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Climbing in the French Riviera with Christopher Cook

10 May 2021

Amongst many activities available on the doorstep of Parc du Cap, the Côte d’Azur offers an array of climbing opportunities. There really is something for…

Amongst many activities available on the doorstep of Parc du Cap, the Côte d’Azur offers an array of climbing opportunities. There really is something for all levels and tastes thanks to the area’s access to thousands of routes! For example, the world-famous trails at the spectacular Gorges du Verdon and Les Calanques. Or, for adventurous enthusiasts, cliffhanging above glittering Monaco at La Turbie.

For English artist and Antibes resident, Christopher Cook, climbing goes hand-in-hand with his artwork. Christopher has been living in the region for over 20 years. Most importantly, climbing in Provence allows him to source the natural materials he uses in his organic art collections. His passion for climbing has even led him to build an indoor climbing wall in his studio! Here Christopher provides us with top tips and a shortlist of some of the best climbing locations in the region.

How did you first get into climbing?

Until about five years ago, I was terrified of heights! However, I was curious to see if it was possible to overcome this fear through climbing. I’ve always felt very alive when I put myself outside of my comfort zone. I enjoy the rush of adrenaline and endorphins it gives. In addition, I love trying new things and being in unfamiliar situations. So, my entry to climbing was two-fold: the desire to conquer my fear of heights and to try something new.

On my first climb with a friend, I couldn’t go higher than the height of my head – I was petrified. Much of it in the beginning is about trusting the equipment you use. In other words, trusting that the rope is strong enough to hold your weight and that the pins will stay in place. Which is easier said than done when you’re really scared of heights! Thankfully over time, I have overcome my fear – and am now totally hooked.

What kind of climbing do you do?

Nowadays, I mainly do what is called ‘sport climbing’, but there are four main types of climbing:

  • Sport climbing – when you put clips in bolted routes that are already established. For example, you might use a quickdraw to clip into a bolt (drilled and bolted into the rock). Then, you clip your rope into the quickdraw.
  • Bouldering – where you climb on lower and small boulders with no equipment and just a crash mat at the bottom. Because the rocks aren’t very high, the routes themselves are fairly short – between 4 to 10 moves in total. However, the moves are very technical and therefore can be extremely challenging!
  • Traditional climbing – where you have to place your own gear, such as ‘friends’ or ‘cams’. Personally, I avoid this as it requires a lot of expertise.
  • Deep water solo climbing – where you climb cliffs above the sea. If you fall off, you land in the sea. As I live on the coast, I do quite a bit of this which is scary but good fun!

What do you most enjoy about climbing?

Thanks to climbing, I’m beginning to really discover the region I have been living in for the last 20 years. It takes me to so many incredible destinations that are otherwise quite inaccessible and, therefore, unvisited. I love adventurous hiking out in nature, camping under the stars and being miles away from people. Moreover, climbers are often like-minded people. We all relish the adrenaline rushes, making new friends, travelling, discovering nature and having a good time. This simple life is a necessity for me.

Where are your favourite places to climb?

I climb almost exclusively in the region I live in, the Alpes-Maritimes. The area is vast. You could spend almost your entire lifetime climbing here and only experience half of what’s on offer! However, I also like visiting the neighbouring region of Var with its charming countryside, vineyards, forests and little farms. The climbing in this area is stunning, and as a result, a lot of my friends hang out here.

In addition, La Turbie is a great spot. It is set in the mountains behind Monaco with some incredible climbing and views out to sea. Another favourite is climbing above the sea at Cap de Ramon in Var. This has spectacular views out to a castle on a little island.

Top tips for anyone looking to start climbing

When I started, I would go along to a ‘crag’, otherwise known as a small cliff or spot to climb. There’s a place around here called La Colle sur Loup where many beginners learn, as it has low cliffs. In fact, it is the stomping ground for lots of climbing schools and kids. Climbers are super friendly and open people. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, everyone is welcome and treated as equals. So, I would just start talking to people and ask if I could have a go. Climbers are always usually very willing to help.

Further, check out schools and indoor gymnasiums where you can get climbing lessons. For example, Blocparty Climbing in Mougins or Val de Grimpe in Cagnes-sur-Mer. There is also an amazing indoor mountain park up in the mountains behind Nice: Vésubia Mountain Park. They have indoor climbing water canyoning and a fun climbing park for kids. Lessons at one of these places is ideal for those who work and can’t get to the cliffs before dark. Secondly, it is important to get some professional advice to learn the basics of climbing such as knots, rope-work, and safety.

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