Before I leave for Europe, I’ve got numerous advices from climbing pals and friends on where to stay, what to do and basically how to travel Europe like a climber. One interesting advice was to leave my Rack at home and bring 30 quick draws with me as there isn’t trad climbing in Europe and we will only be clipping bolts.
I wasn’t sold on that idea. We wanted to climb in Dolomites and that require some gear although most of the time the crux is to find the right pitons to clip. Climbing in Verdon require a fair bit of gears (mega classic 13 pitch ULA is now bolt less) unless you are willing to run it out between bolts on sometimes fairly committing moves. But it was in Verdon that we meet Lionel (guidebook author of Escalade traditionnelle @ Annot) and he told us more about the premium trad climbing spot in Europe just 1.5 hrs drive away, Annot.
Annot was first developed as a bouldering area, well known for houses built under huge blocs (boulders). Along with bouldering there are numerous blocs there were too high to be enjoyed by general public like you and me unless you enjoy soloing and highballing depending on your tolerance for death or broken bones, these blocs will be bolted and sometimes chipped in order to be climbed. Most of the time they will be about 10-12m high with about 4-6 bolts of climbing. Sounds like our indoor gyms in Singapore? Yes, I prefer to call them roped bouldering. =D
However, what Kelly and I was interested in is the newly developed trad lines in Annot, mainly concentrated in the south face of Les Gres D’Annot. However there are many more lines that sprung up all over the other faces of Annot and you can find out more from tradannot.over-blog.com (if you read french, or google translate it)
We left Verdon after climbing a mega classic, L’ange En Decomposition which took my heart away but I know we have to leave and explore the splitter lines up north. When we arrive in Annot, it doesn’t have the big walls of Verdon nor the climbers infested feeling to the place. Instead, Annot is a little french village in the mountains and Les Gres D’Annot is a backdrop to the village which local tourist will visit over the weekend to visit the famous Chambre Du Roi or the Oubliette (forgotten area). Both of these areas are pleasant to the eyes of hiking tourist and also important climbing areas in Annot.
First day, Kelly and I decided to buy the guidebook and hike the recommended tourist hiking route and visit most of the climbing areas. The 5-6 hours yellow hiking route which starts from Annot train station, will take a huge loop to the Les Portettes and back down to the middle of the village at the main car park in front of Cafe Du Commerce.
Arriving at Chambre Du Roi, we met 2 very important climbing figures in Europe, Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet. (google them if you haven’t heard about them). We found them in the dark corridor of Chambre Du Roi with their trad climbing students on Hand Training (6a/5.10b) I had to do the climbing idol thing and ask them for a photo shamelessly.
We have 2 weeks in Annot and with the days of November getting shorter as we move into the winter months, the temperature also became lower. However the days are warm with south facing crags and single pitch climbs means you are less exposed to the wind and other elements compared to hanging off the walls on a multi pitch. That feels like a good break after 1.5 months of climbing on the big walls of Verdon and Dolomites.
The trad climbing in Annot on large occasion are splitter cracks, with large sizes ranging from C4 #2-#6 and usually a few of the same large pieces. Like a 6a warmup on the La Vire Inter most of the time requires 2-4 pieces of BD #5-#6 which of course we did not have since we are flying a strip down rack around. Most of the time we will run out the climbs with 1 #5 and 1#4. So if you are planning a trip around in Annot, take at least 2 #4-#6 each in order for a great time with little restrictions on what you climb.
The climbing here sometimes features some pockets next to the cracks which usually requires good jamming skills and foot work on vertical or gently overhang faces and some roofs if you look around. This is the place where I have learned new jamming stills like fist stacks & butterfly jams and extensively used chicken wings and arm bars even on 5+ – 6a warmups.
The best line kelly and I agreed on is the Mongol crack graded at 6c/5.11b which Kelly sent after 3 tries. It is a left leaning finger to tight hands crack to a steep face layback and a balls shivering top out to the chains. I did the extension of the route 7a which spit me off with its off width climbing and run outs with out a #6.
I’m really glad to have pushed my trad climbing standards here in Annot with some test pieces,
-Les Portettes Face 6b (hard for its grade and have loads of tape on your hand)
-Krusty Et Le Demi Boudin 6b (hard to get off the ground)
-Mongol crack 6c extension 7a
-Spitalgie 6c (Boulder start follows a roof entrance to huge run outs before placing slings in cheese look alike wall)
– Fumble with the Jungle 6c
– Les Villages Faurmes La Jenice 7a+ (overhanging crack that gets harder and harder towards the top)
If you are in Europe and you need a fix for your crack addiction without clipping bolts on a retrobolted crack, Annot is your answer. Just bring loads of tape and grow more skin!