Osprey Packs Athlete Joe Stock is an internationally certified IFMGA mountain guide based in Anchorage, Alaska. He has been climbing and skiing around the world for 25 years with extensive time in the mountains of Alaska, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the North Cascades of Washington and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Since 1995, Joe has been freelance writing for magazines starting with a feature article in Rock & Ice on climbing the Balfour Face on Mount Tasman in New Zealand. Since then, he’s published numerous articles on adventures and mountain technique in rags such as Climbing, Backcountry, Alaska, Trail Runner, Men’s Health and Off Piste.
To climbers, “Les Calanques” means sea cliff climbing on the Mediterranean Coast in Provence in south France. Where temperatures are warm, the food fresh and the wine the best in the world. My wife Cathy and I spent two weeks climbing in the Calanques. We rented a VRBO in the town of Cassis, which is 15 minutes from Marseille. Our favorite route of the trip was a linkup of Traverse Ramond and Traverse Sans Retour. This added up to 700 meters of sea cliff climbing with a crux of 6b (5.10+). Ten hours of climbing with an hour of walking on either side.
At 8am, after an hour-long walk, we found the entrance to Traverse Ramond. It was shaped like a doorway. We rappelled from a thread (a sling through a natural rock anchor) in the roof of the doorway down the sea cliff. Traverse Ramond is an easy sea cliff traverse, but the wild location makes for a nice entrance route for the next route, Traverse Sans Retour.
Cathy at the point of no return on Traverse Sans Retour. We completed the most terrifying rappel of our lives. From a dangling rappel station we rapped sideways down the overhanging face above the raging water. To avoid swinging into space, we clipped bolts on the way down. When Cathy rapped, she unclipped the bolts and I pulled her into the wall. Sans Retour means “No Return.” In this photo we just pulled the ropes. There is no return.
Cathy on the crux 5.10+ traverse of Sans Retour. Although warm, the wind was raging and sea foamy white below us.
In addition to traversing, Sans Retour involved many rappels, straight up climbing and route finding. Route-finding was half the challenge of Sans Retour. The english guidebook was a joke. Climbers have been exploring these sea cliffs for 50 years, so bolts, pins, slings and abandoned ropes coat the wall making confusing route options.
Cathy emerging from a belly crawl on a narrow shelf 100 feet above this cauldron of whitewater. Maybe mellow if you’re used to sea cliff climbing in Wales, but for us, WILD! We finished after 10 hours of climbing. We walked back to the road in the twilight holding hands. Then drove to Cassis and drank some wine.