One of the closest outdoor climbing sites for people from The Netherlands is the Belgian Ardennes. I’ve been there multiple times and tried out different locations. These locations are spread out widely within the Ardennes. It takes usually about 30 minutes to drive from one site to the next. So choosing a location and driving there is something I do carefully. I don’t like to drive somewhere and end up not being able to climb any route there because it’s too busy or the routes are too hard.
There’s also something interesting going on with climbing in the Ardennes. The rocks are almost all on privately owned terrains, which makes actually climbing on these rocks difficult. There are two organizations that have agreements with the owners of the lands. The KBF (Flemish) and the CAB (Wallonian) are responsible for maintenance of all rocks and are the ones granting access to the rocks.
The only way that you are allowed to climb on the rocks is through a membership to either one of the organizations. Or… You have to be a member of the Dutch NKBV and obtain a year pass. This makes it hard for one time visitors to actually enjoy the beauty of climbing in the Ardennes. CAB and KBF members are allowed to bring out a certain amount of friends out on the rock. NKBV members are not allowed to do so, each person in the group has to have a year pass.
There is one way around these rules and that’s to join an organized event from a company where the company is allowed (by CAB and KBF) to use the rocks.
Traveling to the Ardennes
Getting to the different climbing areas will need a car. So basically there are two options, either you drive there or you take a flight to Luik or Brussels and rent a car from there. I’ve always driven there and it’s not to bad. Roads are in poor condition, although they are trying to update bits and pieces. Maybe one day the roads will be as smooth as in The Netherlands.
Where to stay
Campgrounds are in abundance within the Ardennes. I’ve always experienced the same price rate at either one of the campgrounds. €20 per person per night has been the rate for many years, and I don’t expect it to change. In the list of websites I’ll list the campgrounds I’ve stayed at.
Another option where I’ve stayed at before is called the “Tukhut”. It is owned by the Dutch NKBV, it has the feel of an Alpine mountain hut. The Ardennes are popular for vacationing at so there are various options to stay at during a climbing trip. What also might be nice to know is that a bivouac is offered near the rocks of Freyr.
I’ve always been climbing in the Ardennes with a 70 m rope, and I don’t remember ever having an issue with not being able to climb a route. Also 12 quickdraws are usually enough. The type of crags vary a lot so some long quickdraws and some variety in your materials are nice to have out there. Most routes end at an anchor where you need to re thread your rope, so a lifeline is of great importance.
If you do have nuts and cams it’s wise to bring them. Distances between bolts are sometimes scary far, and some crags are perfect for using those nuts ands cams. Climbing routes have been developed quite some years back, some bolts or anchors are historical. I’ve come across a pigtail at one time.
Wearing a helmet is mandatory when you’re climbing in spring. Because of the big temperature differences rocks come loose and might fall at any moment. I’ve been climbing in the Ardennes when all of a sudden I’m holding a rock in my hand, that I thought was attached.
As I told before, the different crags in the Belgian Ardennes are spread out. Each crag has it’s own climbing topo, they vary in quality. My experience is that the rocks and bolting are of better quality if they are managed by KBF. The bolt distances on the CAB rocks are sometimes very far apart, that usually freaks me out and makes me enjoy the lead climbing a lot less.
I’ll give a short description of the different climbing spots that I’ve been climbing at.
Freyr (CAB & KBF)
Biggest location in Belgium and very popular. On a nice weekend all the good routes will be taken and it’s waiting in line if you want to give it a try. Oldest routes are about 100 years old and completely polished, there is a 2 out there that can still be quite scary to climb. All routes under a 6a are technically not that grade anymore because of the polishing. I’ve never really enjoyed climbing there, or it was way too busy or we just came upon routes completely polished or the bolting distances were too far apart.
An old mine was turned into a nice climbing facility close to Durnal. The grades never go over 6b, together with a nice flat surface under the rocks creates an ideal location for climbing with children. So when the weather is good you’ll find that it will be buzzing during weekends or school vacations. When you’re there at other time you might find that the rocks are there just for you. Bolting is fairly good on the crag, but somehow they placed anchors in some strange places. I’ve often had difficulty to climb that last 2 steps to get to the anchor, it’s out of line with the grade of the rest of the route.
Pont-a-Lesse / Castel (KBF)
This crag is located on the grounds of a hotel. Closeby is a campground (Villatoile) where also the Dutch outdoor organization Mountain Network is stationed. There are not to many routes in this area, but it is a nice place for beginners. The oldest routes might be slippery here and there, but most routes have been opened fairly recently. This crag also offers a via ferrata that is about 1,5 hours long.
Yvoir / Le Paradou (KBF)
This location is probably my favourite. As it is of many others, the crag is almost always busy, waiting to get on the route you’d like is not uncommon. It has many easy routes although there are some nice hard ones to be found as well. Bolting is really good, which makes it ideal for the beginner. The downside of this location is that a train line is running past the craig really close. When a train comes by talking will be over until the train has passed.
I’ve only been once or twice to Beez. What I remember from it is that bolting is really scarce. Since I’m not so confident in my climbing skills some extra bolts here and there wouldn’t harm. I also did a part of my trad climbing course out there, some of the routes are ideal for trad climbing.
I’ve visited Hotton once, what I remember from climbing there is the height of the first bolt. After that it was fine, so when you have a clip stick or a crash pad it would be wise to bring them out there.
There are quite a few other crags out there that I didn’t climb at, they might be worthwhile to check out too. These are the crags you’re allowed to enter with a NKBV year pass: Aiguilles-de-Chaleux, Carrière des Awirs, Comblain-la-Tour, Corphalie, Dave (Rochers de Néviau), Landelies, Les Grands Malades, Pépinster, Plain des Fosses (Naussée), Roche aux Corbeaux.
If you have more information on either one of these locations, I’d love to hear.
Other things to do
The Belgian Ardennes are full with different types of outdoor recreation. I remember at age 15 I went to the Ardennes with school. We did so many cool outdoor things; survival parcours, zipline, rappelling and kayaking. Hiking and mountain biking are also done a lot. My guess is that it’s easy to find to do those things.
Besides all the outdoor stuff there is enough to go and sightsee. The area has some cool old towns that are worth checking out. Belgium is known for it’s beers, and I believe there are quite a few breweries in the area.
Dutch year pass for Belgium – https://www.nkbv.nl
CAB – http://www.clubalpin.be/
Camping Villatoile (Pont-a-Lesse) – http://www.villatoile.be/
Camping du Bocq (Durnal & Yvoir) – http://www.camping-dubocq.be/
Tukhut – http://www.tukhut.nl/
Mountain Network – https://mountain-network.nl/
NKBV information on crags including entrance instructions – http://www.tukhut.nl/downloads/toegang_klimgebieden_belgie_2015-01-21.pdf
Info on all crags – http://en.belclimb.be/home_rock_climbing.asp