Orpierre: Year-Round Climbing in Southern France

by Ian Fenton Feb/2015
This article has been read 13,608 times

Orpierre has grown to be a climbing village, so everything is geared up to support visiting climbers, from the well bolted routes all with very high quality equipment, to the Quartz Pizza bar that you virtually have to walk through to get to the crag. The downside can be that the most accessible routes have become a little polished. The village has a policy that around 30 new pitches will be developed and equipped each year, so you will always have something new if you can get up them.

The Quiquillon with the Gite Font Ronde in the foreground, 183 kb
The Quiquillon with the Gite Font Ronde in the foreground
© Ian Fenton

Orpierre is in the Haute Alpes, but is as close to the Provencial crags as the alpine mountains and crags. It is about 100 miles due north of Marseilles just beyond Sisteron. The different areas face in subtly different directions, but predominantly east to south east, with a couple facing north. The crags can be too hot on August mornings, but a lie in and a swim in the village pool can set up a good afternoon and evening, and with such short approaches this is no problem.

Ashleigh Naysmith, Chateau 3rd Bay, Destruction 7b+, 127 kb
Ashleigh Naysmith, Chateau 3rd Bay, Destruction 7b+
© Ian Fenton

The gear you need is usual sport gear of around 16 quickdraws and a 70 metre rope for most of the current routes. The Rockfax guide and the local Orpierre guide highlight longer routes (but put that knot in the end of your rope anyway). If you plan to do the multi pitch routes, a single 70m will also manage most, including any abseils, again check the guide.

Orpierre can be a great climbing hub. If for your trip you have decided to have a central climbing venue, but enjoy travelling to other climbing areas then Orpierre is a must. You may decide you would not wish to travel more than 1 ½ hours to another venue, then the following fall within this radius from Orpierre : Ceuse, Verdon, Volx, Buoux, Dentelle de Montmirail, Buis, St Leger ... in the 1990s this would read as the best crags in France, Europe and therefore the world. It is not too shabby in 2015, particularly when you include all the regional crags that have also been developed. A number of the Durance crags are less than 2 hrs away, if you fancy some mountain routes.

The areas at Orpierre from closest to the village outwards:

Le Puy: The crag which is closest to the village faces virtually north. It is in shade in summer, and stays dry in rain. In its lower half to the first lowering point there are a number of routes from 5c to 6b+, the climbing is different to other areas in that it is a little brittle, some sharp holds, and some 'well cleaned'. The second half of the routes take the routes to their full height of just under 40m and are excellent up to 7c+.

Le Puy in early morning sun, 223 kb
Le Puy in early morning sun
© Ian Fenton

Chateau: This was one of the first areas to be developed, it has a good path leading up from the village in 10 to 20 mins. There are classic routes from 4 to 8c+. The best routes are in the range 5a to 7c, with a small number of routes harder than this. The crag faces East so is in the sun until early afternoon. The routes tend to be vertical to overhanging with strong moves between positive holds. The bolting is great and if you are 'going for it' missing odd bolts on the upper part of the routes is no problem.

A young Natalie Berry at Chateau 3rd Bay. Consomez 6c, 210 kb
A young Natalie Berry at Chateau 3rd Bay. Consomez 6c
© Ian Fenton

It is best thought of as four bays, the left one including Les Racines du Ciel (6a) is mainly good 4s and 5s, the next bay including Essaie Encore (7a+) has a great set of routes 6c to 7b. The rib before the next bay has 3 routes which epitomise Orpierre's mid grade routes, La Moulinette ..(6a) Poupoupidou... (6a) and C Sake Bon (6b); these lead to the third bay which contains Ca Va Couiner, one of the best 7cs around, also Les Ailes du Desir, previously 7a, now 6c+ but who cares, it's brilliant, Mission Impossible (8c) provides early shade for us mere mortals! Again the rib before the next bay provides a great set of routes before the next bay. The routes here provide the best of the higher grade routes, such as Game Over (8a) Meme pas Mal (7c) and at the right side Je T'Aime Moi... (7a) with great routes across the bay.

Cascade Les Dalles: This has always been a popular area for families and groups, facing almost north it is in the shade early, has the 'Cascade' and a stream running through it, the routes are predominantly slabby, up to 25m long, grade 4 to 6a, and polished. It is still a good sociable area, but does get busy. The left end of this area Cascade Le Mur contains a small number of steeper and harder routes, up to 7a. C'est ou qu'c'est dur? 6c, can give you a boost if you approach it confidently.

Casacade with Belleric on right, snow in november, 243 kb
Casacade with Belleric on right, snow in november
© Ian Fenton

The Belleric: Faces the Cascade, is obvious from the village, and gets all the sun going, so is great at cool times of year. The routes vary from steep fingery slabs at its left end, by the Cascade (Cote Cascade), with routes from 5c to 6c+, these will test your fingers and route reading, Zone Erogene (6b) has the crux where it should be, to get to the chain. The rest of the Belleric provides great routes, the right side brilliant routes such as the three pitch Tropique du Capricorne (5) with great pitches. A number of the other routes on the Belleric have second and third pitches, all are worth doing, the situation at the top of the crag is fantastic.

