Getting introduced to the grande voie

Sortie Toulon, 16-19 février 2024

Friday at 7:30am we were whisked away by a high-speed train departing Gare de Lyon, headed for Toulon. I didn’t know what to expect of the “grandes voies” that awaited the 12 of us—this was my first time climbing multi-pitch, with a crew of experienced climbers. I, the American with a meager A2 French, was excited and nervous about the adventure.

During the train ride, I furiously scribbled on my notepad all the steps of multi-pitch that Nina graciously helped teach me. (Which were still scrambled in my head. I felt like I just wanted to get my first one over with and put all the steps into action. Like learning how to drive manual transmission!)

“Relais vache,” “bout de courde,” “quand tu veux”…I clung to the words I had learned just days ago, feeling like they were imperative to my life once I touched the rock. Luckily I had a beginner multi-pitch climber to share the learnings with, Gustavo…my partner in crime.

On this trip I would experience not only the beauty of multi-pitch, but also a great peek into French life…

Day 1
We arrived smoothly into Toulon, grabbed our rental cars and groceries, then drove to our cozy, large rental home. I recall Louen informing me that I should not unplug the device by my bed because it was the TV cable connection for a little garçon next door. Entendu!

Gorges du Destel
The mission of the day: Nina and Baku were to initiate me and Gustavo on a 4-pitch climb called “Les Temps Modernes” that included a single 50m rappel, while other climbers plotted an afternoon trip to Jaume. Besides Moa, who took a snooze. (We are also Parisians after all.) 😉


We arrived at our crag after a short drive and walk, as a busy highway weaved closely next to the climbing area. Nina and Baku would start, and Gustavo and I would go after. I remember meticulously watching Nina and Baku prepare and start to climb, wanting to mimic their steps… Yes, even Nina’s go-to practice of keeping the red rope on the left side. I repeated to myself, “Rouge, gauche”. I was like a toddler, repeating 1 or 2 words I knew in French out of an entire interaction. Maybe it’s best to keep things simple like that when climbing but it felt like the stakes were high!

Not to worry though, the hardest grade we had to climb was 5c so the climbing was sympa. We worked our way up the rock and a trickle of rain began. “Oh no. First multipitch, and what if a storm comes in?” I thought… “Angie, relax. Breathe. Focus on belaying your follower.” And like that, the rain went away…

We had a fun traverse, too! Gustavo lead it and went out of sight. The cars zoomed along the highway, making it impossible to hear him. “What if I can’t hear him? When do I know it’s my time to climb?” I thought…I snapped out of it and reassured myself with, “Jesus take the wheel.” Once I felt Gustavo tug hard on the rope, I knew he was probably anchored and wanted to take up the rope. Off belay, pull up the rope, then I waited patiently and eventually heard a “Quand tu veux !” during a quiet moment. Onwards…

My nerves settled as we eased into the climb. I finally felt the thrill of continuing beyond one pitch! But like that, it was already over. Gustavo and I arrived to a relaxed Nina and Baku with the rappel already set up. They were on Formula One driver speed. We had a little celebration and made it back down to the ground. Boom! First multi-pitch accomplished. It was “une petite aventure,” another saying I picked up from Nina.

That evening, we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal (including desserts!) , hung out, and everyone set up their climbing plans for the following day. Every evening was to go like that.

Day 2
Louis and Louen were to take me and Gustavo on our first double rappel, to enter the crag of Capri. I was hesitant to do this because of all the horror stories, but alas, I knew we were in good hands and it went magnificently. Gustavo and I were to embark on our first solo multipitch together, the 4-pitch 5c “Turkish Delight.” And a delight it was! Louis and Louen had a mission to do 2 separate multipitches at Capri, both around 6a+.

The double rappel into Capri

The same nerves set in on Turkish Delight, but were quickly swept away after the first couple pitches… The sun was out, and we had delightful rock to climb on. The 2 middle pitches were more slabby, and the final pitch that Gustavo lead involved scrambling around a tree. Bien joué!

A highlight was seeing Baku and Michele on their long route across the gorge, and Clement’s team of 4 climbing the more difficult route. They appeared as ants, as climbers do from far away, and I could feel the fun and joy that was happening in the gorge in that moment.

Gustavo and I were also able to sneak over to Planète des Singes — a sport climbing crag next to Capri — where he furiously attacked and accomplished a 6a+! Bravo, Gustavo.

Louis and Louen after a hard day’s work

Day 3
The next day was to be a sport climbing day with my sister and her partner who were also climbing in Toulon, as some of us were happy with a break from the multipitches. While the others went on to have big multipitch climbs.

At Jaume, the sun beat down on us this day and we quickly realized, this was hard climbing for the grades! It was certainly a place to be challenged…So we got on about 4-5 routes, from 5b to 6a+…

Michele wasn’t feeling too good – however he still managed to make a delicious tiramisu later that night.

Some fun at Jaume

Day 4
Back to the beginning: Gorges du Destel
On day 4, we were to set off on the train back to Paris in the evening… so we had limited time to work with for day climbing. Baku, Gustavo, Nina and I decided to do a lovely 7-pitch climb as the final mission, called “Promenons-nous dans les bois” at Gorges du Destel. A 5c+, split up by two sections where you had to walk to get to the next section.

Gustavo and Nina started, flying up the wall. Baku and I were to test our friendship—this was our first multipitch together and Baku was the first climbing friend I made in Paris. We shall see.

As we worked our way up, we hesitated to unanchor ourselves between pitches 3 and 4 because we were unsure of the walk to pitch 4. So I stayed anchored at the end of pitch 3, and belayed Baku for pitch 4. He certainly had a challenge with the rope drag, while I hung back and belayed and it appeared to me like he was just gardening in his back yard among all the beautiful plants… Later we were to discover, when Gustavo and Nina were at this pitch, Nina nonchalantly grabbed the rope and walked with Gustavo to the next pitch. If only we knew!

The climb ended with a nicely varied 5c, with orange limestone and more of an overhung feel. 7 Pitches and 200m later, our friendship was solidified and Nina wrapped up our Toulon adventure.

Then, we reconvened with everyone at our home, cleaned up, and headed out… There were even some final bites of tiramisu to be enjoyed. I hung back in Toulon for a few days to continue climbing with my sister and her partner, and finally took my first lead fall!

The Toulon trip was a grand success. I was probably the one who experienced the most “new” lessons — as everyone besides me and Gustavo were seasoned outdoor climbers — which made me ever more grateful to be surrounded by such people during those learning moments. From doing my first multipitches, getting double rappelled, to seeing how the pros do it… I’m grateful for Nina and Louis leading this trip as part of FLM.

I can’t finish without including some highlights and observations about the food:
Nina’s homemade mayo for Bahn Mi sandwiches — Americans would only dream of making their own mayo!
Medium boiled eggs for breakfast, placed in cute little cups, accompanied by bread dippers. Again, Americans don’t get this delicate with their eggs…
Veggie curry
Plus more…

left : Veggie curry with homemade cheese naans  – right : Michele, the master of is craft

Toulon Sortie #2 with FLM made me dream of future multi-pitch adventures that flow even smoother by communicating more instinctively by the feel of the rope, by knowing your climber, and by having the multi-pitch steps feel like second nature… Ah, the potential climbs that unfolded in my mind, like finding the key to a door! Merci beaucoup.

Texte: Angie
Grimpeurs: Nina, Louis, Baku, Gustavo, Louen, Clement, Moa, Max, Helene, Michele, Luc, Angie
Organisateurs: Nina et Louis