Friday, May 14, 2010

Whipper Therapy

This is dispatch #1 from France, where I will be on a climbing vacation with Evan until June. We flew into Paris one week ago and picked up our rental car, a cute and peppy little Opel hatchback, and cruised 7 hours south to the Gorges du Tarn. The main concentration of climbing here is on a collection of limestone crags between the two beautiful medieval villages of Les Vignes and La Malene.

The unfortunate daily rain showers have the upshot of succelent spring vegetation: delicate irises and other wild flowers, cherry and fig trees with unripe fruit bursting from branches hued the freshest green imaginable, feathery pines interspersed with limestone spires and sweeping cliffs descend to the River Tarn, winding a pebbly and playful path through the bottom of the gorge.

Our best accommodation of the trip so far was at the Gite Dardenes in the village of La Malene, where we spent the last 6 nights. The gite is a suite in a medieval stone building in a picturesque and quiet narrow alley way. The suite is quaint, warm and very clean with more than enough amenities to make two aging dirtbags at home: a bedroom, bathroom, hot shower, TV and comfy couch. The walls are decorated with original paintings of the local natural scenery. There is plenty of room to do yoga, and a well outfitted if small kitchen with a toaster oven for warming up breakfasts of croissants or pain au chocolate from the boulangerie two doors down. The gite was pre-booked for the Ascention Day national holiday so we had to leave this morning. I am already missing our warm and cosy little home while I write this from a tiny, sterile and cold mobile-home at a campground close to the climbing. We brought a tent, but with multiple rain showers every day we are opting for a bit of dry, luxury living.

The climbing here is, well, engaging. I am definitley not a bold climber, and am really out of shape after 5 months of not climbing at all. I tend to enjoy a spring sport climbing trip to ease back into the climbing season in a relaxing and fun way, but this trip is more like a sudden and icy plunge. On our first day here I climbed a traversing 7a (5.11d) but couldn't commit to the top moves just below the anchors with a mega pump on, so I downclimbed halfway to the previous bolt and jumped off, thinking it would be good for my head to get in the game. Because of the traversing nature of the route there was a bunch of rope drag and Evan (who outweighs me by 45-50 lbs) couldn't give me a soft catch. I slammed the wall pretty hard, but luckily escaped with nothing worse than a bruised toe and some serious misgivings about lobbing myself off of climbs because its 'sport climbing' and 'clean air'. Since that day I have realized that bigger runouts than I am used to are pretty much de rigeur here at the Gorges du Tarn. The only way I can describe them is dizzying. I clip a bolt, climb and climb and climb, then look up towards the next bolt glistening in the heavens, then look down at the last bolt, a tiny speck on a white and orange wall (if I am lucky, sometimes it is a grey wall of stony knife-blades pointed up towards me). The rope trails out from the knot at my harness like a slack fishing line, swaying slightly in the breeze of my frantic exhalations, and the yawning void beneath pulls me slowly, steadily and determinedly from the rock. Something tells me that this spring trip is going to be all about whipper therapy...

One of the cool medieval villages close to the climbing

I love the fact that this is someone's house, AND they have a satellite dish for TV on the roof (look to the right of the chimney)

The main intersection in La Malene, with untapped rock behind

The village of La Malene, which we called home for 6 nights

The River Tarn

Our cosy gite, looks bigger on the inside, even if Evan had to crawl to get in.... just kidding! Someone's woodshed or root cellar or something!

1 comment:

janet said...

My version of whipper therapy:

Me upon waking up, the day after you had me "lead" on gear for my first time (on Cat Crack): "Dave, what's a whipper?"

He laughed and said "you'll learn"....