Belleric in full sun, 214 kb
Belleric in full sun
© Ian Fenton

Quiquillon: a couple of guide books ago there was a cartoon showing a lion stood on top of this to get all non French to pronounce it correctly, so Kiki Lion it must be. The climbing on the West Face has always been multi pitch, but last year the area of slabs just left of the lowest point of the West Face was developed as about a dozen single pitch 5c to 6as, this is great for the shade in summer. The multi pitch routes are all quality, from the left recently bolted and hardest 'Mine de Rein' 7a, 7b+, 7c+, 7c to the obvious diedre on the right which is 'Voyage' 5c, 5c, 5b, 6a which loosely follows the diedre and ends by climbing the hanging flame coloured groove at the top. Round the corner is the South East face, the obvious long face when you approach the village.

Fantastic November sun on the Quiquillon West, 124 kb
Fantastic November sun on the Quiquillon West
© Ian Fenton

Quiquillon SE Face: This has an incredible set of routes, starting with the most left multi-pitch route of Le Diedre Sud, seven pitches, across the single pitch routes of the Blue Wall, and two pitch routes of the Orange Wall, which tend to be underrated and climb a wonderful open wall, up to 150m high. Then the mixture of the older multi-pitch routes such as La Jungle en Folie, eight pitches all fantastic and Brazil, seven great open pitches. This wall ends in the area of Mur Chamois, which a friend from Llanberis said had better routes than those on Right Wall!

Full right crags from Quiquillon on left, past Blue Wall and Yellow Wall, 195 kb
Full right crags from Quiquillon on left, past Blue Wall and Yellow Wall
© Ian Fenton

Quatre-Heures Ouest and Est: These crags are best approached from the top parking, so are only about 10 to 15 minutes in approach, they house a great selection of 4s, 5s and some 6s, virtually all slabby. They get plenty of sun, but there is shade at the base in the trees, and if as a family you want to introduce someone to leading there are incredibly well bolted 3s and 4s just for this. On the Ouest, Nougatine and 36-14 Purge (both 4c) provide good, interesting climbing. On the Est, L'Angoisse du Gardien de But provides great slab climbing at 4a.

Ascle: This is the pillar on the left of the tree lined gully two thirds along the rock walls from the Quiquillon on the left and the yellow overhanging wall of Paroi Jaune on the right. There are a number of multi pitch routes here and it feels great topping out on their summit, the pick is Le Maitre de la Danse, which weaves its way up never exceeding 5a, with good stances.

Right Crags: Ascle, Adrech, Les Blaches and Paroi jaune, 185 kb
Right Crags: Ascle, Adrech, Les Blaches and Paroi jaune
© Ian Fenton

Adrech: This obvious large triangle of rock has some of the best laid-back multi pitch routes around, from 5c to 6c, all being on slabs, all reasonably protected. These receive traffic, but are not polished so give a great day out. This wall faces straight into the sun from first thing in the morning until mid afternoon, so in summer climbing hot slabs in tight boots may not be the best. Descent is by following a short cable to the abseil point, and is 35 meters, any less than a 70 metre rope doubled may lead to a jump into the rose bush 4 or 5 meters from the ground, not a great end to the day. At the bottom right of the Adrech are a series of two pitch routes, which can be done in one with a split lower and provide great wall climbing, with shade at the base. Just around the corner is a great little area 'Mur Cachee' which lives up to its name with a couple of great 30 to 35 meter routes hidden on its left edge, then moving into a shady overhanging 'church roof' set of tufas with some great routes 6c to 7c, which go into the shade by lunch.

Les Blaches: All the areas to the right of the Adrech come under this description, though there are in reality several differing areas at popular times of year, Easter and August (though it is very hot in August), these areas can get busy. There is a great selection of routes predominantly 4c to 6c, with all angles, from slabs which may have an odd polished hold, to the 3 dimensional Kundalini (now get out of that, a jam may help). The areas to the right of this have a great selection of 6as and 6bs, leading to higher grade routes, the best being 7a up to 8a+ on the most right area of Paroi Jaune. This seems to present some brilliant photos on the 30 odd meter yellow and orange wall with the mountains in the back ground.

A day off in Buis market, 207 kb
A day off in Buis market
© Ian Fenton

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Logistics

When do I go?

It is possible to climb in Orpierre all year round, although as mentioned above in August it would be best to avoid morning or early afternoon sessions and climb later on in the day. Easter and August are busy periods.

Who flies where?

Flying to one of the southern France airports also works well, and trawling through the various destinations to see the best price may depend whether there is skiing going on. So check airports from Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Nimes and Nice, none more than 2 1/2 hours drive.

