Ken Roberts - - Climbing

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I did mostly easy climbs + traverses, except the one day on Socle + Grande Candelle. I loved the limestone. Polishing was not an issue for me -- except on a couple of very popular hiking/scramble sections. And I loved the seaside scenery.

November?  We had no problem, by wearing warm clothing + wind-breakers in the sunshine, warmer clothing and balaclava in the shade -- see photos.

Mistral, strong wind from NW + N blowing from the Rhone river valley. This was the first visit for me where I had to deal with this on several days. We studied the guidebooks carefully and found appropriately sheltered climbs, so it was not a substantial drawback. (If it had blowing every day, that would have been disappointing).

Uncrowded . . . sometimes all alone (esp on the traverses), sometimes saw or talked with other climbers.

Rental car made it easy to select climbs with favorable wind + sun exposure most appropriate for each day.


Escalade les Calanques, by André Bernard, Gilles Bernard, Pierre Clarac, Hervé Guigliarelli, Bernard Privat ( : FFME, Nota Bene 2004, ISBN 2-9516987-4-7)

The "big blue" book -- over 2500 routes. Not quite every route ever done, but comes close.If can't find this book on the web, it's usually available in local shops (we saw it in the Decathlon of Sormiou). Includes not just single climbs, but whole crags not in the "pink" book.

Calanques Escalade 6c max, by Jean-Louis Fenouil + Cédric Tassan (, 2009, ISBN 978-2-916972-17-6)

The "pink" book. I was very interested in the seaside traverses, and found more helpful detail here than in the "big blue" book. Also has detailed ideas for non-technical hikes + scrambles. If can't find this book on the web, it's usually available in local shops (we saw it in the Decathlon of Sormiou).

maps: The IGN 1:15000 Calanques map is very helpful for planning and navigation. Presumably it will be updated after the transition to National Park status.

access to climbing was open for us in November, but I've heard some areas are closed at some other times of year. Also driving on some access roads is forbidden to non-residents at some times of year. The change to National Park status might be expected to change some of this.

difficulty of climbing:

Next time wish I could be solid leading 6a, because lots more options (esp. for multi-pitch and for traverses) available than for 5c.

  • ? 6a is often said to be equivalent to American YDS 5.10a (I guess sorta like Gunks solid 5.9)

  • ? 5c is often said to be like American 5.9 (seemed to me sorta like Gunks 5.8)

  • ? 5a like American 5.7 (Gunks 5.6-5.5)

  • ? 4b-4c like American 5.5-5.6 (Gunks 5.3-5.5)

  • ? 3c like Gunks 5.2

  • ? 3a is often said to be like American class 4

Gunks climbing as preparation worked well. In the previous two months I had focused on the wonderful Gunks face climbs instead of the more famous Gunks overhangs. Was very glad when the crux pitch starting for Croix de Provence was interesting trad face climbing on conglomerate. Though surprised when some of the 5c + 6a pitches at a little-known northern area had several fun overhangs on limestone. No shortages of "bucket" holds in France, just not all of them were horizontal.

Once I decided to back off and hang on the rope before retrying on 5c because I had made the mistake of first trying it as a layback (typical Gunks habit) -- on second look I saw it would go much easier as a hand-jam. Overall didn't find any sustained crack-technique sections on the climbs I tried.

base: Perhaps the closest driving (or bus access) to the most Calanques climbing would be from the Sormiou section of the city of Marseille. Also closer to serious climbing shops in Marseille (but note that the indoor wall on that side of Marseille is pretty basic: bouldering only, no ropes, old equipment, but maintained with loving care).
But we chose instead the Gemenos / Aubagne / Carnoux area, because it gave easy quicker access to lots of other climbing and hiking outside the Calanques -- esp. the hundred of S-facing routes on Montagne Ste Victoire (also suipposed to be some little-known trad routes in Massif de Ste Baume), and quick access to the eastern Calanques (esp. Gardiole sector) and Cap Canaille. On the other hand to reach climbs at Goudes, Marseilleveyre, Sormiou, Morgiou, Luminy, we had to drive over Col de la Ginestre lots of times - (the autoroute looks like it ought to be shorter, but it always seemed to be rush hour when we wanted to use it).

