes from F4-8b and L'amphi. This is home to some stunning rock architecture and a classic selection of climbs from F6b-8a. Try Jour de doye F7a, La veuve noire F7b and the much sought after Planète Groove F8a. Oh and don't miss out on the route Le Trésor du Zèbre at the sector of the same name. It is without a doubt the best F7a in the area, if not the world!
When do I go?
The best time to visit is probably from Easter until the end of October. The winter months can be cold and wet and you will find very little going on but I suppose that like anywhere, you can be lucky with the weather. I have now been twice in July and August and once in June, as well as a three day stop-through in March which was quickly abandoned due to cold and wet conditions! Also, on a recent trip in early June, the place was deserted! Very few shops were open, the campsites were empty and the restaurants and bars were all shut up, so be prepared!
How do I get there?
The climbing is situated about 30 kilometres from Millau with the crags themselves being found along a short stretch of river between the villages of Les Vignes and La Malene. 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.
If you choose to drive then have a look at Ferrysavers 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 Milau. Come off at Severac le Chateau and from here the quickest way into the Gorges is to take the D995 towards Le Massegros and then down to Les Vignes.
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. Ryanair fly to the nearby Rodez, which may be one of the best options. You can usually get a bargain if you're flexible on dates.
If you're approaching from the south I would recommend getting on the A75 (from the A9 come off at Junction 31) and continue up to Millau. From Millau itself, take the D907 to Le Rozier and then on to Les Vignes. You can also approach from the East more directly by taking the D986 from St. Enimie. Be warned though, this is an arduous journey (although fine and actually quite picturesque if you don't have any time constraints!)
Where do I stay?
If you visit between May and the end of August then camping is probably the best option. Camping Beldoire in Les Vignes (Tel 04.66.48.82.79) or Camping La Blaquiere (Tel 04.66.48.53.44) just up the road from the L'oasif parking area, are both superbly situated and have excellent facilities including small shops, a bar (awesome pizzas) and river access, which is great for cooling off and relaxing on rest days.
There are also many gites in the area which is a much more comfortable option if you go out of season and the nights are long. I have stayed in this gite which was fantastic or you could try Gites De France. The area also has a few hotels. Phone the local tourist information offices for further details.
Millau (Tel 05.65.60.02.42), Le Rozier (Tel 05.65.62.60.89) and Les Vignes (Tel 04.66.48.80.90) Note: the one in Les Vignes has rather random opening hours, particularly out of season.
Where do I get the guidebook?
'Le Tarn' by the Club Alpin Francais, is available from the "tabac" in Le Rozier and Les Vignes and also from a number of the book shops in Millau. It is now a little out of date (first published in 2000) but new route information is available from the climbing wall in Millau.
Where can I buy gear and food?
Les Vignes is a good base, meaning that you are close to the climbing and driving is kept to a minimum. Although small it does have a (tiny) supermarket, bakery and tabac as well as bars and restaurants. Le Rozier (12 kilometres away) is a little bigger and has a Spar, bakery, tabac, post office, cyber-cafe and a reasonable selection of bars and restaurants. Millau is a little further (30 kilometres) but has everything you'd expect of a large town including internet access, numerous shops and supermarkets and a climbing wall, should the weather turn sour (or if you just want to find out about new routes in the area!) I would recommend stocking up on provisions in one of the supermarkets here as the choice is far greater and the cost less than that of the shops in the Gorges.
Intersport in the centre of Millau sells chalk and some climbing gear.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
When your arms ache and your skin is crucified then why not try one of the hugely popular canoe trips down the river. Many companies exist where you can hire the necessary equipment. Shuttle buses will even pick you up and take you back upstream to your car! 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.
If that sounds a little too strenuous then check out the impressive caves of Aven Armand and Grotte de Dargilan. You may also want take a drive to Millau in order to feast your eyes upon the dominating and breathtaking, 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!
Other Climbing Nearby
If Tarn hasn't got enough for you or you just fancy a change then you can always check out the two other world class areas in the vicinity. The Gorges de la Jonte and Le Boffi, in the Gorges De La Dourbie. Both have more rock than you can shake a stick at, the quality is superb and the guidebooks are both available from the tabac in Le Rozier.
There is a very comprehensive article on climbing at Le Boffi on the UKC Destinations Articles Page .
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