Summer (if that’s what you’d call it). Come the end of August, Heath and I got so fed up of the lousy weather we headed to France in search of some sun, vitamin D and dry rock. After hearing that the Gorge du Tarn had undergone a major re-equipping project and a new guide-book that had just been released, we thought this would be an ideal venue. Situated in the South of France the Tarn host metres and metres of immaculate rock and a beautiful river that cuts its way down through the gorge; we arrived late Saturday evening only to see the dark towering shadows of the gorge. After a good nights sleep we checked into the campsite, picked up a guide and headed out to see what those giant shadows had to offer.
The first few days were spent gaining a bit of mileage and seeking out shade. This took us to a couple of shorter north/east facing crags of the gorge; even in the shade, you would come down from a route dripping with sweat. The 2nd was a good onsight day, I managed a F7a+,7b,7b+,7c+. T’a Pas Un Nom was the F7a+ and was a great route, good gymnastic moves on pockets. We had a slightly easier day on Tuesday, well in terms of number of routes anyway. After warming up on this really short 7a+ (Microcome consanguin) I managed to tick this sweet little F8a Maree Basse 2nd go.
I woke the next day with the psyche. We got up early and headed to Tennessee, as it faces south we didn’t have long before the sun came around. I grabbed the guidebook, scanned the page, 50m F6c, perfect warm up. Before Heath had chance to put her harness on, I was all ready racked up and clipping the first bolt. The first part of the route was a F6a slab; I reached the ledge of which that route finished and eyed up the next section. It looked pretty thin, well I guess this will be the F6c bit I thought to myself. I started up the thin wall clipping two bolts as i went, before i knew it it had started to get a bit steeper and the holds got worse. I down climbed back to the ledge to have a bit of a talking to myself, after that I tried again but went for it this time. This time i got quite far above the bolt, popped for what I thought was a hold, “obviously mistaken” and I was off; falling through a large bush and hitting the ledge. Kinda unexpected for both Heath and I. Fortunately I was fine. I dusted myself down in a some what confused state and shouted down to Heath if she could check the guide-book; apparently I was on the right route. I felt pretty warmed up and I definitely was going back up there, so i cut my losses and lowered of the F6a L/O. When I got down I checked the guide again. In my rush to get started I only saw 50m F6c, when it actually said 50m F6c / Ao, which means “with points of aid”. Note to self, “to avoid hitting ledges, read guide-book properly”. After Heath had done the F6a I was ready to get on, what I had come here to do. A route called “Les ailes du désir”. A 50m F8a, it was the front cover shot of the new guide and looked amazing.
As you can imagine, due to my first route not going to plan, I started this route a little apprehensive. The line goes up the wall just right of the corner to the hole, from there it breaks right through the dark orange rock and up to around the middle of the crack and the first lower off. Up to here it gets F7b+. By this point i was feeling good, slightly pumped but had relaxed after the initial shaky start. From there you head right and boot it straight up the head wall to the top. After some sustained climbing and a tricky undercut move I arrived at a rest just below the top slab. At this point I was quite pumped. I spent a while here trying to get something back, from here I could see the chalk disappearing up the leftwards slab but I couldn’t see any bolts. I got my shit together and went for it. It wasn’t until I had pulled 5 or 6 moves from the rest that I realised I was going all the way with no more gear. A couple of deep breaths and I pushed on to the top. What a route! And the 25-30ft run out at the top made it!
The Gorge Isn’t just known for it’s climbing, It’s very popular for its kayaking as well. On a rest day Heath and I decided to hire a kayak for the day. We were told the upper part of the river is quite slow but really beautiful and the lower part of the river was fast and had lots of rapids. Obviously I was all game for the fast section and Heath wanted the slower, prettier paddle. We compromised on a 20k day trip that did half the slow section and half the fast section. As you can imagine two people, two dogs and a barrel with all our stuff in was quite a squeeze and probably hilarious to watch. That a side we set off and were on our way. The top section was very slow and very pretty, we stopped off on a little beach for a sandwich and a mooch around. After a couple of hours we reached the end of the slow bit. We had to get out here as there was a section of water you couldn’t pass by boat ahead. Once we were back in the boat things started to speed up quite rapidly. With a slightly hesitant Heath we negotiated the first shoot/ rapids without capsizing. The couple behind us weren’t so successful. Once we had gone through a couple of sets of rapids we started getting the hang of it and Heath started to relax. Until an hour or so later when it had been going so well, we became stuck. A big set of rapids caught us out, they had a tight left hander straight into a sharp right hand. We made the left but I couldn’t get it round in time to make the right. Instead we went head on with a large boulder and then sure enough capsized. Baxter disappeared underwater while I had Archie trying to climb on top of me. It was a funny state of affairs. This was obviously the trickiest part of the river as there was a photographer capturing the whole seen. I bet she wet her self with laughter. We made it to a bank where we emptied the water out of the boat and waited for Baxter to swim back across. That was the last set of big rapids, the last half hour was quite pleasant, which was lucky as I think Heather had had enough by that point. Once we were out we got picked up and headed in to the village where we could buy one of the photo’s that the photographer took of us.
All in all The Tarn was a great venue, not just for it’s climbing it was an awesome place just to hang out. Whilst we were out there I got an email inviting me back on the British Bouldering Team for 2012/2013. After a 5/6 year break I felt it was time to get back on it. So I accepted, bring on the start of a new adventure i say.
Thanks to Rick and all the guys at Beyond Hope for the continuing support over the last 2 years. Beyond Hope are the distributors for Prana, Metolius & Evovl.