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Climbing in/around Marseille, France?
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By langley
From Marseille, France
Nov 22, 2012
on the oregon coast.

I'm moving from Seattle to Marseille, France at the end of December. I'll be there for a couple of years for work. I've never climbed in Europe, I'm wondering if anyone here has climbed in the areas around the city? Les Calanques looks like the closet area, and quite beautiful (at least in photos on the internets)--anyone been there/can recommend areas or other areas in France? What is the climbing community like? I'm a pretty mellow climber and like climbing in part because it's a good way to meet interesting new people. There is a climbing gym in the city, I will probably head there at some point to try to meet people, as well (my French is pretty rudimentary but progressing, it will be a good challenge for me).
Basically, if you have any insight into climbing in France, finding climbing partners in Marseille, etc. I'd love to hear it! Thanks!


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By Rui Ferreira
From St Ismier (Grenoble), France
Nov 23, 2012

Welcome to France, you could not have found a much better spot for sunny sport climbing, by being in southern Provence.

I recommend this Rockfax guidebook

www.rockfax.com/climbing-guides/books/france-cote-dazur-2010>>>

to get oriented on some of the climbing destinations in Marseille and other day trip destinations. This is not a comprehensive guidebook, only a sample of the some of the better known destinations. The climbing on the east side of town looks Ok, it is by the university area, make friends quickly though because Marseille does not have the best reputation when it comes to crime.

There any many climbings crags up and down the coast from Marseille to Monaco, and the region is so amazing that even the trip to the crags is an experience in itself.

My friends highly recommend Chateauvert, but I have yet to climb there

I do not know the climbing scene in Marseille, but speaking fom experience here in Grenoble, the French tend to be a bit "cliquy" and unwelcoming, learn French and quickly if you want to crack through this shell.


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Nov 23, 2012
on the oregon coast.

Great, thanks for the info! I'll have to check out that guide book. I figured at first people might be unwelcoming but I'm working on my French (more motivation now) and I'll be working at a university so hopefully that will help a bit.


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By kenr
Nov 28, 2012

Just got back from there yesterday. Only now starting to post photos + reports, like here and here

> "meet interesting new people"
Yes I've done very well climbing (and ski-mountaineering) with several different French partners who speak English well already - or who are eager to practice on me to improve their English -- and who indeed are rather interesting people. (I rarely bother to make any effort to connect with other visiting Americans any more -- but I'm glad to meet them if they decide to contact me).

> Calanques quite beautiful
For sure. Tho often the rock is better at other places within an hour or two away (on Friday we were at Chateauvert yet again -- and be sure to get the long-delayed Toulon guidebook new edition when it appears, and don't overlook the other RockFax guidebook).

Anyway the beauty of the Calanques is perhaps more easily explored by hiking and kayaking - and several seaside traverses with short easy climbing or rappel sections (e.g. Extreme Bec de Sormiou).

> "I'm a pretty mellow climber"

I guess you'll be able to find a couple of years worth of "one or two days a week" at difficulty less than 6a, provided you have the inclination and fuel-money to drive farther than the Calanques. But to have a substantial choice of routes in the Calanques, you really need to get your difficulty solid at 6a - (vaguely like Yosemite 5.10a) and doesn't hurt to be at 6b.
. (and if your work there requires that you climb mainly on weekends, don't be surprised if the easier-accessed + better-quality 6a routes are crowded) .

Although it's called "sport" climbing, on multi-pitch routes in the Calanques (and some other places in France) the bolts can be pretty widely spaced. So lots of people take a light Trad rack with them, even for routes which some mainstream web page says are "fully equipped". I often found that limestone is kinda "fiddly" for placing stoppers, so I tend more to carry cams. Doesn't hurt to carry some extra runners for threaded placements on holes or horns, or around trees.

I tend to mostly ski in the winter+spring, and the Calanques are too hot in summer (and often closed for fire hazard), and there's so much great climbing farther north, so I might not make it down there again until about a year from now. But there might be a warm period during ski season when I'd be glad to make the easy drive down the A7 for some wonderful seaside climbing (unless I cannot resist Finale). Maybe you'll find a reason to come north.

Hope to see you in France.

Ken


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By J mac
Nov 28, 2012
Zermatt

I was there a couple of years ago. Les Calinques is just about 15 minutes from Marseille. Gorgeous climbing and a backdrop to match.

4.bp.blogspot.com/_lTeKtICpEe0/TMl10S54arI/AAAAAAAAAao/8BpxY>>>

Definitely make the trip to Corsica when you have some free time, that was one of the highlights of a year in Europe for me. Great climbing and no people.