Driving means no packing stress, and can be done in one day from Lancashire, though this tends to depend on UK traffic, no delays on the Chunnel, and a good run down in France. Slightly more relaxing is to plan a stop maybe between Reims and Troyes, giving a steady second day arriving in daylight at most times of year, this is how we do it now, having had years of tearing down, then having a poor first day's climbing, taking two days often allows a couple of routes to be grabbed in the evening to loosen up, then a good first day. Travelling back to the UK seems to work ok in one day, though to be home comfortably before midnight UK time a departure about 6am is required.

Where do I stay?

The village is geared up for visitors, so there is a good campsite, Prince de Orange, with the climbers section at the bottom, 2* and the upper section which has a bit more shade over the emplacements a 4*, they also have cabins and static caravans, so just on this site most tastes can be accommodated. All the climbing can be walked to from this site; during summer there is a swimming pool and children's play area.

If you want a quieter campsite about three miles further up the valley is Les Catoyes, this is more laid back, has some caravans and a gite, jazz evenings during the summer, a bar and even a bouldering wall in the barn. Even if you have to drive to the climbing some folk prefer this.

There is lots of other accommodation in the village, the best place to have a look through this is on the Orpierre web site www.orpierre.fr go into 'office-tourisme' then look through all the entries under 'Hebergement et restauration'. The gites in the medieval village have a great atmosphere, and vary from group gites best found by contacting Pierre-Yves Bochaton (who speaks good English) to a number of smaller ones, such as Gite de la Fontaine in the square with the medieval fountain, run by Claude Durban, who speaks great English, or La Pastarelle owned by Brigette Dextreit, who also speaks good English.

What's the scoff like?

There are two bars through most of the year, though it is worth remembering that they both close from about November through to March or April. The first you see on the way into the village is the longest established bar, and serves beers under the large plane tree and does food, the most often visited seems to be the Quartz bar, which you have to walk through when returning from the crag, and once sat down inertia seems to encourage a beer and one of their great pizzas. In August you may have to book a table to get a pizza.

Where can I buy gear and food?

There is a good climbing shop in the village which has ropes, quickdraws, boots, clothing etc this is owned by the local Guide, who also has a good gite (Vertige), and will guide on climbs and Via Ferrata.

There is now a good small supermarket in the village (a Proxi) which also houses the boulangerie so fresh bread and croissants are guaranteed. This is open all year apart from Christmas Day. If folk are looking for a cheaper, more compete shop then a drive out to Laragne is best which is about 10 miles away, there are three decent supermarkets, several bars and a couple of restaurants, or if the priority is for bars, food and one supermarket then a trip to Serres where the roundabout bar always has something going on would be ideal, and there are a number of hotel/restaurants who do good food.

What else is there apart from the climbing?

Other attractions: we have had friends stay in the village to climb and travel out to watch the Monte Carlo Rally in January and have a good time, and folk combining climbing and watching the Tour de France. There is rafting on the Durance which is fun, and in winter skiing and ice climbing within an hour.

Ian and Bev Fenton, 163 kb
Ian and Bev Fenton
© Ian Fenton
About the author: Ian holds the MIC and IML and has been climbing around Europe for over 30 years, first visiting Orpierre 25 years ago and having a base there for the last 15 - trying to spend between 3 and 5 months per year climbing around the region and travelling to areas as far apart as Finale and Riglos. He has also coached and instructed for school climbing trips, multi activity weeks, the British Junior Climbing Team (which included a trip to Ceuse), and coaching individual clients. At home he is as keen as ever, climbing around the UK, instructing and coaching indoors and out. He has written a number of articles and the successful 'Climbing Wall Leading' book covering introducing and developing leading indoors. He hopes to have a small apartment available from the end of this year.

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Photo Gallery

Next Time

Next Time
© Mike Meysner

On Fire

On Fire
© Mike Meysner

Quiquillon

Quiquillon
© Mike Meysner

Orpierre

Orpierre
© Mike Meysner

Sam onsighting Maman je vais mourir

Sam onsighting Maman je vais mourir
© Dirk Smith

Orpierre

Orpierre
© Dirk Smith

Les ailes du desir 6c+, Orpierre

Les ailes du desir 6c+, Orpierre
© north country boy

Peter Maul leads Spécial Mammouth, 6b, at Orpierre, France.

Peter Maul leads Spécial Mammouth, 6b, at Orpierre, France.
© Ulrik Hasemann

Ed cranking out Reste Avec Moi

Ed cranking out Reste Avec Moi
© Dirk Smith

Tim on Sur le Fil again

Tim on Sur le Fil again
© disco_davis

Approaching the chain at Orpierre.

Approaching the chain at Orpierre.
© Dirk Smith

Zone Erogene 6b, Orpierre

Zone Erogene 6b, Orpierre
© north country boy

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