Location: Cassis, France – Les Calanque D’En Vau (pronounced “onn vow”, if I got it correct)
En Vau is a Calanque right near the house we were staying at – literally only a walk away. Thus, it was the first one that we headed to (And the last, though that story hasn’t been told yet), so after breakfast on Sunday everyone packed up their gear and started the walk over.
“The walk” consisted of maybe 5 minutes on the roads of Cassis, before we found the official parking lot for the trail head and started into the Calanques themselves. We had to pass through a small one labeled Port Mieu, though the trails in that area were rather light and easy, before we actually broke into the real trails that worked their way through the mountains toward En Vou.
See, a Calanque is very similar to a Fjord, in that it’s a small strip of ocean that pencils in through cliffs and spires. I think the technical difference is that a Calanque was carved by riverwater, but you’d have to check with a geologist for the actual information.
All I know is – the hike? It was steep, and long, and really fun. The rock in this area isn’t the usual New England granite – instead, it’s a softer sort of rock (I believe a form of sedimentary rock). That means that it wears a lot easier… which means that the thousands of people who hike these trails and climb these routes have slowly polished the rocks down – there are places where the rock is literally gem-level polished. Kind of nice on the feet, but not really ideal for rock climbing… especially when that hold that you need is roughly the texture of oiled glass.
But we persevered – the hike down part Port Mieu into En Vou was fraught with peril and tourists (literally dozens of people clogging the trails), but once we made it in… well, the pictures describe it. Jaw-dropping is a good term too. We set up out gear at the base of one of the larger spires, a good multi-pitch that comes highly recommended, and started up…
- La Saphir – five pitches (officially), ranging from 5.3 to 5.8
- Pitch 1 – 5.5 – Lead = Daniel. This was a very fun route, though a lot of the rocks were super-polished from so much traffic going up and down the route. It’s even got a nice little concrete basin at the bottom, so we could keep all our gear out of the wind
- Pitch 2 – 5.1… if that – Lead = Ben. Just a simple traverse with 2 bolts, though it was a bit run out, so rope-drag actually became annoying
- Pitch 3 – 5.4 – Lead = Daniel. Again, a simple traverse, not really much to say about it
- Pitches 4 & 5 – 5.7 & 5.9 – Lead = Ben. I spun these two pitches into one, since the middle belay stance wasn’t particularly good. 17 quickdraws worth of climbing, maybe 30 or 40 meters high, and nice and steep. Very small and polished holds throughout, but it was a really fun lead for me. I think there may have actually been two belay anchors, but… yeah. Better just to finish it all as one go.
- Descent – This is where everything went interesting. Erin, Daniel and I got to the top. Then Bjorn and Rebecca got to the top. Then Johan and Magnus got to the top. Then another two teams got to the top.
Why didn’t we rappel off, you ask? Well… the rappel anchors were being used by the main belay, and we were originally going to just descend the same way that we came up.
But… that was obviously getting a little unlikely, since we were now looking at a third team coming up the face.
So, shivering from the cooling breeze (we all had neglected to wear shirts, you see) we set a rappel down the main face with Daniel and Rebeccas ropes – a full 70m and an 80m, so we were quite confident that they could make the complete drop.
Which, thankfully, they did!