Bavella by Jean Louis Fenouil.
I began climbing in 1973, at the age of 20. At first of course in the Calanques, because I have always lived in Marseille, then inevitably in Corsica where I went regularly, spending more than a month or two there per year. I have known Corsica since my childhood. My mother’s family comes from a little village near Corte. I don’t think a single year of my life has gone by without setting foot on the island.
In 1975 with my wife Marie and a group of climbers from Marseille, I discovered Bavella and its immense playground. They were Alain Dupaquis, Claude Terriere, Pierre Guiraud, Denis Chevalier, then a few years later Pierre Clarac or Xavier Legendre.
From 1980 onwards our mountain trips were solely to Bavella, and again from that year on our initial first ascents took place there too (trad climbing only); our little team had already been won over by the place, the climbing, the atmosphere and the locals.
The Auberge du Col has a large role to play in this. It was our headquarters and nothing could be done without several coffees before setting off to go climbing, and… one or several beers when we got back. 40 years later, the rite is still common practice!
For several years, our friends in Marseille, in particular Barney who I knew the best and climbed with regularly, had been talking to me about secret sites, immense virgin rock walls, all in surroundings that evoked the world in the very beginning… In any case this all seemed too good to be true. To add to the mystery, the rock faces were hidden at the end of almost uncrossable ravines, hemmed in by maquis that was just as resistant and impenetrable as the legend said. We immediately discovered a playground with such immense possibilities that my idea rapidly became to discover, and in all modesty to “explore”, as many of these sites as we could. Thanks to the indications left to us by Jean Paul Quilici with whom I had forged a sound and lasting friendship, we made efforts to diversify our fifty first ascents ranging from 5 to 17 pitches.
Even if there was some competition and secrecy surrounding first ascent projects (for example Acqua in Bocca and Omerta are very explicit names), relations with local climbers have always been very good. We met up systematically at the Auberge du Col where conversations and projects advanced quickly. It was a question of who could write their routes up the fastest in the Comments Book at the Auberge, now a true testimony to the history of climbing in Bavella, and an excellent idea from Jean Paul. Climbing teams swapped members easily for different first ascents. So I was able to put up new routes with my traditional companions such as P. Clarac, A. Dupaquis or X. Legendre, but also several routes with D. Micheli and C. Ascensao, who had become friends and which whom I climbed regularly.
Right at the beginning, we followed our noses to the rock faces that caught our eye first: the Aiguilles. It’s impossible to pass over the Col without being irresistibly drawn to the l’Acellu. Here, in 1976, I climbed my first route in Bavella. The fantastic rock walls along the Pulischellu and Purcaraccia valleys fascinated us. One of them, the Teghie Lische with the route Porte des Cieux, was particularly tempting for us. The place, the name (smooth slabs), the reputation, all of this was already magical. The unprotectable crack, graded hard VI “fatal fall” written in the guidebook, gave it an extra aura that was as fascinating as it was dangerous. When I climbed this route without any problems in 1980 it became one of my strongest memories of climbing. Arrival at the summit of the Teghie, with the Punta di U Corbu in front of me and what would later become Delicatessen, was for me a visual shock and showed me the certainty of “infinite” possibilities in the massif.
Having climbed it in 1990 a few months after it was first ascended, the other significant moment was the 4th repetition of the Dos de l’Eléphant. The route had very recently been opened and had the reputation of being as beautiful as it was committing – it certainly kept its promise! In fact, on it I experienced one of my most anxious climbing moments ever: this was climbing directly up the slabs above B4, with no protection for 30m (and for good reason – I hadn’t traversed far enough to reach the thin crack). A 6b pure smearing move was awaiting me 5m below the belay: I still remember pushing with my foot and trying not to think about the awful distance there was to fall. Then, all of a sudden free from all pressure, the rest was magnificent and felt like a dream.
All the routes are first ascended bottom-up; this is the rule in Bavella. I began to make first ascents in Bavella around 1985, a few trad routes in the Aiguilles and on the Velacu, that have not remained popular! The era of the electric drill quickly descended upon us: 10 bolts per battery, and 2 batteries in our pocket, encouraging us to bolt sparingly… these were first ascents on size 8 bolts, on the Orgues, the Crête des Terrasses, Petra Tonda, U Haddad or Alexandra. Two years later electric drills had improved performance, the bolts had grown to 10mm and a battery lasted for 25 of them!
Routes mainly on slabs were delivered “key-in-hand”, friends oftenbeing of no use. This was the era of Célébration du Lézard. We rapidly returned to a mixed solution: cracks were bolted sparingly and friends must be placed in between the bolts. This was Petra Bianca with its 11 very sustained pitches, Kalliste, Distorsion Granuleuse, les Chemins du Vent… Since then, we made first ascents using this type of partially bolted route as a priority: Fitscaraldo, Petit Plongeoir, A Tempesta…
Of course, more lines remain as yet unclimbed! A little further away, certainly wilder, a little less obvious, but at least as beautiful. Open your eyes; look closely; notice the effect of the light on the aretes, the blue shade of the ravines; listen to the streams; taste the water from the sources; feel the cistus bushes and the maquis; enjoy the place and the moment; take your time; admire…
Bavedda has held my heart for more than 40 years. The massif is simply waiting for you to visit to take yours too. So it’s time to make way for the next generation and hope they will continue to be as passionate about this place as we have been!