American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

French Rock-Climbs

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  • Publication Year: 1981

French Rock-Climbs, by Pete Livesey. Leicester, England: Cordee, 1980. 77 pages, maps, diagrams. Price £3.95.

For the rock climber who has done everything in the U.S., this may be the book of the year. Tired of Yosemite? Burned off with El Dorado or the Gunks? Well, why not buy a cheap trans-Atlantic flight and try France?

There have been rumors lately about the splendors of rock climbing there—Verdon in particular. One of the chief rumormongers has been Pete Livesey, who has now put into book-form a smattering of routes from twelve French climbing areas. It is a book in the tradition of Robin Collomb’s Mont Blanc, or J. Brailsford’s Dolomites; being far from comprehensive but of great value to climbers ignorant of the local language. When bummed out on the Chamonix or Courmayeur weather, climbers may find welcome relief and diversions in these crags; most of them clustered in the sunny south and situated near villages of great charm. Not all climbers, however. Anyone who can’t climb at F9 to F10 needn’t bother with French Rock-Climbs.

Vercors and Verdon get by far the largest sections; a dozen pages each, compared to six for the Calanques, four for Le Saussois. Dry and understated Yorkshireman though he be, Livesey almost bubbles with enthusiasm over Verdon, calling it the “undoubted centerpiece of French free climbing; a magnificent 2000-foot steep gorge flanked by cliffs of superb limestone. Here one can find a selection of the finest climbs to be seen anywhere in Europe. Long sustained routes follow soaring cracks and dièdres or the blank sheet-like pillars between them.” And this: “Nothing is quite so enthralling as climbing a seemingly holdless white wall set high above the roaring Verdon river by a continually surprising series of incut holds.”

The publication of this book is bound to stimulate traffic in English- speaking climbers to the South of France—coincident with what appears to be a new surge of local talent on the scene. It is to be hoped that ententes cordiales prevail between the nationalities. Already I’ve heard disturbing stories about French climbers at Verdon defecating too close to the campground. Presumably the French have their stories about American or British boorishness. And when there are discussions between our styles and theirs—i.e. protection placed by the leader and no resting allowed on it versus their preference for pins in situ and fifi hooks—let’s not forget liberté, égalité et fraternité.

It seems astonishing that such fine rock climbing as this book describes in 150 different routes, should only recently have surfaced into the collective Anglo-American consciousness. But better late than never. And when I read the well-traveled Livesey wax lyrical about “air filled with the scent of a dozen species of aromatic plants, the colors are striking, and the weather all too kind,” there's no doubt where I’m going this summer.

John Thackray

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