Climbing in Burgundy – Escaping the heat at Geligny

By Jonathan.

Over the past 30 years the popularity of climbing has sky-rocketed. An important trigger for this was the development of sport climbing, which began in France in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since that time the number of sport climbing destinations has grown exponentially. With a constant stream of new and / or more exotic climbing destinations coming to the attention of climbers, it would be easy to see France, where it all began, as yesterday’s thing. Burgundy might therefore be seen as an unexpected place to choose to live on the basis of the climbing there.

Understandably, the perspective of the climbing media is often on where a good destination for a short climbing holiday might be, or the best places to visit on a climbing road trip. This tends to focus on the dominant characteristics of a place and when the optimal time to visit might be. When choosing a climbing area in which to live a broader set of criteria need to be considered. Having access to a lot of climbing was obviously central to our decision, however, two equally important factors were the length of the climbing season and the variety of the accessible climbing.

With over 4,500 routes in the region, Burgundy ticks the “quantity of climbing” box admirably, but we were at first uncertain how well it would do against the other criteria. Having first visited Burgundy in November 2017, we knew it was possible to climb here until the end of Autumn. What we were less sure about was whether we would be able climb here in the Summer.  This year, having visited Burgundy on three occasions through one of the hottest summers on record, we have been able to lay that concern to rest.

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Luckily, there are several crags within Burgundy that benefit from being in the shade until the afternoon, or even later, allowing for productive morning climbing sessions even when the daytime temperatures have risen into the mid 30s under cloudless skies. One such crag is Geligny.

Geligny is a limestone crag situated in beech forest about 10 minutes’ walk from where you can park. It is a surprisingly attractive and quiet setting considering that it isn’t far from the road, gets very little sun and still bears the marks of its past as a quarry.

Gearing up at the base of the crag

Where the hand of the quarryman is most noticeable is on the left-hand side of the crag which houses a selection of worthwhile routes between F3 and F5c. Although most of these routes are off-vertical and well supplied with holds and bolts, don’t assume they are all romps. Several are much more testing than you might expect from the grades given in the guidebook.

Round to the right from these routes is a huge cave marking a significant change in the style of climbing. In particular, the left side of the cave is bounded by an obvious crack route (Portrait de l’Oiseau (6c+)). As the scars on the backs of my hands can attest, this would be more in keeping if it were on a granite or gritstone outcrop than a limestone sport crag.

Battling the roof crack on “Portrait de l”Oiseau” (6c+)

Further right still is a series of vertical to slightly overhanging walls, which probably offer the best climbing at Geligny.  According to the guidebook the routes in these sectors range in difficulty from F4a – F7b. Again, the routes are nicely varied with some feeling like granite face climbs, some involving powerful moves between flowstone features and others, up juggy cracks and flakes, that require a more dynamic approach.

Gaynor navigating the tufa’s on the superb “Immense et Rouge” (6b)

So far we have done 27 of the 45 routes at Geligny and have had 5 good days there. Amongst these have been some minor gems (L’effort Humaine (6a), Immense et Rouge (6b), Le Salut a l’Oiseau (5b), Toure, Toure (6a+)). However, as we have plenty of time to go back, we haven’t cherry picked and so haven’t tried some of the best-looking lines. In part, this is because most of the routes at Geligny felt hard for the grade they are given, so whilst some of our climbing days might look quite laid back on paper, they haven’t felt it! 

What we have been enjoying most in the time we have spent in Burgundy so far is the variety of the climbing we have done, it seems to offer a “total climbing experience”. By this I mean it is testing every aspect of our climbing; technique, stamina, power, balance, determination and in some instances our courage. Although the climbing in Burgundy has brutally exposed our weaknesses, we are getting an immense sense of satisfaction each time we manage not to fail. It feels like we are being forced to learn to climb properly again, and we are enjoying every minute of it.

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