The Greatest Summer - Part III. G du T

John McCune on Les Ailes du Desire (8a)


Friday, 1 May 2015

A security guard stood to attention, his index finger hovering over the trigger of the gun. His face was blank, eyes scanning the Security Lounge. I walked through the airport scanner and picked up my bag as it was spat out of the x-ray machine. Suddenly, he shouted: ‘Mr. Livingstone! Hands up, trousers down!’


I sniggered as the imaginary scene played out in my head, but thankfully I made it through airport security without mishap. I was going sport climbing in the Gorge du Tarn for some ‘pre-trad-season’ fitness and meeting up with ‘Ireland’s Leading Alpinist,’ John McCune. It was also perfect timing: a high pressure system moved over the UK and the Llanberis Pass began to dry out. Rats.


I sat down in a chair in Liverpool airport and got up again in Switzerland, two hours later. Meeting up with John ‘Colin McRae,’ we were soon speeding to the south of France, bound for t’ Tarn.


I’d heard snippets about the Gorge du Tarn (aka t’ Tarn) - namely that it was a stamina-fest and the routes were 50 or 60m long: just my style. Obviously, after a few weeks here I’d be immune to lactic acid and never get pumped whilst trad climbing this summer. Obviously. As it turns out, nothing ever goes quite to plan...


Nobody reads a ‘we went here, we did this’ blog but I hope you enjoy some of the highlights from our trip.


Dropping the top

I fell off the last hard moves of most of the routes in the Tarn - including the horrible bouldering-on-a-rope Starting Bloc (7c) and the incredible Une Colonne Derrière les Verrous (7b). Thankfully they all went down with a bit of rest.

I was beginning to think John ‘Anti Lactic’ was immune to pump until he took the ride on the last move of Pyromania (7c+) on the onsight/flash. To be fair, it’s a 55m route!


Complaining about sore arms/skin/fingers

We did a lot of moaning about our lack of skin and tired arms - especially me during the first week. Apologies to John and Uisdean (who joined halfway through). We were still climbing without much rest at the end of the trip, so I guess we’ll never learn. We’re Brits, after all.


Alphabeti Spaghetti

Possibly the greatest form of pasta ever invented: miniature letters of pasta, with endless possibilities for rude words!


Long routes

While there are plenty of long routes in t’ Tarn there’s also loads of shorter, more powerful ones. In my opinion, the longer the better - so there’s no hard moves! It’s nice to look down and have amazing views down the Gorge, vultures circling overhead and 50m of climbing beneath your feet. Go to Tennessee sector for the best routes.


Cheap living

Everyone loves wild camping in the dirt. We were still content after two weeks, although the tea did occasionally taste of mud. There’s great camping to be had outside the Gorge, past the village of St. Rome du Dolan.


Pulling it out of the bag

The last day was a particular highlight - we all had our projects to send and the pressure was on. John’s was his first 8a: Les Ailes du Desir, Uisdean’s was a tricky 7a+ called Planete Causse and I had a bouldery 7c+/8a called La Banda del Rulos. Although it was a close call, we each managed to send our projects and celebrated with high-fives and a 9-hour drive to the ferry.


Nice one to Uisdean ‘this would be easy with axes.’ He was busy jumping the grades and telling it like it is: ‘this is a fucking tech-fest!’ Cheers to John for the sport climbing psyche and congratulations on your first 8a. 


Pre-season fitness is complete. Now for the summer of T-RAD!





You can still climb at Tennessee sector in the rain.

The locals don’t like you camping in the Gorge. Vans are ok. For the best spots, head above the Gorge.

If you’ve got a big group, renting a gite in Les Vignes is a good way to go. Ask Ed Booth.

Get on Pyromania - it’s ace.

GDT is almost as good as LPT.

Tom LivingstoneComment