A slow travel journal
6.5 minute read
Over the years, I have discovered that instead of sitting idly in a plane, a car, or the train with the sole purpose of my travel being to arrive at the climbing destination, I can instead find fun along the entire way of my climbing trips! What James and I really love, no matter where we are in the world is discovering something unexpected along the way – new rock, history, architecture, culture, and food. When you give yourself the time to explore, you don't know what you find along the way until you are there. In this manner, we can find similar experiences of discovering fun and new adventure, regardless if we are 100km from our home or on the other side of the world.
Of course, adapting this to a climbing trip means you will not only be climbing! Some climbers are focused solely on the rock, while others need a bit of time off to keep motivated. The latter is where we sit. If this style of climbing and motivation rings a bell, then the secret that we have found is approaching the crags by bike. It's simple! After our first experience of going to Ordesa, Spain, in 2018, we have learned to call this Slow Travel.
For our second slow travel/green trip, we had initially intended to follow the Danube River and explore Germany's crags. But then confinement happened, and France set the traveling limit to 100km around your home on de-confinement. Thus, we adapted our concept to a bike and climbing trip in our backyard. Which conveniently, or rather by choice, is close to the Alpilles, a range that is the homeland to infamous crags like Orgon, Mouries, and Buoux.
We used some climbing and biking apps to connect the dots of crags with mountain bike trails set in 40km stages to plan our route. Experience told us this would be a manageable distance with the electric bikes, a baby trailer, and a gear trailer, especially since we wanted to keep roads to a minimum. They can be terrifying with a baby in tow.
Biking AND climbing is tricky in terms of packing; one of our trailers was only for baby, who found himself in charge of the rope packed under his feet. The other trailer was left for all the climbing gear, nappies, baby milk, baby toys, and a nap tent. And finally, for an entire month on the road- a few T-shirts and underwear for James and me! All together experience told us this trailer couldn’t weight more than 25kg.
Rather than an exhaustive journal of every stage, here are the highlights of where we visited with a few tips that we discovered along the way.
Stage 1- home to Estézargues
30km, but on a rather moderately difficult (T3) bike path. We ended up lifting/dragging/wrestling our trailers and bikes a lot. But, if Pete Whittaker can do the Nose, alone in a day, I can push my bike and trailer, for the warm-up even if it will definitely leave me with some seriously sore muscles!
Esézargues is not an unforgettable crag– Tiny and chipped, but after confinement, and as a convenient place to begin, it went well. On a trip like this, you learn quickly to approach the crags with an open mind. You also learn to stop and discover the places close to home that you might have otherwise passed up by car en route to the more prominent spots.
Stage 2- (Estézargues to) Fontvieille
Fontvieille is in the "topo des Alpilles", and it is worth it until the 7th grade. The shapes, colors, and holds are very original, even if the harder routes aren't as interesting. We left the trailers at our Bed and Breakfast and biked to the base of the path. We could have hidden and locked the bikes, but we decided to bring them up to the crag for security, which proved to be another session of workout before the climbing!
Stage 3- Mont Gaussier
Steep, short, chipped again, but great routes! Being a parent and a climber usually means that you will be happy no matter what you climb on, as getting to put our hands on the rock is already a treat!
Here we chose a secret spot next to the lake. Although not on the topo, it was really convenient with the baby. Going local definitely has its advantages as we knew most of the secret spots, or can ask and figure out what would be ok for a one-year-old!
Stage 4- Orgon
We drove along the Alpilles, and even if my love remains with climbing, I can see how biking is also an incredible way to be out! The Alpilles that we always overlooked from a car are a beautiful chain of little mountains!
Orgon is such a big crag that it has a full topo for itself. We could have stayed there for two months before knowing it all. We settled for the little spot of "la Bergerie" which we didn't yet know. Chipped routes, as always in Orgon, but interesting in the 8th grade! James did an 8c+, and I an 8b. La Bergerie is a perfect place for a baby as he could play all day at the foot of the crag.
Stage 5- Fetid Beach
Fetid beach is an unknown spot, even from the locals. Even on the Grimper online, there is only a location, but the grades are often marked on the route names. The place is incredibly beautiful, but the routes are in a very demanding style with mono and two-finger pockets. Maybe the Frankenjura isn't that different, but we found it really painful.
Written by Caroline Ciavaldini
Photo by Raphael Fourau
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!