National Park: I have heard that the much of the Calanques will become part of a new national park in 2011. This might affect the access to some climbing areas, and some areas will be closed to future climbing. Also routes of some climbs might be modified (e.g. see Cheminee Bouisson below). But I have heard that most of the famous + popular routes will still be open for climbing in some way. (Perhaps some of the parking and road access will be improved).

Sormiou Extreme Bec traverse

photos on Picasa

Great short day of seaside hiking and climbing. We first went SE on the NE-facing side of the cape, then returned doing NW on the SW-facing side to Col de Lui d'Aï. Spectacular + varied + interesting, many places to just sit peacefully and enjoy the view.


  • After reach the Extreme Bec, instead of continuing to traverse around the SW side, could climb up the ridge (Arete d'Extreme Bec) -- guidebooks say like four pitches, difficulty not more than 4c.

  • Out + back scramble/hike across Col de Lui d'Aï and down on the SW side to traverse to the Extreme Bec then return the same way is much less difficult climbing -- also spectacular + varied + interesting + more sunny: see more.

Well-protected w non-rusty bolts (I did not find any use for stoppers or friends). Navigation straightforward. Mostly on good rock: not much loose + vegetated.

Much time in the shade in November : most of climbing faces NNE -- so bring warm clothing and wind protection if it's not a warm day.

Calm sea definitely required (On our day, wind was predicted less than 20 km/hr) to cross the entrance to cave Grotte Capelan and for the southern-most walking on SE-facing ledge to the Bec (because would have been too slippery with spray from sea).

Climbing difficulty: 4c + 4b (two short roughly straight sections, not traversing -- footholds are not large, I was glad I brought my rock shoes for leading them) + more 3 and 2 (some protected by bolts), then a final traverse across the Extreme Bec: difficulty 3 (or perhaps 4a for people with shorter legs)

5 quickdraws for the two up-climbs -- but for the final traverse across the Extreme Bec, if want your 2nd to feel comfortable: something like 10 quickdraws (perhaps make that 12 if want to also protect yourself on initial upward climb to reach the traverse).

For the final exposed traverse around the Extreme Bec:
Consider placing extra quickdraws for your 2nd to grab for aid. Also note (a) You and your 2nd cannot hear each other between the ends of this traverse section; (b) the climbing of this traverse section is less than 30 meters. Therefore it could help to instruct your second to take you off belay after 30 meters of rope are out.

Access: The road from Marseille up over Col de Sormiou and down to Sormiou village (pay parking) has some very steep, very narrow, and very curvy sections. If you haven't have previous experience driving roads like that, better to find (or pay) someone how has. Also on many days, driving that road is forbidden for non-residents.

Squirrels traverse = Traversée des Écureuils

photos on Picasa

Spectacular. Wild. Sunny + sheltered from NW wind. Tricky navigation.

Sharon + I did it from west to east: Traverse from the Calanque de l'Oule to the Trou de Serpent (snake hole tunnel) which is above Breche de Castelvieil (above Calanque d'En Vau) and below the Belvedere d'En Vau. Optionally connects to other traverses.

Difficulty in guidebooks: short 4c traverse, long 4b pitch upward. (But to us the bolt-protected traverse seemed easier in the W-to-E direction). We can't say about the 4b pitch because we didn't find it.

Tricky navigation is the real crux: Allow extra time for checking alternatives -- and backtracking from mistakes. Much on steep loose slopes: key for all climbers to be comfortable on that. "Pink" guidebook description + diagram seemed more helpful than the "big blue" guidebook photos (for this travserse).

