By now we had abandoned our plan to paddle the main Ardeche Gorge over two days and instead decided that Saturday (tomorrow) would be the day. We needed to get the car to the end so that when we got there we could get both us and our boats back to he start (our campsite). I could get a lift back in the afternoon so that gave us the morning to return to the climbing venue above Salavas.
This time we had a list of the routes and their grades, it made picking routes much easier. We were still impressed with the 30m long pitches of sector 2 and despite being told a 70m rope was better we didn’t have a problem with our brand new 60. We did however always have a knot in the end just in case!
After a couple of routes including a pumpy but very satisfying 6a called Caïpirigna we headed left to Sector 1. This area had plenty of easier routes but we only had time for one and climbed the layback flake on the left hand side. This was an interesting 5b.
In all I would put the grades about half to a whole grade harder than Yorkshire or Portland. However this could be at least partially due to the heat.
After getting back from the climbing I drove the hour to St Martin and the end of the Descent. A bit of a wait saw me on a minibus headed back to the campsite and all we need now is the energy tomorrow for about five hours paddling. We intend to set off early to avoid the weekend crowds.
Our plan for our second day in the Ardeche was to drive out to the Chassezac Gorge and descend the eight kilometer section in White Water Massif Central. This involved a longer shuttle which had a climb of nearly 200m so I was keen to set off early so that I wouldn’t be riding my bike in the heat of the day. However remembering that the paddles were in the tent whilst we were half way there didn’t help and by the time we were getting on the river it was very hot.
The river itself was much quieter than the mini-Ardeche with some interesting rapids and much impressive scenery. In particular, one rapid had a largish wave at the end and we stopped to run it again getting some video footage. Most of the descent was on flat water and we were very hot and hungry by the time we reached the car. I would recommend this descent over the Pont D’Arc section of the Ardeche as it had a much better atmosphere, only a handfull of boats and for long sections remote from the road.
Written Wednesday evening on my iPhone (sorry about my typing), posted on our return to the UK.
Today was our first full day in the Ardeche. We had a fairly pleasent journey down, staying overnight near lake Kir in Dijon and arriving yesterday afternoon having travelled just over one thousand miles from St Bees. Yesterday afternoon we paddled upstream to see the famous Pont D’Arc and run the Charlemagne rapid, it was late afternoon and the river was relatively quiet and very warm. Rolling practice was enjoyable and not too refreshing. We are staying on a campsite that backs onto the river, ideal for cooling off in the considerable heat of the day.
Today, after a leisurely start, we visited Vallon Pont d’Arc, the nearest main town. We picked up our tickets for a bivi in the gorge on Friday night and had a look around town. We then headed to the climbing venue above Salavas on the other side of the river. The cliffs face north-west and so stay in the shade until about 2pm. We didn’t have a guidebook but picked four long but not too difficult lines to climb. The rock was interesting water-worn limestone and it was well bolted. The pitches were very close to 30m long, our 60m rope only just reached. The climbing was mostly juggy, on the large pockets and flakes, but it was also very polished. On our return a web page told us that we had climbed a 4, two 5s and a 6a. We will be back, perhaps a little earlier in the day, and know with the knowledge of the grades.
Our afternoon activity was to paddle the mini gorge, this is about six km from Salavas to our campsite. It was picturesque but also very busy. The rapids all had obvious lines and the biggest difficulty was avoiding all the hire boats. This time we did a little surfing on the Charlamagne exit wave as well as a bit of filming.
The plan for tomorrow is to paddle a tributory to the Ardeche, upstream from here. Despite booking a bivi we think that we will paddle the main gorge in one day, that way we don’t need to fill our boats with gear and get back to our creature comforts. So Friday afternoon we will take the car to St Martin and then on Saturday we will run the 24km gorge.
Photos to follow.