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By Dom
Administrator
From New Brunswick Canada
Nov 28, 2012
Moby dick 5.11-

Les Calanques are definitely amazing. I was there for a week a couple of years ago. I remember reading that theft was a major nuisance in the parking lots. The guidebook said to leave your car unlocked with nothing inside.
Fortunately, I can't remember which crag but there is a parking lot at the University so there is always traffic and less chance of theft.

As for what Rui Ferrera said, it's true French tend to be 'cliquey'. I spent 8 months in Grenoble and at first, I couldn't find partners.

I found partners at the gym. I was there minding my own business when a guy came up to me and asked me if I was American, in american english. Nope, Canadian. bla bla started chatting. Then 20 minutes later, same deal a guy comes up to me and asks me if I'm American but this time in French, Québec french. Nope, I'm Acadien I tell him...
Turns out I was wearing this Miguel's pizza T-shirt that they had both recognized. So just like that I had two new climbing partners which grew exponentially after I met those two.

All this to say, sure French can be cliquey at first but there are lots of other nationalities in Europe so you won't have to only rely on Frenchmen to climb. I say this and my mother tongue is French (Acadien).

As John just said, definitely go climb in Corsica. I'm sure you've never climbed overhanging pocketed granite before. Some big wall routes there too. (On granite as well).

Bonne chance, profite du vin et du fromage!


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By kenr
Nov 28, 2012

Rui Ferreira wrote:
speaking fom experience here in Grenoble, the French tend to be a bit "cliquy" and unwelcoming, learn French and quickly if you want to crack through this shell.


It might be true that it's difficult for most visitors to get to climb with local residents in France.

I have to say that I met most of my French partners first by doing ski-mountaineering together (usually lower commitment and more flexibility than climbing) -- then later we joined again for climbing.

I've heard that the social attitudes of many intelligent French people have changed a lot in recent years -- like lots more drivers now are buying non-French cars. But especially with climbing, there are lots of reasons not to choose to do it together with a visitor.

Like as an American living around New York, I see lots of requests on web forums by visitors looking for partners to climb in the Gunks -- I mean American visitors, often even from nearby places in the Northeast US. I like climbing in the Gunks, and I do like meeting other climbers, but I almost never respond to these requests.
Not due to some "cliquishness".
Some reasons:

(a) Visitors tend to have their own agenda, often a short "tick list" based on magazine articles or websites.

(b) Since I'm often intensely into improving my climbing, I've got my own agenda of what level and style of routes I want to work on right now. Only rarely matches with some visitor's agenda.
Or I'm into exploring routes I haven't tried before -- likely not on a visitor's tick list.

(c) There's several local partners that I like a lot but for various reasons don't get to climb with so often. Since climbing usually is better done with an even number, and best of all with two, doing it with a visitor either displaces an opportunity with a friend, or invites some juggling to "find a fourth".

(d) The visitor might be slow. Or they might fall off on a traverse or overhang and not be able to get back on the route.

(e) They might be dangerous. I'm not a trained guide to handle this.

(f) I might forget to tell them something critical which locals take for granted. That would be my fault, yet still the consequences might be negative.

(g) Afterward they might post a report publicly on the web which gives away some semi-secret beta; or something personal about me which might appear negative.

Now add some special reasons that might apply to French climbers with an American visitor:

(h) Might feel embarrassed that their English-speaking is not good enough yet. Intelligent (and even more so, younger intelligent) French people nowadays are exposed to lots of English on popular websites and popular music and youtube videos. They are well aware of the acceleration of the linguistic trend to English. But maybe they aren't learning it as fast as some of their friends.

(i) Might feel embarrassed that they are not good representatives of modern French society. Worried that afterward the visitor might post some report saying that they encountered some negative "attitude" and claiming it is "typical" of French people. Afraid his friends might see it and feel that he made their whole group look bad to non-French.

Therefore, some ideas for how to lower the "cost" or possible fears of local French climbers:

(1) Forget your short "tick list". Get really clear in your own mind that your main goal is to make friends with local climbers, to support their climbing agenda. (And if you find that's not fully your goal and you can't give up your tick list, then hire a professional guide for some days).

(2) Try to choose a form of climbing that's lower-commitment and offers lots of flexibility: Half-pitch at a large crag with lots of routes. Or bouldering.

(3) Be a very good climber already. Or carry prusiks and have really practiced using them to get back on the route after falling off into space. Maybe have a Fifi hook so you can quickly rest at a bolt without requiring your partner to hold your weight on the rope.

