A Climbing Vacation, French Style

“I think that is Ceuse.”
Then 20 minutes later, “This must be it.”

An hour later. “For real, that must be it,” I kept saying to my girlfriend Blake as we rounded each bend of the village road through Haute Provence, France. Blake had been in Vienna for a month assisting with a study abroad program and I had a two-week break from work as a nurse. So stoke was high and time was of the essence.

I was as googly-eyed as a kid on Christmas Eve with the amount of blue limestone rising from rivers and exposed on mountain sides.  As we turned off the main free way, I saw what was certainly the Ceuse Masif, which I had wrongly identified the previous 20 times. We started up the road to Ceuse, which feels like San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street except for 10 miles long. The carsickness potential was worth the breathtaking panoramic view.

Upon arrival, several hours behind schedule without smartphone map technology, we were shown our home for the next two weeks: a retro camper at the base of Ceuse, complete with upholstery circa 1973. We could not have been happier. We unloaded our tiny rented Fiat, full of wine, cheese and climbing gear into the camper, trying our best to utilize the minimal storage capacity. 

That night I was too excited to sleep, so instead tossed and turned to pass the hours until the sun rose. We made breakfast, packed our bags and quickly felt the wrath of the notorious one-hour approach to the base of Ceuse. Though, to call it an approach is misleading. It’s a first-class slog, at best, requiring ‘hikers’ to rest at least 40 minutes before climbing. 
It took only one pitch to feel blown away by the quality of the stone—as well as its high-use polish. Ceuse is popular for a reason, and that popularity has rubbed all the texture from the famous route’s holds, leaving them like glass. The nature of the stone creates incredibly technical rock climbing. And this tech-gnar combined with glassy polish leaves a climber at the bottom of a big learning curve. One that, I must say, I was humbled and inspired by.

Ceuse has a reputation as a hardman’s crag. This is far from true, and I would say that there are almost more moderate climbs than difficult, depending on the wall. The European climbers know about Ceuse being a moderate mecca and there are climbers of all ability levels enjoying the beautiful climbing Ceuse offers. Besides the Cascade sector, Ceuse is in the sun until 2 p.m. Climbing in the sun is very hot and hard on your skin since the climbing is lower angle with many small holds. This makes for leisurely mornings and late nights. Blake and I would climb until 9 P.M. most days and then drown our humbled egos with 3-euro wine and delicious dirt-cheap cheese. 

Here is a list of 6 incredible grade 6’s:
• The Demi Lune offers a dense selection of moderate climbs with Harley Davidson (6b+), Marylou (6b+), Cannabit or nutella (6b).  
• The Berlin sector is one of the more popular areas for good reason. This area also offers a slew of moderates on one of the most aesthetic walls at Ceuse. The better moderates here are Zagreb (6c) and Super mania (6b+).  Be ready for the committing smear on the top of Super mania as it can make even the finest rock scramblers pucker! 
• If you are like myself and are too ADD to hang out all morning, hike up to the Cascade sector and get a few morning laps in on Le maître des montagnes (6b+) and Alinoe (6b).  Both of these route are newer, so they have texture with excellent climbing. 
• The 7 grade seems to come in an all-inclusive package with runouts and very sustained climbing. The upside to this is the rack of draws is small. But be prepared to log some airtime if you are not solid at the grade. The top four low-end 7’s I sampled are Angle Dust (7a+), Petite Illusion (7a+), Super Micky (7b+) and Melody Nelson (7a+). 
There is an incredible farmers market in downtown Gap each Sunday morning followed by entertainment courtesy of Gap locals. The locals in Gap gather in the downtown squares and perform their art of choice, from 7-year-olds dancing to aged men playing rock and roll. The squares are surrounded by many bars with nice patios providing a great venue to enjoy a beer and the free entertainment. 

Guidebook: Haute Region or a more comprehensive local’s book that can be purchased at Les Guerins campground.
Travel: Fly into Marseille, Avignon, Grenoble, Montpellier, Nimes, Lyon or Nice. We flew into Nice and enjoyed a stunning drive through the Haute Region.
Lodging: Les Guerins is the main lodging area. You can camp, stay in a trailer or rooms are available.