Fontainebleau was fun and relaxing despite the absence of a bouldering mat. But to be perfectly honest, you can go bouldering anytime at home and it’s not why I go to France. A seven hour car drive later and we arrived at Orpierre, not far from Sisteron. Having booked a static caravan at the campsite, we were expecting a grotty, cramped box. However, our residence for the next nine days was the complete opposite; a sumptuous and spacious mini-mansion complete with marble effect tiling in the bathroom, the only thing missing was a butler on call.
The Mansion at the Campsite
I nearly despaired after the first day having struggled up a 7b+ and having to fight to get to the chain on a 7c. But as the week went on, I could feel my head and body getting back into gear for sustained sport routes. Discarding the staccato rhythms of trad climbing and settling into the slick, almost flowing motions required of steep continental limestone.
Sneaking a rest on a 7c (P.Black)
For Emma as well, Orpierre proved to be the best climbing trip she has been on as all the 4s and 5s were proper lines, well bolted and all of good quality. On previous trips to Europe it’s been a struggle to find such routes at crags. Routes at this level seem to be these scrappy little things tucked away to one side (well, the crags we go to anyway…).
A European sport trip is never complete without bumping into someone you know from the UK. Stepping into those shoes were Phil Black and Alison Martindale, of Raindogs fame, who had last seen me about five years ago running about Alien Rock dressed as Luke Skywalker, but that’s another story…Not forgetting some lads from the Lakes who knew the Sheffield Mafia back in the ‘80s and imparted some, err, “unsavoury” tales of a certain gritstone hero from that era (ask me at the wall or the pub; I know my mum reads this blog…).
The 7cs got easier as the week went on; plenty of wine, beer, pain au chocolates and croissants were consumed. We got up late, had lunch then went climbing only 15 minutes from the campsite. The sunsets lit the crag orange, I cruised a 7c+: it was a perfect holiday.
End of a Fantastic Day
And then I nearly cocked it all up.
I locked the only keys inside the hire car one night.
Frantic calls were made to the hire company the following morning and by lunch time a mechanic from somewhere appeared in a battered Peugeot. With a box of coathangers. An hour later almost no progress had been made other getting the driver door open a one inch gap (via some rubber airsacks and a hand pump) due to the design of this new model of a Fiat Punto. Everyone else on the campsite pitched in with ideas until finally the passenger door was opened with a set of tent-poles.
My relief was palpable as I had had visions of the car being towed away. With all our climbing kit still in the boot. Oh, I onsighted Game Over 8a, that evening too, but of course no-one at the camp-site will remember that little detail- I’ll always be the Scottish numpty who locked his keys in the car.
Game Over 8a (P.Black)
A silly schoolboy error saw me slip off an easy move at the second bolt on Bookaro Banzai 8a the next day. But instead of dogging on to the top, I lowered down, untied, retied and lead straight back up, past my highpoint (lowpoint, really) and the next 20 metres to the chain. Banzai has two distinct, powerful cruxes and cruxy routes aren’t my forte, however having already fallen off had relaxed me and removed the pressure. Consequentially, I seemed more willing to throw and slap for poor holds and only had a mild suggestion of a pump at the top. I felt like I could have climbed another 20 metres! Maybe a good tactic for my next sport climbing trip would be to deliberately fall off at the second bolt to ensure that perfect state of mind on hard onsights…
The last few days of the trip ended at Cassis: sun, sand and sea and plenty more wine before heading back to the muted grey skies of autumnal Scotland.
A great holiday, fantastic climbing and some stories to tell but I will not be remembering this trip for all these things. After nearly five years together, Emma and I are now engaged to be married. The girl who tamed me of my reckless climbing approach, who introduced me to whisky (an Englishwoman no less!) and the one that I dressed up as a ned couple is the one that I want to spend the rest of my life with. Many thanks to Caz and Diff for plying us with excessive amounts of alcohol that fateful night many years ago!
The Missus and I with a "pile of stones" in the background