Friday, 28 December 2012

Escalade Charentaise – Bouldering in and around Angouleme.

This is a very old article, written around ten years ago, the photos are from a trip that happened around four years ago. I thought I would publish this now in attempt to keep phyche high in one of the wettest winters I can remember. Enjoy!!!!

Words - Owen (SkinnyDog), all photo's from the Richie Crouch Collection.

Easter usually marks the changing of the seasons in Great Britain. We move from the depths of the dark, wet, cold, rainy season to the wondrous mists and dull light of the warm, rainy season. Obviously being a teacher and having two weeks of holiday at this time of year my thoughts drift to which part of Europe I am going to climb in this year. Font usually jumps to mind, but I have been stranded there in 30 degree heat before. Alpine bouldering is definitely an option but I’m holding that ace up my sleeve for summer when it really starts to belt down at home. So where should I go? As per usual I retreat to the computer screen, and the bible of French bouldering – ZeBloc.

ZeBloc is an amazing on-line resource. If you pick the list de spot option on the home page an interactive map of France appears, listing all the bouldering in each department of our nearest neighbour, supplying links to specific websites. You’ve got to hand it to the French; they know how to get the information out there.

I’d heard of bouldering around the French city of Angouleme. Dave Jones’ Rock Climbing Guide to Europe from the early 90’s said the area, west of Font, had the best bouldering in France. In more recent times the climbing in this area has been made famous by Fred Rouhling and his exploits; particularly one F9b route called Akira. It just so happens that my father owns a farm and a gite about an hour’s drive from Angouleme so I thought I would check the area out. I clicked on department 16 (The Charent) on the ZeBloc map and was amazed by what I saw.

The Bouldering.

There are many areas of bouldering around Angouleme. These include Les Eaux Claires and Cothiers which are in the city’s suburbs and Le Champingnon which is 10km south of the city. Les Eaux Claires is the most famous area, as it is where Ebola - Fred Rouhling’s drilled 8a is found. I didn’t visit this spot as friends of mine had been there and said that whilst extensive- it had been spoilt by the French chipping bug. I checked out Cothires (although I didn’t get a chance to climb there) and it is made up of edges and detached pocketed boulders which can only be described as quality. The area I climbed at and really investigated in detail was the Champignon area. With its four separate sectors there is plenty to go at.

Mushrooms and Limestone Waves.

Imagine bouldering on mushrooms. No not ON mushrooms- I would say that heights and psychedelic fungi are a bad mix. I mean imagine bouldering on a perfect mushroom of limestone. This particular boulder (or pinnacle if you want to be precise) gives this area its name, and it really does look like a Chanterelle mushroom. The Mushroom boulder is covered in pockets and slopers without a chip in site. If I had to nominate a boulder for my back garden, I think this would be the one.

The other four sectors at Le Champignon namely, Le Mur, La Fontain, and La Voute are best described as steep fossilised waves of limestone, each around 13 to 15 feet high, peppered with pockets, slopers and the occasional hueco. These edges are so steep they make Raven Tor look like a slab. The climbing is powerful and if you like monos, this is your nirvana.

I’m pleased to say that these crags do not suffer from polish as they don’t seem to be climbed on that much. The area is generally peaceful, even though all sectors are near to the road. One word of warning though, beware old men bearing maps. While I was hanging on the mushroom a friendly, old, round local approached me, interested in what I was doing. I explained that my French was poor, but he quickly forgot this as he explained lots of interesting, unknown and totally unintelligible things to me. I’m not sure if he was real or a figment of my imagination, possibly the mushroom had affected me after all. Anyway he seemed pleased with my use of the area and then as if by magic he produced a map. He showed me parts of France that I did not recognise and will never be able to find again. I was a little bemused by the interchange, but hey he was smiling!

Orientation and Tips.

I flew to Limoges, about an hour and a half from Angouleme. Ryanair fly to this airport from Liverpool, Stansted and East Midlands. All the usual car hire companies serve it and it is it easy to get to the motorway from there. Apparently there are plans for a cheap flight operator to fly direct to Angouleme soon. If you keep up with the websites I’m sure that this new service will be easy to find. Topos to all the areas mentioned and a few more can be found on – click on the spots button on the left of the screen and each area can be viewed. In terms of accommodation there is a Formule 1 in both Angouleme and Limoges. As with all parts of rural France the Charent region is peppered with good quality campsites which are signposted as you drive down the road. Spring and autumn seem to be the best times to climb here, as in the summer it would be far too hot to pull down.

One last word of warning, try and stick to the speed limits as you drive around. I spotted many French Police with speed cameras on the roads. The traffic Police on motorcycles can’t be missed as they look like a contract cleaning firm with attitude and helmets. Their two- tone, blue lapelled uniforms are a poor choice for those in authority. In Britain you might point this out, however in France I think this would be a bad idea. They may take you for a severe scrub and shampoo down at the station.

Cheers Owen

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