Two weeks around Saint Leger and Malaucene
For those following, after spending much of the previous few weeks interacting and engaging with various friends, a reversal of this routine was to occur for the following two weeks we spent underneath the summit of Mont Ventoux at the well known climbing area of Saint Leger (Google Maps). Interestingly, this was our second time here however neither have us had any idea of the infamy of the summit above! Our sole focus had been on trying to drag ourselves up 30 metres of rock at the bottom, not the 2,000 metre summit way above our head 😂
As it turns out, Mont Ventoux, is famous in the cycling scene and in particular the Tour de France. While I’m well aware of The Tour, individual climbs would be outside my remit and therefore it was a pleasant surprise to find that we’d have another activity to do while staying in the area: cycling up to the summit. There was no illusions around whether we’d be setting any records - the goal was just to get to the top and try smile for the photographers near the summit to make it look like we weren’t suffering! 😉 If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a trip and the 20km uphill….slog…. is well worth the effort. I was particularly psyched about the downhill however that turned out to be more gripping than expected as Mont Ventoux is famously windy (the wind is over 90km/hr 240 days per year) and that wind makes the descent particularly spicy. I’m usually head down on these descents and doing my best to resemble a missile however I grabbed the brakes more than enthusiastically on more than one occasion. Jeebus!
Another side benefit was realising that the summit was at almost 2,000 metres and thus a lot cooler than the valley below (more on that below). After we’d hiked up to the summit one day, we realised there was numerous campers and tents parked out that were evidently spending the night which meant that it was fine to do so and thus we ended up spending a couple of nights, sitting under the stars in awe above the surrounding valleys. It’s hard to describe just how special it is to spend nights outside the confines of towns and cities which serve to only block much of the amazing night sky. It’s always a good reminder of the importance and scale of everything to see a sky full of stars and realise you’re only seeing a tiny percentage of all that are out there. The gratitude to be out on this planet and able to experience these opportunities will always be there!
Oh yeah, the climbing! In short, we spent a total of two weeks in the area, rotating between the well-known (in climbing circles at least) Saint Leger and the much less well known Malaucene. Of the two weeks, we climbed around nine of the fourteen days so a good average - that’s close to a 5-day ‘work week’ ;)
So… Saint Leger is famous these days and regarded as one of France’s premiere sport climbing areas. I’ll be honest, I need a third trip to confirm. My first trip here, I was working with the Mountaineering Ireland Talent Development Team sometime around 2012 so didn’t really get to sample anything. This time? As hinted to earlier in this post, It was never below 30 degrees leaving us to only climbing on the north facing crag, and even at that, it was roasting! We got to try some cool routes and I got my unfit self up one of the more physical high grade seven routes (video above) on my 3rd attempt on the route in 30+ degree heat, however it was a bit more hard work than we’d expected due to tha heat. In short, I’ll have to go back for better conditions and to really understand the venue. What we did get the feeling was that it’s a brilliant crag for ticking hard routes, however it’s not the most ‘flow’ of climbing, and hard to read sequences mean everything has to be rehearsed and memorised and therefore not as enjoyable as other world-class crags (Ceuse, Rodellar, Red River Gorge, etc.) where it feels like you can almost run up some routes..It’s not to say the climbing is bad - it’s not! - however it’s just optimised for hard performance. the other intangible factor is the location is a little…dry… is that the word? Without a dedicated campsite that all climbers go to, it means that the social aspect just isn't there either. The more I see and travel, the more I realise the importance of these intangible aspects that make the climbing of an area so good - it’s not just the climbing, but the location of the climbs, the climbers you’ll meet there, the campsites or bars where climbers socialise, etc. What do you think?
Speaking of ‘flow’ climbing, Malaucene (Google Maps link), where the cycle up Mont Ventoux begins, also has a great small climbing area and it, for the most parts ticks the boxes on ‘flow’. Pocket climbing, similar to Ceuse in many ways, means you can just attack routes which only have a limited set of holds to grab and move to and from (with equally limited footholds). Realistically, if it wasn’t for Al’s recommendation (“some great 6’s”) and the Rockfax guidebook* (Amazon link), we’d have no idea it was there however knowing it was turned out to be a saviour. For one, it’s in the shade until 2pm daily and that was the coolest part of the day and two, it was right beside the village of Malaucene and that meant we could re-stock on ice cream and head up to the summit of Mont Ventoux easily! We ended up having some great days here knocking out various interesting routes across a wide grade range, perfect for our journey back into regular climbing as the goal of this trip has been all along.
This trip, it’s been interesting as Ive managed to keep a detailed log of all routes and route attempts over the trip. In the first six weeks covering Chamonix, Zillertal, Saint Leger and Malaucene, we climbed 100 individual different pitches which is surprisingly good! As you’ll see above, there’s also a decent grade spread. One point to note above, it also includes times where I worked a route and I didn’t get it - in particular this is relevant to the upper grade routes - I climbed a single 7c and 2 7b+ (although interestingly here, one of which was onsight). I’ll share the more accurate graphs/stats at a later date when I get around to updating the spreadsheet to filter for ascents only.
The key piece here isn’t grades but showing a healthy mix of climbing for the sheer fun of it as well as pushing myself back into more testing routes. I’ve climbed harder, and wish to do so again - as Adam Ondra says on this podcast (Apple Podcast link), hard routes are just better as the movement is so much more interesting! This isn’t always the case, however there is a valid argument that tougher climbs are just more involved and fun. Would you agree?
Lastly, I’ve mentioned this over on Strava however the mission for this year is to get back to climbing grade-8 sport climbs. I’m not there just yet, however there’s still another while to go……
Next was Spain! Keep an eye out for the Spain piece in the coming week :)
Rockfax guidebooks are widely frowned upon by local climbers in an area as they make no donations to the local climbing community. For many areas, profits from sales of the local climbing guidebook are pumped back into re-bolting or bolting of new routes. I have mixed opinions on Rockfax: yes, a lack of local donations seems poor form, however for an area such as Malaucene, we’d never have found the place, or even gone there if it wasn’t for Rockfax. In addition, as we were only in the area for 2-3 days and possibly never again, I’m not that keen on purchasing a dedicated guidebook for a region. What I would like however is to make donations to climbing areas: why don’t local climbing groups set up an area where you can make online donations? Stop complaining about Rockfax and come up with an alternative solution…..