August is not the best time to climb in the South of France as its generally too hot at this time of year. But having filled my hold luggage with climbing rope, harness, quick draws, climbing shoes, and chalk bag, leaving little space for anything else, a heat wave was not going to stop me sampling a little Provenal sport climbing.
Liz and I were ensconsed in a gite just outside Salon in the Bouche du Rhone district within half an hours drive of some mouthwatering climbing venues. These include Orgon which became famous in the 70's because some of the hardest climbing in the world was happening here. Now it has become a forgotten backwater in climbing circles. Due to the summer fire risk in this part of the world, access to mountainous areas is restricted. So if you want to go climbing you have to consult a government website which told me that a local crag at Chateau Virant was open from 6.00am to 11.00 am.
The owner of our gite, Michel was keen to go climbing with me. So to avoid 'les coups de soleil' we got up at 5.00 am loaded up his Renault Espace and drove sleepily south in the direction of Lancon. Here we left behind the urban sprawl which blights the outskirts of many French towns and drove up into the hills adorned by la garrigue, a picturesque scrubland with gnarled oak trees and an understory of aromatic herbs.
|Michel dons his climbing shoes|
|Michel topping out in the morning sun .............|
|............ and in the shade|
The day after we flew home from Provence a vast area of countryside around Orgon was torched by an arsonist. Several villages had to be evacuated while fire fighting planes dumped water on the flames. But I am told periodic fire followed by natural regeneration is partly responsible for the creation of the garrigue forest. The fire seemed like a catastrophe at the time but most of the climbs at Orgon escaped the flames and the land will recover in time.
Here is a link I have found on You Tube which gives the flavour of climbing at Chateau Virand
You can find a description of this climbing area on Climbing Away at