(4) Do lots of research in guidebooks and websites about local climbing areas and routes (this definitely requires a decent reading knowledge of French, and enough "volume" to develop reasonable guesses about special climbing words not in most dictionaries), so you likely already know lots of things which locals take for granted and forget to tell you.
Even more, so you can have intelligent conversations that appreciate in detail how much your local partners know and what they've done.
And raise intelligent questions in those crucial conversations about why this or that sector is favored by some wrinkle in today's forecast of wind + sun.

(5) Fuel and tolls and car-ownership are expensive in Europe, so having a car and offering to drive it to trailheads is a small positive you can give to partners.

(6) Consider openly "advertising" the opportunity for people to use you to improve their English-speaking. Of course some French climbers have no interest in this. But I suspect nowadays in France there's a strong correlation between "wanting to improve English-speaking" and "being a rather interesting person".
. (Of course this strategy requires you to get clear between "climbing with local partners" and "improving your own French-speaking")

Good luck,

Ken


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By Pindryc Milan
Nov 28, 2012
Top of three gossips

Hi i am living just outside of Marseiles since january. I am from czech republic but i have lived in Phoenix and in Yosemite for a while. Now i am based in Istres, France for few years.
Just let me know when you arrive and we can go climbing.
My favorite areas here are Calanques and saint Victore.
pindryc@gmail.com
Cheers, Milan


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Nov 28, 2012
on the oregon coast.

This is all really helpful, thanks a bunch guys. I was looking at Corsica just as a fun place to visit, but hadn't even thought to see if it had climbing, so I will have to visit there and climb there for sure.

Dom, I hadn't thought about wearing an American T-shirt at the gym and seeing if any expats come up to talk to me! I'll try that.

Ken, those are really great tips for me to keep in mind. I wanted to try to get a 'language partner' to help me improve my speaking french (and help them improve their english in turn) and combining that with some climbing is a great idea. I'm pretty low agenda in general, happy to climb whatever my partners want to climb. I'm working on consistently leading 10a/bs (led some in Smith this fall) so your point about having more variety climbing harder things gives me more motivation to push myself and be a better leader/stronger partner. I'm still not totally sure about the having a car thing--I'll be a postdoc with a not huge salary and the city of Marseille is supposed to be hellish to drive in (I don't think Seattle counts as experience driving in a big city, people are super slow and passive driving here)--but I'll get a French drivers license and see how things go. Also, I'll be bringing my skis/touring gear along with me, although Marseille is fairly far from the mountains, so maybe I will meet some ski partners that are climbers as well. I was mostly planning on skiing with visiting friends though.

And, I think most climbing communities in cities are a little cliquish, I mean, once I have my regular partners I tend to just stick with them because I enjoy climbing with them and I know their strengths/weaknesses (and they know mine). I will just keep that in mind if locals aren't super welcoming right away, especially with the language issues I would present!

Milan, great, I'll send you an email when I get there! I'm moving in exactly one month today.


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Nov 28, 2012
on the oregon coast.

Also, is there a good percentage of women climbers in France? I've mostly been climbing with other women lately, for some reason this makes me push myself more. But I have no problem climbing with guys.

This is probably a hard to answer/depends on where you are question and one I'll easily find the answer to once I move there.


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By kenr
Nov 28, 2012

Dom wrote:
> "I spent 8 months in Grenoble and at first, I couldn't
> find partners. I found partners at the gym."
. . .
> "French can be cliquey at first but there are lots
> of other nationalities in Europe so you won't have
> to only rely on Frenchmen to climb."
-------------------------

I guess I've had so many positive encounters with local French people while out ski-mountaineering and road-cycling ... And my long-time French ski-mountaineering partners are so helpful and loyal and welcoming ... And my one negative encounter with unknown French people was while climbing ...
So myself I have to feel that nowadays most of the difficulty in connecting is more something specific about climbers.

One more thing that occurs to me is that climbing parties who meet are often in competition for a route. While ski-mountaineering parties on the same route can even help each other with trail-breaking, and multiple road-cycling parties easily share the same route). Indeed my negative encounter was with a French climbing party who wanted to do a single-pitch route to the same top anchor as the one Sharon and I were already on.

At an indoor gym, climbers are often in a hurry, with each pair trying to "grab" some desired route quickly next after they finish their previous route. And they tend to be very focused on climbing or belaying continually the whole time (because one partner gets to rest while the other is climbing), and then leaving.

