Ceuse Holiday Sun

The start of the month saw Keith and I driving south, to the French sport climbing Mecca of Ceuse. Perched high up in the foothills of the Ecrin, overlooking the town of Gap, Ceuse literally strikes you as the jewel in the crown of French sport climbing.

Owen Davies warming up on the classic Bleu comme l'enfer (F6c+). Photo: Jim McCormack

Though sport climbers are not renowned for their love of long walk-ins and big “uphill” thighs, climbing at Ceuse begins with a 45min-1hour long walk in, uphill all the way. Fortunately for me, having just spent a week up north on Skye (see the Cullin Ridge report), I was well prepped for the walk-in, and could enjoy the stroll and its beautiful views (yeah right?)! The walk does have its advantages though, getting you well warmed up for the hundreds of immaculate pitches that the crag has to offer, meaning you don’t have to waste too much time warming up on easy routes!

Pete Harrison on the steep start to Vagabond d'occident (F7c). Photo: Jim McCormack

While it is in essence one long crag, Ceuse takes a horseshoe shape, which means there’s always the option of climbing in the shade or in the sun…whatever tickles your fancy. Each sector offers slightly different styles of climbing, from steep & juggy pump-fests to long & technically sustained vertical routes with big exciting run outs!

Keith on a redpoint attempt of La Chose (F7c) at sector Berlin. Photo: Jim McCormack

Through the course  of the two weeks there was ample time for many outstanding routes, massively pumped forearms and numerous big whippers…the highlight in many ways though wasn’t the climbing but getting to watch Adam Ondra climb (very sad, I know!).

Adam Ondra in the thick of the hard climbing, on the first ascent of Jungle Boogie (F9a+). Photo: Jim McCormack

There was a real buzz when he was attempting stuff at the crag, and you could see people gaining motivation from the obvious effort and energy he would put into each attempt on a route. Watching him do the first ascent of Jungle Boogie (F9a+) was the fist time I’d seen him climb and it was a real inspiration. His style of climbing is super bendy and really fluid – it’s pretty cool to watch the way he just flows up these routes that sit at the current limit of climbing’s standards. What I found equally motivating however was the effort he put into his flexibility. We’re always given the impression the he’s just naturally bendy, but every evening when he got back from the crag he’d devote a good while to stretching whilst cooking dinner…it was reassuring to see that as naturally talented as he obviously is, he still puts some effort in too!

Ondra on the easier upper section during the FA of Jungle Boogie (F9a+). Photo: Jim McCormack

His by-now legendary flash attempt on Biographie was also something to behold. Keith & I were on a rest day but had a good view of the crag, which even from a distance is easy to spot climbers on all the popular lines. But as the cool evening conditions came, all the normally busy lines were totally vacant, not a single person was climbing. Instead, everybody was congregated below Biographie, which by now was fully rigged for the cameras for the main event of Ondra’s trip…it was a pretty strange scene that I’m pretty sure doesn’t ease the pressure!!

Adam Ondra on his third attempt at Biographie. Having already tried to flash this legendary F9a+ first climbed by Chris Sharma, he came agonizingly close to doing it on both of his subsequent attempts before having to leave Ceuse and head home! Photo: Jim McCormack

The outcome has been well publicized, but the effort and research that went into such an audacious attempt was pretty interesting; watching videos of previous ascents while someone abbed the line, chalking and brushing all the appropriate holds on the way down, was not your typical build up to a flash attempt. But this wasn’t a typical route to try and flash, so I guess that’s what it takes to try and push global standards by more than a grade!

Jim not pushing sport climbing standards on Cent Patates. Photo: Keith Scarlet

With all the Ondra excitement going on it’s easy to be super-psyched for “at-your-limit” onsights & redpoints, but as our last day came around we avoided the temptation to keep pushing the single pitches, and stick to our plan of finishing off with one of the multi-pitch routes on the Grande Face. Multi-pitch sport is always super good fun, often with plenty of exposure but still with the sport vibe! Inesperance didn’t disappoint on either front, with 4 big pitches of increasing difficulty (6a+, 6b+, 6c+ & 7a) and plenty of space beneath your feet, especially on the steep and tricky third pitch. Topping out into the afternoon sun from the cold updraft was amazing, and the landscape on top of Ceuse is both beautiful and slightly surreal (as someone told me – strangely reminiscent of Telly Tubby Land!). After a quick bite to eat in the afternoon sun we still had time for a couple of routes before the long drive home. Though the arms were tired, we had finally developed some “Ceuse fitness” and still felt pretty on it, so quickly bagged a couple of routes, including the ultra classic Blocage Violent. Pumpy all the way and with some pretty spicy run-outs, I thought it was a bad sign leaving the ground feeling pretty pumped, but somehow I managed to clip the chains with exactly the same level of pump…why is it you only get that level of fitness on the day your trip ends?

The view from the top of the Grande Face. Photo: Jim McCormack

Keith on a last day attempt of La Chose, a nails (ie. not) F7c. Photo: Owen Davies

The view of Petit Ceuse in the evening light from sector Berlin. Photo: Jim McCormack

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