I had never heard about the place. At least I didn’t recall hearing about it when I was looking for a climbing crag near the French Riviera where we had ended up. Sunbathing and swimming in late October is quite OK, especially if you come from Finland where at the same time the ice swimming season starts to hit in. Well, not really but we tried to make the most out of our situation. I managed to enjoy the late summer laziness at the almost tourist-free seaside resort for two days, then started climbing on the concrete walls lining the beach, making a fool out of myself. Decent training for heel hook topout, though.
Anycase, a casual browsing of my native 27crags reveals to me that only half an hour drive inland from our coastal location there is this place called les Gorges du Loup with good sport climbing judging from the info on the site. Off we go. Without more exact knowledge of the whereabouts of the climbing there, we just park by the gorge at a place with promising looking cliffs next to it. An approach rope on a steep track leading presumably to a climbing sector is spotted and in the next moment, voilá, two guys looking awfully much like climbers strolling to the small parking spot. A quick interview and it turns out that we have stopped at the very sector containing the severest routes in the area. Ouch. Nothing below 7b that the fellow would recall. Well, might be just doable for me; let’s see after a good nights sleep how it works out, since the other sectors and their location are still a mystery.
Not a bad place to stay with the van, the parking. Right next to a road, but which sees very little traffic in the night-time (not overtly much during the day either). On the other side a gently humming river Loup. Unless it has just received a downpour, if not the century, at least the year, when it turns into a roaring monster. That’s what earplugs are for.
Next day, time to get serious. And seriously overhanging the place – sector Pupuce Surplomb as I later discovered – is. Many of the routes wind far, far above the initial overhang to gentler, but still negative angles making them undoubtably grinding pumpfests. Modern sport climbing – makes you wish you had concentrated more on stamina during all those years at boulders… The warm-up route for the climbers who actually have any business to Pupuce is selected as my testpiece. Graded 7b, something about the devil in the name and quickdraws in place. Perfect! Bouldery start works for me just fine but the pumpy tufas higher up, not so fine. And this is one of the shorter routes around.
After 1,5 days of hangdogging I was ready to buy a guide book for the area. Enter the moral of the story: always buy the guide book. No matter how small your dirtbagging budget is, it’s worth the price. So much more pleasant to a) find the crag, b) find the suitable routes c) see if your rope is long enough before you hit on a route etc. Since Gorges du Loup I quit Scrooging on guide books and took the habit of buying one first, and only after that checking where to go climbing. Live and learn. Another reason for buying one is that this way you can contribute at least a bit to the local climbing scene and the development of the crags you use free of charge. Doesn’t apply for the big publisher books, obviously, but the local ones.
Info on Gorges du Loup is included in L’escalade dans les Alpes-Maritimes V3 which, unsurprisingly, covers the climbing spots in the French département of Alpes-Maritimes. The book was purchase-able (32 €) at the charming little bookstore/wine bar of the nearby Châteauneuf-Grasse (they didn’t have it in the Tabacs of even nearer-by villages of Bar-sur-Loup or Pont-du-Loup). While the graphic design makes you wish for a V4, the information on the book seemed very accurate and functional, at least for the few sectors I managed to visit. Few minus points, though, for giving the route lengths only for a sector at a time, leaving room for doubt at places where some of the routes exceed 30 m.
Armed with the printed information we found e.g. la Grotte de l’Iroquoi with its easier overhanging routes, also doable after and even during rain. Most visits we paid to sector les Balcons which contains near-vertical technical climbing on shorter (15-20 m) routes. Not rated as a classic in the area, we still enjoyed the sector quite a bit. There is a good bunch of low to mid level climbs all neatly next each other and on solid limestone. The setting lacks the mighty gorge views, but on the other side provides nice shelter in the woods. A peaceful place for climbing and general enjoyment of life. Enjoying life usually is easier when sending, too, me getting finally to nail my first French 7s.
We saw very little traffic at the crags, even on weekends. When comparing to Verdon, for example, the atmosphere is very tranquil. Our bivy spots were also quiet though both right next to a road. There’s nothing much to distract the attention so full concentration to climbing is guaranteed. And when the belayer can’t take it anymore, Riviera is just another 30 minutes away. Gorges du Loup, status: approved.
What, where, who, when?
Gorges du Loup (in plural for reasons mysterious, at least to me) is a canyon formed by the river Loup and opening northwards from the village of Pont-du-Loup in Provence, southern France. Climbing is situated on both flanks of the gorge. The different sectors are reached mainly from the two roads on either side of the gorge, D3 and D6 (these are connected at the other end of the gorge at Bramafan). Some sectors can also be approached by foot from Pont-du-Loup. The approaches are mainly short (5-20 min) and easy. The gorge contains nearly 20 different sectors of limestone climbing on different angles. Hold types range from tufas to pockets, but none seems to dominate. Route lengths vary between 15 and 45 m. Several moderate multi-pitch outings with 3-7 ropelengths can be found at the sector L’ermitage and few others containing aid sections are scattered around the gorge.
Though there are routes from almost the whole grade spectrum (4a-8c+) and a modest level climber like me can find heaps to onsight and project in the area, it is fairly obvious that someone operating at the upper 7s and 8s can get much more out of Gorges du Loup. Beside Pupuce there are several other overhanging “classic” sectors containing only harder routes, notably Jurassik Park [sic.] and Cayenne. Still, I had a great time for a week in the area while only scratching the surface of it and would gladly go for another!
Next to the canyon there are only small villages with apparently little accommodation options. Nearest bigger city is Grasse, about 15 km from Pont-du-Loup. Seaside resorts of e.g. Nice, Cannes & Antibes are roughly 30-50 km away.
With van we stayed at two different spots by the gorge: 1) directly after a road tunnel when coming from Pont-du-Loup, the parking for Pupuce Surplomb and 2) at the crossroad of D3 and D603, which gives access to the west bank sectors adding another 500 m to approach walks. The latter was more pleasant in our opinion. Both have a water supply in the form of the Loup river (bit of a downhill walk-in) and a small stream, respectively. Also next to Gourdon there is a big municipal (?) pique-nique area which is also suitable for bivying, so we were told. We drove past it and it looked OK.
Late October proved to be a benign time to visit. We received some rain but beautiful autumn days prevailed and the crowds were nowhere to be seen. Springtime probably gives favourable conditions too. The guide book suggests surprisingly many sectors also for summer climbing, but this is due to the fact that many of them are on the shady west bank of the canyon. The impressive Pupuce Surplomb on the east bank is best avoided in the summer heat. Climbing is probably also doable in winter months: at least the various sectors don’t seem to be too exposed to wind. Do check from other sources before going, though.
Rest day activities could include canyoning in the gorge, beach indulgence in Cannes or cultured visit to Antibes with its Picasso-museum. Grasse has a lot of perfumeries to visit, as the region is renowned for the richly essenced flora (lavender et al.) and the production of olfactory explosions from it. The charming little villages (no escape from these in France) also provide pleasant settings for doing absolutely nothing.