Extra slings could be useful for protecting on small trees. Stoppers + friends not helpful (unless cannot find the bolts for the final climb up to Trou de Serpent)

Navigation tips:

  • Finding the start on the west end is not trivial. What worked for us was to leave the Calanque de l'Oule trail before it starts going down narrow and steep to the sea, climb up a steep vegetated slope, cross the SW ridge higher than I might have hoped. Then the route on south side starts with tricky down-climb on interesting rock - (some climbers might want a belay from above) - to a bolt.

  • After we crossed the short 4c (grade given in the guidebooks) bolted section, and climbed up a long steep dirty slope, and traversed around top of cirque under big cliffs, and climbed a section of unprotected reddish rock [ photo ] to a pine tree . . . what worked for us next was to go down a steep loose gully (some climbers might want a belay from the pine tree above), and continued down farther than I would have guessed or hoped, then turned left (east) and up a short way to a platform. (one report perhaps suggests rappeling down this gulley)

The line on the photo in the "big blue" guidebook seemed to show a more horizontal traverse from the top of the reddish rock, but I couldn't see how to make that go. The drawing + description in the "pink select" guidebook seemed to fit better with my experience.

  • Near the east end, after reaching the platform by gnarly pine tree about 40 meters below the Trou de Serpent ledge, I did not find the bolts for the 4b climbing pitch(es). So instead I climbed the obvious gully and placed some traditional protection -- seemed harder than 4b -- also somewhat loose and perhaps not so safe for the second climber belaying below.

I went back a couple of years later and got the answer - (see this report on CampToCamp) - so I did miss the correct climbing line -- and the correct line was as described in the "pink" guidebook, around 4b on good rock -- with two pitons on the more difficult part, but not easy to see them from below.

  • (Unless at the east end you're continuing directly into another traverse and skipping the Trou de Serpent) It's useful to have seen both sides of the Trou de Serpent (snake hole) before doing this -- so you can feel confident that you've actually arrived at the east end of the traverse. Otherwise it's not obvious where to look for the "secret tunnel". Hint: its west entrance goes down into the floor of the wide ledge.

Perhaps could get an advance look at the Trou de Serpent in connection with a hike or traverse by Calanque d'En Vau, if take the Petites Escalades route from Breche de Castelvieil up to Belvedere d'En Vau.

  • After going thru the Trou de Serpent tunnel, I think the simplest way out is to climb up the (mostly unmarked) Petites Escalades trail to the Belvedere d'En Vau - (soon a move of difficulty 3 exposed: easier if stronger climber stays below, guides feet of less experienced).

Calanque d'En Vau finish? It is also possible for experienced climbers, though more difficult, to descend from Trou de Serpent to about 20-30 meters north of the Breche de Castelvieil (and then hike down to Calanque d'En Vau): About 5 meters diagonal down south from pine tree, can belay from rock horn. (Or perhaps could rappel from that horn if sacrifice a long sling or two, likely not more than 30 meters down, but I saw several protrusions for the rope to snag on when pulling it down). Descent includes significant difficulty 3 (protectable w stoppers + friends + slings around tree branches), then diagonal down North, finish down short crack: Move at bottom with well-polished footholds nowadays is like 3c/4a - (tricky + intimidating on descent, because cannot see the footholds from above). Experienced strong rock climbers could instead try a wider chimney down more directly (about 5 meters south from that crack), with less-polished footholds, but requires more finger strength, and the climbing is more sustained and more explosed to a fall from higher off the ground.

En Vau ledge + Castelvieil plateau traverse

photos on Picasa

Spectacular + interesting, and shorter in time and technically easier than the other traverses reported on this page. Interesting perspective on the most famous of the Calanque inlets, then great big views of the open sea + interesting cliffs in all directions. (The En Vau ledge is sometimes called the "Vire du Grand Rappel".

Georges did it first with me. Then after he left for home, there was a favorable day for wind direction, so I took Sharon on it.

