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La Sportiva ambassador James Pearson about his latest trad route freed in South of France "Le Voyage"
La Sportiva ambassador James Pearson, just came back from a recent trip in the US with her wife / partner in climb Caroline Ciavaldini, ha sent the last week his latest big project at Annot in the South of France. He has called it Le Voyage, and with its its , E10 /7° is one of the hardest routes he has ever done, “the best new Trad route I have ever established”
“Climbing began in Annot back in the 1980’s with a series of steep, chipped sport climbs on the boulders just behind the train station. Later on with the boulder boom of the 90’s and early 00’s quickdraws and ropes were replaced by crashpads, and the numerous boulders laying on the steep forest floor were brushed and developed to give hundreds of problems. It wasn’t until 2005 That the first serious Trad developments started to take place. Perfect finger, hand, and fist cracks were unearthed from below the often dense vegetation; a monstorous effort from a few steadfast locals that 12 years later has seen Annot develop as the premiere Trad hotspot of France.
I know my dream line is out there somewhere, and I often go through the same motions for each new area I visit. I feel excitement on first seeing all that new rock from a far, planning line after line up big blank faces and trying to decipher which areas are worth searching closer on foot. Later I feel overwhelmed at the impossible prospect of checking every face, or every boulder, all this before I even get on a rope to really check out the walls. Finally comes disappointment, for although I often find great things, they are never perfect, and never correspond to exactly what I am searching for. Trad is beautiful, and natural, but it can also be fickle. You need both holds, and gear in perfect harmony, just enough but not too much, and either one of these can quickly throw off the balance. The amount of almost perfect lines are too many to count. It’s easy to blame the rock, but I too have to take some of the responsibility. My vision for my dream line is very specific, and to some extent ever evolving. Sometimes, just for a moment I catch myself wondering if I really want to find this thing at all.
For the most part Annot was like all the others. A beautiful area full of amazing trad routes, with enough to keep most climbers entertained for weeks, months , or years. There were a lot of big impressive walls that were just impossible to climb, and a few short, really hard but possible lines, tucked away in tight corners or passing just too close to other routes. Strangely however, there was one exception…
The most obvious wall in one of the easiest to access, most visually impressive areas, held a single, incredible line that worked from bottom to top. Slap bang in the middle of the “Chambre du Roi”, a gently overhanging face is split by a single, discontinuous crack that soars almost 40 meters from the floor. Where the crack runs out, perfect pockets take its place, with just enough small, fiddly gear to make it justifiable.
It took me 5 days to piece it all together, and from the first day where I couldn’t even understand the moves, to the last day, running it out in hope of a sticking the last jug, the whole process was quite a journey. It was complicated to work out, pumpy to climb, and is certainly one of the hardest Trad routes I have ever done, but instead of getting bogged down by difficulty, I’d love to focus on the quality of the line for once. Just look at this thing! Its beautiful, a real marvel of nature. Take away any one hold in several places on the route and it just wouldn’t work. It’s incredible that it even exists, anywhere, but especially in Annot where so many of the other big faces are just blank. “Le Voyage” is definitely the best new Trad route I have ever done.
I’d like to thank Tom Randall for telling me about this project several years ago – sorry Tom, I should have listened to you. Even more thanks should go to Lionel Catsoyannis for cleaning the line and giving me all the help with gear and beta that he could, but also for the hundreds of other routes he, and friends have cleaned and climbed all over this mountain.
So yes, I know Le Voyage, E10 -7a might not make a lot of sense to non-British Trad climbers, but it’s really the best I can do. I just hope that curious people can look past all that, and just go and try it because it’s a wicked line. It protects well enough, its steep so you can take big falls, and most of all its really, really fun. What are you waiting for?”
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