I had found a reference to Le Capucin in the highly amusing Jingo Wobbly guide to Europe, and though I failed to fully comprehend the various symbols that surrounded the entry, it did have two red stars, which is more than can be said for anything in the Peak District.
... then, suddenly!
Driving out of St. Antonin-Noble-Val, we passed a sombre-looking north facing wall, seemingly frozen into the blue-grey hillside, I later found out that this was Rochers d’Anglars, which would make a great venue for late summer (it is bird banned until mid June) but there was no way I was going to freeze in the shade. Fortunately, things were soon to look up. The road disappeared into a tunnel to emerge on the other side of the hill; here, winter was kept at bay by a low sun that shone up the Gorge de L’Aveyron lighting up a massive orange and grey wall that formed a south-facing sun-trap: Le Capucin.
Arriving at the base of the crag, the thin winter sun was sufficient to make it feel like spring was in the air. Suddenly, we felt a little over-dressed. Shedding fleece trousers, powerstretch tops, down jackets, and the other layers that had previously been so essential, we set about warming up, relishing the feeling of climbing in the sun again after the long British winter.
Whilst France has a plethora of crags that beat just about everything in Britain, and you probably have only heard of a few of them. Fortunately, there were a number of climbers around, who were all too keen to direct me to the belle voies.
The first route I was led to turned out to be the classic of the crag, a stunning 7b+ named Train D’Enfer. I got the onsight, and so my new hosts came up with another offering – a fierce looking 7c+ to the left. With only minutes before the sun dropped below the horizon, and the return of the winter, I took the bait and gave it everything I had – unfortunately it left me somewhat short of the belay, and I duly placed the remainder of the clips for my belayer who, with the sort of style that only the French can muster, cruised to the move I failed, and calmly fell off to jeers of ‘shame’ from his mates. A couple of days later I returned with a view to redpointing the route, but couldn’t manage even that – I should have known what to expect when I was told that there is a F6a extension which makes the route F8a – these old school French grades aren’t given away!
Above and Below: Just some of the brilliant routes to be found here!
There’s no doubt that, whilst there are F5s and lower end F6s at Le Capucin, you would really want to be climbing in the upper F6s and F7s to get the most out of the crag. Many of the routes I climbed had extensions that would require at least 20 quick-draws and a rope longer than 70 metres. In terms of when to visit, judging by what the locals were saying, I was lucky to get good weather in December. In the summer the crag would be far too hot, though the nearby north-facing climbing would be ideal.
For the lower grades, the only other crag in the region with the sacred Jingo Wobbly two red stars is Céou, situated near the town of Beynac, north-west of Cahors. Céou is in a delightful location with its own campsite in the valley below, and its own castle. The day we visited, we had the crag entirely to ourselves. Here, the grade range is the reverse of Le Capucin, with plenty in the F5s to mid F6s. The rock is very much like Buoux – but without the pockets, consisting of a honeycomb sandstone, covered is a shell of grey limestone, the routes involve mostly technical face climbing, but there are some steep sections, and, apparently, routes up to F8b. It would appear that re-bolting at Céou is currently in progress; many of the bolts were quite old, and occasionally one would be missing (!). The holes have been drilled for glued-in anchors to be installed throughout, and I would expect the crag to be equipped fairly soon – and to the high standards we have come to expect from French crags.
Céou would make a very worthwhile destination for a week’s relaxed summer family climbing – though you would probably want to get your climbing done in the morning shade, then retire to the campsite pool in the afternoon. I’ll be back!
Bouldering at Gages-du-bas
Lastly, here are another couple of spots in the Aveyron region: the first is the interesting limestone bouldering area of Gages-du-Bas. This area lies just east of the town of Rodez, and is worth a visit if you’re in the area and fancy a change from climbing routes. The problems are mostly quite easy, but there is one prominent boulder with an obviously built-up landing where things are pretty stiff – the obvious mega-problem seems almost completely devoid of holds!
The delightful series of cliffs next to the village of Autoire. The cliffs line a steep-sided valley that leads up to a waterfall – which was almost an ice climb at the time.
Le Capucin is to be found in the Gorges de l'Aveyron, a couple of kilometres from the charming town of St. Antonin-Noble-Val. The nearest city is Toulouse, which is roughly one and a half hours away from the crags described in this article.
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