Start at beach of Calanque d'En Vau, then traverse most of the southwest side (with a rappel), then scramble up onto the Castelvieil plateau. Get the biggest views by taking the longer way walking around the south and west edge of the plateau. Then work down NW ridge (with a rappel) to the Breche de Castelvieil (col between Castelvieil and Belvedere d'En Vau).

One exposed move of difficulty 3a protected by bolts.  Requires two 20 meter rappels (one with a sideways component, the other with a slightly tricky wide crack). Lots of steep scrambling -- need to be a good experienced scrambler to do this traverse: might be another 2+ / 3a move unprotected.

Downsides: (a) much of the scrambling is kinda vegetated and not on pretty rock - (so just keep looking outward for the amazing pretty); (b) the first rappel seems sort of meaningless, because you soon just scramble back up to what feels like the same ledge.

Navigation tips:

  • one bolt-protected exposed section of the En Vau ledge, leader make sure to find and clip the third bolt, since that protects the following climbers.

  • after the (first) rappel station (two bolts) on the En Vau ledge, there are some other bolts visible southeast along the ledge. Those are to reach a much harder technical rock climb, not some other rappel station. The rappel line down from this first station looks a bit unpromising, but it worked OK for us by throwing the rope partly sideways and slanting our descent significantly farther southeast.

  • once up on the plateau, though it's shorter to go more toward its northeast side, we got big views over the sea by taking the longer way along the south and west sides.

  • the second rappel station (from the ridge at north end of Castelvieil plateau) is at a rather large tree. The rappel bolt (single bolt, no backup, when we were there) is on the rock on the south side of the tree.

Makes a nice addition to other hiking around Calanque d'En Vau: especially the Blue panorama trail connecting to Calanque Port-Pin.

After reaching Breche de Castelvieil, could also try climbing the (unmarked) Petites Escalade trail up to the Trou de Serpent (snake hole tunnel) and Belvedere d'En Vau. But this has climbing much harder than anything on the En Vau ledge + Castelvieil plateau. It starts with a tricky move (nowadays with well-polished footholds, seems around 3c/4a), then more 3, up to a big pine tree by Trou de Serpent (serpent hole) narrow passage thru rock requires taking pack off, leads to ledge with a big view (and it is one end of the  Squirrels Traverse = Traversée des Écureuils). Then soon above pine tree an exposed 3b move where an inexperienced climber would find the handholds + footholds a bit tricky (with serious consequences from a mistake).

If time + resources available, I might try to set it up as a one-way traverse from Col de la Gardiole to d'En Vau then out to Port-Miou and Cassis: Set up shuttle with bicycle, or second car, or taxi from Cassis (best to make arrangement the evening before taxi ride) -- start by walking all the way down Red trail (ignore the sign early by Maison Forestiere which indicates a left turn leaving the red trail).

Could also do it out-and-back from Cassis + Port-Miou (perhaps out on GR trail, return by Blue panorama trail). Or if must do it out-and-back, it is easier from parking at Col de la Gardiole: Start on Red trail down to Calanque d'En Vau, then after doing this En Vau + Castelvieil traverse, could make the return to parking more interesting + scenic by taking the Blue panorama trail and finish on the alternate road by the Auberge Jeunesse (youth hostel) back to Col de la Gardiole. Or if parking by the Auberge Jeunesse (by la Fontasse) is permitted, that's even shorter, but I suspect it's still easier to start by accessing the Red trail.

Rocher St Michel: Grande Vire

?? [ add link to photos from hiking day w Georges ]

Sharon and I found it to be sustained interesting climbing around difficulty 3c+ and 3b in the Goudes sector (approach from Callelongue). Can be combined with interesting + spectacular hiking. Not a beginner climb, because significant portion of difficulty is on traverses.

Pretty views on approach and climb. Sunny + sheltered from NW wind.

