During the 2020 pandemic I decided that I really needed to go for a climbing trip. My plans of a year long trip were canceled in spring so now at the end of summer I was longing for some rock climbing. After some facebook posts I managed to gather two like minded spirits who wanted to join on a climbing adventure.
We decided to undertake this trip in the first two weeks of September. We found a destination that was found safe (by our government) to travel to, and off we went to France to a cute lake in between the mountains.
We chose the perfect time and place.
We had two weeks of perfect weather, most days not too warm but mostly sunny. On the hot days we decided that we would go to the higher crags, when it was a bit cooler the lower crags were a great place to go.
All in all we had a great two weeks out there. The crags were never overcrowded, only slightly more busy over the weekend, but even then there was enough space for everyone. I talked to some locals and the area is mostly used for short trips made by people in the area. Mont Blanc and Chamonix overshadow this area, which made it the perfect destination for me. I enjoy quiet crags with maybe only a few other climbers. So if you also like quiet crags, with routes in all grades this might be your dream destination.
Traveling to Annecy
From The Netherlands it’s quite comfy to drive to Annecy. Not too far and doable in a day. But it was expensive because of all the toll we had to pay, almost 50 euros one way. It’s also possible to take the train to Annecy or fly to Geneva. But you will need a car to get to most crags. I’ve not seen a crag that you could sleep closeby to and hike towards when you’re willing to. There might be a few, but I think that after two days you’re done with the crag and want to see something else.
Where to stay
We ended up staying in a small town called Villard sur Thones, renting a cute Airbnb (link below). It turned out to be the perfect location for our explorations. Many easy crags and the lake were all in just under 30 minutes away. It did however have a down side. We were more or less on the intersection of three different climbing guides. So we ended up buying all three guides. The town offers a decent supermarket and not much more.
Since the area is a popular summer and winter destination, it’s full with possibilities for you to overnight at. Campgrounds, hotels, airbnb, apartments, etc., you can choose whatever works best for you. Choose the place you’ll stay at by what you’d prefer to do most, so you don’t have to drive too much. Roads are busy, especially around the lake. Look under Topo Guides for more info about where you could stay best.
Let me start off by saying that if you climb 6a or less you won’t have enough different crags to discover (if you stay for more than a week) if you only get one of the guides. With all 3 guides we were not done after 10 days, but nearing the end of the crags up to half an hour away. If you get both the Bornes Aravis guides and find a place to stay in between the two you have a lot of fun discovering crags.
All guides are in French but contain a wordlist for English, German and Italian. Also all guides contain both single and multi pitch routes. We bought them all from Versant Nord in Thônes, but there are more shops in the area that offer the guide.
Bornes Aravis – La Clusaz, Thônes, Ugine (orange) This is the newest of the 3 guides, from 2020. It contains a lot of nice crags. We’ve enjoyed Rocher des Aravis and Nant Gothier the most. The crags are around the towns of Thônes, La Clusaz, Manigod, col des Aravis Serraval and Ugine.
Bornes Aravis – de Bonneville au Grand Bornand (green) This guide is from 2017, we didn’t see any things that were not up to date when we used the guide. The guide has crags a lot further away from the lake. We didn’t go any further than col de la Colombière. The crags however offered magnificent views. Crags are around and between Le Grand Bornand, Bonneville, Cluses and Le Reposoir.
Escalade – Ablon, Annecy et environs We bought the 2020 edition of this guide. It’s not the best guide that I own, but it’ll get you the beta you need. We only climbed at La Dalle de Duingt and Biclop. The first was a friendly crag, the second however was not suited for climbers in the lower grades (up to 6a), since the easy lines were overgrown or really hard to reach.
The climbing was great in most crags, with friendly bolting of the easy routes. We really had fun exploring different crags because each crag had different rock, thus also different climbing styles. Most of what we climbed was slabs, but vertical and overhanging is also available in the area. Most crags aren’t too big, offering one to two days worth of climbing. As I said before, there are enough easy (up to 6a) routes in the area, but it’s a bit of a search to see what crag has enough lines in that range to have a full day of fun. Especially if you’re not willing to hike for a full hour to reach the crag.
If you enjoy multi pitching then this is your area. Routes varying from 50 to 800 meters in length, there’s something for everyone. There are routes of 500 meters with a difficulty of 4c, but there’s also 8a of 220 meters. We ended up choosing Les gaguistes on Le Jallouvre, a 5c of 230 meters. We chose it because it has two rappelling anchors for each pitch. Since we both had experience but never climbed a multi pitch together we thought it would be wise that we could turn around at any moment. Many of the easy multi pitches don’t offer rappelling, you have to hike down. We ended up doing it on a Saturday, and we were not alone. Two other groups started the same climb, which was fine since the double anchors left room for everyone.
Since the area is very touristy, they created as many fun things to do for tourists as possible. One of the things is via ferrata.
There are four in the area varying from 1 hour long till about 6 hours. I found a flyer, which was free, with all four routes at the Versand Nord shop. I did the via ferrata above the town of Thônes. I had fun climbing it, but was a bit disappointed at the amount of steel used in the route. They used all sorts of fun things like a tightrope and ladders. You can tell that it’s made for non climbers. However the further you get, the less steel is used.
For single pitching a 70 meter rope is most of the time enough. However, I’ve seen people climbing at Rocher des Aravis with what I’m guessing was a 100 meter rope. In some places you’ll find routes that are set up as two pitches, but can be done with a long enough rope from the ground up. These routes consist of two parts, for example, a 4a till the first anchor and from there it’s a 7b or so.
If you’re thinking about going into one of the multi pitches you really need a double or twin rope. If possible bring 60 meters because they bolted really long pitches in some places. Some easy multi pitches offer very little bolting and it would be useful to bring some nuts, cams and slings to these routes. However there are more than enough routes that are well equipped.
This is a bring your own partner kind of area. I’ve asked around and they couldn’t tell me of any place where climbers hang out. There are however a few boulder and climbing gyms in Annecy, so that’s probably the best bet if you’re really in need. If you’re looking for a popular crag to meet climbers I’d suggest going to Rocher des Aravis. It’s quite large and the two times we went there we saw quite a few climbers, both on weekdays as on the weekend.
What else to do
You could almost ask; what can’t you do out there? There are so many things this area has to offer. So a perfect location for more than a climbing trip.
On and around the lake you can think of supping, swimming, boating, cycling, paddle boating, etc. etc. We were there in September and the water was warmer than I expected. So on our days off or after a warm climbing day we found a beach and went for a swim.
Away from the lake there is a lot more fun to be had. In the winter the area offers skiing but the lifts are also used in summer. They are used for downhill mountain biking and hiking and maybe more. The area offers a lot of great hiking trails for all skill levels. We did a great hike from col de la Colombière to Lac de Peyre. Not too long, but a great view as a reward. Mont Blanc reflected in a picturesque lake.
However, the most popular thing to do in this area is paragliding. Every afternoon we saw 25 to 50 paragliders in the air, using the lift of the warm air flowing up through the mountains. It’s one of those things that I’d love to do once, and seeing this every day only rekindled that feeling.