Text and pictures © 2009-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Calanques de Cassis: l'eau enfonce son coin turquoise dans l'albâtre du calcaire." — Sylvain Tesson.
Left: The blue of the mediterranean, the white limestone, and the rock of unforgiving prison islands where famous prisoners had books written about them...
Right: Rappelling very near the sea before starting the climb. If you can't do the 1st pitch, you can always swim back to Marseilles.
Left: Hubert on sharp limestone.
Right: Summit of a route at Sormiou.
I've long held going climbing in the Calanques due to the reputation of the place: there was a time that if you parked a car anywhere, it would get broken in as a daily rule. And it would be so hot as to be unclimbable. And there would be crowds of gay nudists. And the whole place would burn in forest fires most summers. And so on as exaggeration is a pretty usual property of people from Marseilles, the big city nearby. On the other hand, a more positive reputation goes on and on about long traverses on great limestone right above the waves of the mediterranean, watching fishermen at work in tiny boats and scantily clad bathers in the tiny stretches of sand.
And indeed my first trip to the Calanques over a decade ago were done with a drop-off car, the rock of the classic routes was as polished as a baby's buttocks, there were so many boats in the supposedly 'boatless' creek that they kept yelling at each other for bumping into each others and at the end of the day all I wanted to do was toss rocks on them and sink a few of those noisy stinky assholes instead of climb.
Things have improved lately, with cops doing the rounds of the parking lot every 15 minutes (really!) and the place having gone somewhat out of fashion. So, starting at the beginning, a 'calanque' is the way they name narrow creeks in those parts, between Marseilles and Cassis, and there are many such creeks in this wild area, most of which are easier to access by boat than by foot, but since part of the area is some kind of park, it is supposedly illegal for boats to get there. Not that it matters: in summer there'll be thousands of them wrestling for access to the shore. They should put a cop with a ballista and let tourists enjoy the show.
Right: Sunrise at Morgiou.
Left: Start of the trail to the climbs. Rocks are everywhere and there are several major cliffs in vicinity. The university of Marseilles is within walking distance. As is the biggest jail. Your choice.
Right: End of the promontory and start of the rappels.
Left: Rappelling near the sea to the start of a long traverse.
Right: Long traverses right above the sea are a local specialty. For many of them there's no way out until after many pitches.
Left: Continuously overhanging on tiny holds. Fortunately the bolts aren't too rusty yet.
Right: Aren't you supposed to be in bikini when on the seashore ?
Left: Another section of Morgiou with sport climbing routes.
Right: Remains of a defensive wall on the promontory (against pirates ?)
Left: While Sormiou and Morgiou are accessible by car during the off-season, the Devenson cliff is more remote, and requires not getting lost on the multitude of trails available.
Right: Rappelling off the Devenson.
Left: Hubert looking up at his future route. We will climb different routes next to each others.
Right: Hubert with the western part of the Devenson visible in the back. Plenty of space available for new routes on it.
Right: Continuous overhanging wall for both of us.
Left: The water is too cold, we are better off up on the rocks.
Right: Hubert looking for a rest position.
Left: Every once in a while boats enter the creek for a look and promptly leave.
Right: Final dihedral for Jenny.
Left: A view of the eastern part of the cliff, our two routes in the middle, starting from the bushy slopes. Cassis and its red cliffs are visible in the background. They mark the end of the Calanques.
Right: Ever steeper for Hubert.