Short enough pitches for good communication. (Except at one of the belays, perhaps between 3rd + 4th pitches, there are three sets of bolt anchors, one with good visibility for previous pitch and none for the next, another with good vis for the next pitch but not for the previous).

Substantial exposed horizontal traverses. Some seemed harder than 3c perhaps, unless you're very accustomed to airy traverses. After leading the first pitch in approach shoes, I was eager to switch to my rock climbing shoes (which fortunately I had brought in my pack, but I couldn't change into them until after the second pitch). Note that if anyone falls on most of the traverse sections, they will be hanging in free space -- no way to scramble back up to the route. Instead would need to climb up the rope: so must bring prusiks or ascenders and be practiced in using them.

Mostly well-protected, but not over-protected: The final pitch especially seemed "sporty": lots of non-easy climbing between bolts. (I guess you're supposed to be "warmed up" by then so you can handle it -- and that did work for me this time).

We were able to find a rappel back down with only a 60-meter rope, but that required some difficult unprotected down-climbing (say at difficulty 3) both above + below the rappel. (I belayed Sharon on those sections)

Afterward we did the longer hiking return to Callelongue: Along the sea by hiking first North on dotted-Green trail at base of cliffs downward, then Right on Yellow trail a short ways, then Left on Green trail down a long ways to Calanque Mounne and the sea. Then Right on the GR trail back to Callelongue. (Or if there's not much wind, could instead go down close by the sea for some entertaining waterside traverse scrambling/climbing -- but with this there is the danger that an unexpected big wave could sweep you into the sea, from which it would be very dangerous even for a strong swimmer to try to exit.)

Sormiou: Colline de Lun

Crag of single-pitch bolted routes.

Sunny + sheltered from NW wind - (We went on a strong Mistral day)

Some fun easy climbs: Sharon + I did 4a, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5a, 5b.

Short walk up from parking -- though we've heard warnings from several sources of theft from cars.

Socle de la Candelle: le Temple

Classic famous wall. "Le Temple" not the most famous climb there, but felt great to me, plenty interesting and challenging.

Sunny and fairly sheltered from NW wind (did it on a strong Mistral day).

Big blue guidebook says le Temple includes four pitches of difficulty 5c. Pink guidebook diagram says some of those might be 6a. Philippe Légier led all the pitches, not me.

Grande Candelle: Cheminee Bouisson

The most famous climbers' summit in the Calanques, a short walk from the top of Socle de la Candelle. Perhaps has the most photographed climb in the history of the Calanques, the Arete de Marseille (but it was too windy for that).

Cheminee Bouisson is less famous, but sunny and fairly sheltered from the NW wind that day. It seemed pretty interesting to me. Philippe Légier led all the pitches. Big blue guidebook says difficulty max 5c, but diagram in the pink book shows 6a pitch.

Second pitch had lots of interesting moves, one tricky to find.

Third pitch had an interesting chimney (which I climbed with my pack hanging down behing, clipped to back of my harness).

First pitch has been rerouted to start further west (climbers left), away from protected vegetation in the lower gully - (two bolts removed). New way is more difficult.

The climbing was not finished when we reached the top of the wall: Still need to traverse the summit ridge to reach the rappel stations, requires going down into a notch, then climbing up about 5 meters: holds are much better than I guessed from looking. Thoughtful and memorable doing it in a high wind.

Montagne Sainte Victoire


Georges and I made a well-known link-up of three climbs to the Croix de Provence summit -- overall a very worthwhile adventure. Total of 16 pitches, mostly traditional, some bolts and pitons.

I led the significant climbing sections. My normal stoppers didn't work well in the irregular cracks. 4-cam active units worked much better: Next time I might bring more small-medium cams: or at least be quicker to just use them instead of wasting time fiddling with stoppers -- often ineffectively, ended up placing a cam anyway. (? Or perhaps some more exotic stopper design works better on this rock?)