On the other hand, ski-mountaineers and road-cyclists often have definite rest points along the way where they stop moving and just hang around for a few minutes. And I usually find it's easy to start friendly conversations with other parties at those rest points (and repeatedly discover that nowadays there's lots of French non-climbers who are glad for the opportunity to practice their English-speaking, and not even slightly interested in having me switch to French).

Simple strategies for trying to connect in a context which favors connecting:

(1) join a local chapter of the CAF or other club with climbers, and attend meetings and go on outings with them. Some clubs have sessions at a local indoor gym (which is about as low-commitment as climbing together gets). In smaller cities, some clubs have their own private climbing gym).

(2) post a request for partners to an English-speaking web forum likely to have participation by climbers who might be in France (whether ex-pat UK or US, or other nationalities ready to use English as a common base for communication.)

(3) post a request for partners in English to a French-speaking web forum - (perhaps it might be safer to include a few apologetic sentences in French to be respectful, and to demonstrate some basic competence at getting along in France).

What are some other strategies?

Myself I discovered that method (1) is oddly difficult for an occasional non-resident American visitor because I don't have a mailing address in France, and (very odd) the CAF website at that time did not include any name or abbreviation for the United States in their pull-down list to choose the Country in an international mailing address. Also I heard I would need a special medical exam by a French professional which might be a hassle for me to arrange as a visitor.

Method (2) got me two of my best partners, but I haven't used it much because usually I'm not sufficiently desperate ... because I already do pretty well climbing in France with Sharon or my current French partners, and because I do enjoy soloing.

Ken


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By Pindryc Milan
Nov 28, 2012
Top of three gossips

Langley,
Ski or skitouring gear is great idea. Awesone places are within 3hrs from marseiles.
Last winter i used to drive to alps every weekend...
Driving is different but not that bad. You should be ok with US licence. My colegues use arizona licence without problems.


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By kenr
Nov 28, 2012

langley wrote:
I'll be bringing my skis/touring gear along with me, although Marseille is fairly far from the mountains

Less far than lots of Americans routinely drive for weekends of backcountry skiing. France geography looks big in the context of Europe, but not so big compared to the western US.

So get in touch if you want to do some ski touring say late February thru mid-April (and early May). Pindryc Milan: I'd be happy to meet you for some skiing, especially if you make it all the way to the Alpes du Nord (though on weekends I often have other local partners closer to me).

The A7 motorway is a great N-S artery -- the question is about affording the high fuel and toll costs.

Trains might work for skiing with a lift-served ski station as a base, but for accessing most backcountry terrain (outside Chamonix) most serious French skiers use a car to get to trailheads -- or are members of a club with access to a bus or van, which ties neatly with partner-connection strategy (1) above.

langley wrote:
> "the city of Marseille is supposed to be hellish to drive in"

It does take serious concentration, and I guess there's a learning curve to discover what you need to watch out for. A GPS with really good digital map made a big difference for me in navigating thru Marseille. I've found the drivers mostly follow the laws (about as much as in New York). The crux might turn out to be finding a parking space.

Watch out for roundabouts which work opposite to all others in France, because they are marked to follow the rule of "priorite a droite" - (Really need to learn about that rule -- it's even more important for some small towns and rural areas of France).

. (But if you're at the university at Luminy, driving in the city to get to climbing is much less of a concern) .

For easier driving access to more of the better climbing I would suggest living out toward the east of Marseille.

> "is there a good percentage of women climbers in France?"

At the Espace Vertical gyms around Grenoble (or at Mur de Lyon), seems like close to 50% (if that's what you mean by "good"). On a busy evening, at any given time a substantial percentage of those might be leading up some long overhanging pitch.

> "for some reason this makes me push myself more."

? A different reason from why that works to make me push ?

Ken


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Jan 5, 2013
on the oregon coast.

Well, I'm here in Marseille now if anyone sees this thread and happens to want a climbing partner in Marseille, feel free to contact me! My job starts on Monday, though, so I'll have to see how that goes in terms of work-time.

Probably more European-centric climbing forums will be more fruitful for climbing partners here but thanks again for everyone's advice.


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By Ryan Williams
Administrator
From London (sort of)
Jan 5, 2013
El Chorro

So much good information in here that I won't try to add any more - except that the UKC guys know a LOT about climbing in France.

France is amazing and there is so much climbing that it is hard to decide where to go next. Shoot me a PM if you're ever homesick and wanting to hear some American English. I'm a short flight/train ride away and try to get down there for long weekends. Also I have at least one friend living in France but I don't know exactly where he's at right now (can easily find out).

Enjoy!


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By AndrewC85
Jan 15, 2013

Here are some links to some climbing in the South of France.

xtremesport4u.com/extreme-land-sports/some-rock-climbing-in->>>

xtremesport4u.com/extreme-land-sports/climbing-in-the-calanq>>>

If I can help you out with some contacts, let me know. I have some friends down there who are nice. If I were you, I would try to do as much as you can. Climbing, mountaineering, trekking. France is really great. If you like it, find a way to stay there.


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By Katy90
From Fort Collins, CO
Feb 5, 2013
at miramont

I know this is still a ways out but if you are still looking for a climbing partner, I will be studying abroad in France this summer and am looking for someone to climb with from June9-16th. Check out my profile and let me know if you'd be interested!


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Mar 1, 2013
on the oregon coast.

Hey, I just saw this. For sure, send me a message if you end up needing a partner in June!


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By Gini Kramer
From North Haven, CT
Sep 10, 2013

My climbing partner and I are going to be in Cassis the last week in October. We'll be looking for moderate routes to climb. If that doesn't sound too boring, it would great to climb with someone who knows the area.


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Sep 13, 2013
on the oregon coast.

Moderate is definitely not too boring for me, send me a message if you want to meet to climb or just want a bit of advice. I have not gotten out as much as I would like but I've been to a few places in the Calanques and St. Victoire.
The Calanques are very beautiful! And Cassis is a really cute town.


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By Gini Kramer
From North Haven, CT
Sep 13, 2013

Hi:

My partner and I will be there between October 25 and November 2. I'll definitely be in touch about getting together to climb. Looking forward to it.


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By kenr
Sep 13, 2013

Gini Kramer wrote:
My climbing partner and I are going to be in Cassis the last week in October. We'll be looking for moderate routes to climb.

Here's some English-language descriptions of some easy routes I've enjoyed.
www.roberts-1.com/c/v/
Most but not all within day-trip driving range of Cassis and La Ciotat -- with at least two within walking distance of
La Ciotat (less than ten miles from Cassis).

Photos from a recent trip near La Ciotat (if look further on that same Picasa account, find some closer to Cassis):
https://picasaweb.google.com/americantourist55/ClimbParpeles>>>
https://picasaweb.google.com/americantourist55/ClimbLeCapuci>>>

Ken


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By Gini Kramer
From North Haven, CT
Sep 14, 2013

Thanks, Ken. The route comparison chart on the Roberts 1 page was just what I was looking for. My partner and I climb at the Gunks regularly. (I lead 5.5-5.6 there) Looks like there'll be plenty of things to climb in the Calanques!

Cheers!

gini


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By SMarsh
Sep 14, 2013

Having had a lovely dinner in Marseille with Langley and a few others, I would encourage the new visitor to Marseille to contact Langley.

Only a conflict of schedules prevented me and my partner from actually climbing with her.

There are a lot of warm, competent, smart people hanging around Marseille, and it would be a shame to miss meeting them and potentially climbing with them.


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By kenr
Sep 14, 2013

Keep in mind that Cassis as a base is great for beaches + views + hiking + perhaps sea-kayaking ... but the nearby moderate climbing rock is mostly inferior to other areas within an hour or twos driving. So if want to start playing with that other (great!) climbing, might want to get some of the new local guidebooks (and perhaps choose a different base), rather than doing the highly-polished tourist "classics" which American magazines and websites are still repeating from thirty years ago.

Otherwise I suggest don't sacrifice any of the amazing hiking and sea-kayaking. One idea is to hire a boat to take you to Calanque d'En Vau and somehow put you ashore legally. Then do some obligatory polished tourist climb, then hike back to Cassis by some circuitous scenic route.
Another is to have a support boat for sea-kayaking take you to Calanque de l'Oule with the option of paddling into caves.
Another is to have a taxi drive you up to Col de la Gardiole, then visit Belvedere d'En Vau on your back to Cassis.
Sharon has a normal custom of swimming in Calanque d'En Vau (in late November).

Anyway the important thing isn't what to "tick" on this trip, rather to work out an approach for getting back there again and again.

Ken


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By langley
From Marseille, France
Dec 11, 2013
on the oregon coast.

Just 'bumping' this in case anyone has moved to the Marseille area recently and wants to get out climbing. I've met some climbers here already but people come/go so good to meet more people!

(Also have ski touring gear here if anyone in the area does that).

Thanks again for everyone's help and info last year, was very very useful.


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