Escalade en Pays d'Aix: Sainte Victoire, etc. by Daniel Gorgeon + Philippe Legier (Editions Nota Bene, ISBN 2-9516987-1-2).

Mainly covers the vast number of limestone climbs around the south side of Montagne Sainte Victoire. Also includes la Consolation, Meyrargues, Pont Mirabeau, Chateau Virant. Details of description + photo were very helpful for finding start of Les Moussaillons climb.

map: I used the IGN 1:25000 for Sainte-Victoire.

1 - les Moussaillons

Includes some interesting climbing, also some vegetated sections. Difficulty max 4c. Guidebook p46-47 under "Grotte de l'Os et Perroquet Vert.

My favorite was the first pitch (4c) on "puddingstone" conglomerate with large limestone particles. Other climbers reported at as "puzzling", but I had prepared for it with lots of steep thin face climbing, so it just seemed interesting, wish there was more of it.

Note: If you suspect that your second will find it a bit too challenging, then try to make an anchor to belay near (? just below ?) the top of the "ramp". (I tried to continue higher to find an easier anchor, but didn't find anything good until I'd used up most of the rope, and was way out of communication with my second -- not a smart way to start our first multi-pitch climb together. (and we did discover some differences in communication style that would have been better resolved at closer range).

approach: parking Plan Anchois on D17, lat/long roughly (N43.523 E5.568). We started on Yellow trail toward Refuge Cezanne, then turned right on unmaked forest road, joined Brown trail, climb E, followed detailed instructions and photos in guidebook to find bottom of climb.

2 - Arete du Jardin on  Croix de Provence

Difficulty max 3c in guidebook p48-49 under La Croix de Provence.

First pitch seemed harder than 3c (since I was leading this climb in my approach shoes). After that no problem in approach shoes.

3 - SW ridge of Croix de Provence

Includes some memorable and good climbing. max 4b in guidebook p48-49 under La Croix de Provence.

Seeing the big Cross above was inspiring. Pitch 2 is especially memorable (and well-protected). Next time I'd accept more rope drag on pitch 1, go "around the corner" and up to a nice belay anchor at bottom of steeper part of ridge. Another good anchor at the next "corner". Then pretty much straight up to the top, with a possible tree anchor along the way (which I did use to  keep communication close).

Descent: we took obvious GR trail down W, staying on the N side of mountain, then Blue trail on the W ridge, then at big cairn, turned Left onto Red trail down S side, at first down E, then turn S. One short steep section (? Pas de Berger ?) difficulty say 2+ (wouldn't want to try it when wet), then past Refuge Cezanne, then we took obvious forest road (with various curves). Near the parking, we left the forest road to E side on trail to take us more directly to our car.

a different afternoon: les Clefs du Royaume

Tried some short single-pitch 4a to 5c+ in the Bellissima sector, guidebook p98-99. Some of the starts seemed steeper + harder than I expected, but overall interesting on good rock.

other place for weekend


Weather didn't look good around Marseille, so Yan-Eric suggested an area up north little-known to English-speakers.

First day climbed a 9-pitch trad route ("terrain d'aventure"), difficulty max 5b-5c. Yan-Eric led it all: pretty bad rock in the upper three pitches. (I guess this is not unusual with "terrain d'aventure": the strategy of the older routes was to follow lines of weakness which could be protected without drilling).

Second day we started with a multi-pitch bolted route around 5c-5b, Yan-Eric leading. (Sometimes it's tricky to figure out which bolts are for your route). Wind got to be too strong after 2nd pitch, so I voted strongly to walk off at a big ledge.

In the afternoon we climbed at an easily-accessible "ecole d'escalade" (learners wall with closely spaced bolts), lots of "couennes" (single-pitch climbs) -- very fun climbing, some sheltered from the wind. We chose mostly 5c + 6a. Many of these would have parties waiting at the bottom all the time if they were in the Gunks. Some had entertaining overhang moves.

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