Fun Things To Do For Families In Kalymnos

Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.

 

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The spectacular island of Telendos

 

 

Renowned for its superhuman sponge divers and its mythical rock climbing, Kalymnos is a wholesome travel destination sought after by foreign and Greek travellers alike.

We have been fortunate to spend two full weeks on the extraordinary island back in April and what struck us the most is, well… everything!

Intrigued by the quantity and quality of rock climbing routes, we were amazed to find out that Kalymnos is a wonderful island to discover as a family and that is sure to please everyone, including the non-climbing grandparents.

Greeks Are Fond of Children

Greeks literally adore children and welcome them everywhere. Now try to walk out of a store without a free treat – usually sweet –  being offered to your little angel! That’s just about impossible. While we were there, I must say that I had to loosen my grip a bit about sugar and treats as it would have been quite impolite to turn down such a nice gesture and refuse the treats #hellofreegroceries.

Cafés and taverns are all very welcoming to kids and will make anything to please them and their parents. I read in a travel guidebook that hiring a babysitter on a Saturday to go out on an adult date just isn’t a thing in Greece. Hence, it’s not unusual to see very young children out and about with their parents quite late in the night. If the restaurant owners have children themselves, they are very likely to be playing in the place while their parents are at work and entertaining the guests.

 

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Toys and games at the Gelato shop

 

Anywhere you go, beware however that there is just no boardwalk in that country. Streets are as narrow as can be and cars, scooters and other motorized vehicles drive at fast speed. A stroller is great to keep the little ones contained while walking on the road and older kids should be kept very close by.

Greek children learn a very good English in school and are happy to engage in a conversation with foreigners at the playground or the beach. Most of them have dark hair and dark eyes, they are quite intrigued when seeing a little blond kid and sometimes can stair with insistence. To my point earlier about sweet treats; it appeared to me that Greek children eat a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar and sugary drinks; something that even our daughter noticed on her own. Different country, different eating habits!

 

Grandparents Are a Blessing

I am speaking in general here. But they are especially for a rock climbing couple traveling to Kalymnos Island with their four-year-old daughter.

We don’t have the luxury of living near our parents in the everyday life and that makes us appreciate even more to 1) spend quality time with them as an extended family 2) being able to leave our daughter with them for a few hours to go climbing AND knowing she is having a blast.

This year we realized that for the first time we are able to really climb as a family, now that baby girl is no longer a needy baby or a crazy toddler and starts to enjoy climbing a lot or is just content playing with her toys at the crag and making friends with whoever has a few minutes to engage in a conversation with her.

I must say that having my father and stepmom there with us was extra special and made us enjoy our stay on the island … a lot. In addition to providing us with some quality adult time, it also opened our mind to other activities and attractions to explore on Kalymnos for non-climbers.

 

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Enjoying our first meal together before getting on the ferry in Kos

 

For those who would like an opportunity to go on the occasional adult climb, Monster Café in Masouri offers a childcare service for about 8 euros per hour. This is also a place for the little ones to hang out with their parents, meet up with other kids and enjoy the fabulous toys and activities. The Café’s menu includes healthy kid-friendly meals and snacks,  fresh fruit smoothies but also good coffee and après climb hop beverages.

 

Here is the list of our top activities to do as a family in Kalymnos:

  1. The Climbing

Well…It’s a bit difficult not to mention it, so might as well start with it. The climbing in Kalymnos is not only fabulous, but also very family-friendly. The information about the walking distance and difficulty of the trail is easy to find as well as the areas at the bottom of the crag and presence of easy climbs for beginners or children and the sun exposure. The guidebook is very complete, to say the least, which makes the planning of family cragging days much easier. The trails are overall in quite a good shape and walking distances are reasonable. Many areas at the bottom have been landscaped nicely so parents don’t have to fear deadly falls or traumatizing injuries. We also found that although the routes are all very long (30-40m), the first couple of metres often offer easier climbing, which makes the scenario ideal for families.

 

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Grande Grotta, Kalymnos’ most famous sector

 

Unsurprisingly, we encountered quite a few young families during our stay, all eager to exchange beta and share a secret gelato place or nice kid-friendly beach.

Speaking of beach, the “Beach” sector was one of our favourite to spend a day at, with kid and grandparents. We also enjoyed Symplegades a lot as well as Sea Breeze and Arginonta Valley, all for their easy access, flat and safe areas and shade.

For non-climbers wanting to experience verticality, guided via ferrata might be a great option. Located near Myrties, the via ferrata takes adventurers from 10 years old and up some 400 metres above the sea with outstanding views of the neigbouring cliffs and the island of Telendos.

 

2. The Underworld

Caving. Underground exploration. Spéléologie in French. The act of going underneath the surface of the earth through a sometimes tiny hole entrance to enjoy the sight of karstic activity and stalagmites and stalactites as big as the walls of a gothic cathedral.

Fully equipped with steel ladders and ropes, the Underworld is the most accessible cave on the Island. Located near the town of Skalia, it can be accessed within only 10 minutes of walking. While my daughter had the time of her young life going down in the tummy of the Earth, I – a longtime claustrophobic – was petrified.

 

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Entering the underworld…not even scared at all!

 

Nonetheless, (and because I know my own fear is irrational) I thought the place was safe to explore for a child that can safely climb up and down a ladder and walk on uneven ground with some help from papa.

Since then I know I am less of a hero to my daughter who was so proud to out courage her mom at only 4. Well, that’s just the beginning, isn’t it!?

For a preview of what the cave is like, check out this short Youtube video.

 

3. The Sea & the Beaches

No surprise here. Kalymnos being a Greek Island, just like all the many Greek islands, boast amazing beaches, is warm and sunny and is surrounded by deep turquoise water. Beaches and children always go well together and early-mid April, the temperature of the air and the water were getting warm enough to enjoy nice swims and sandcastle building sessions. The beach in Masouri has some really nice sand and one or two cute beach bars.

Taking a taxi boat ride to Telendos, the nearby island located 10-minutes across from Myrties is also very much worth it. For 2 euros per adult one way, a day spent at Telendos is great fun for the whole family and the beaches are beautiful and shady.

We found the cute little harbour of Porto Vathys was also a great place for a nice seafood lunch and a swim. The place has some natural diving platforms and hosts diving competitions in the fall each year. Make sure to take swimming armbands or a lifejacket for little kids as the water is too deep to stand and the stairs are coated with sea urchins…ouch!

 

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Idyllic beach location

 

In the summer months, Vathys would be an ideal base to go out on a kayak or SUP tour and boats can be rented right there.

Scuba diving and snorkeling is also very popular on the Island which boasts many diving schools and guiding services.

 

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Swimming in Vathys

 

 

4. Local flavours

Tomatoes taste better when they are in season and fish tastes much better when caught the same day. Kalymnos is an absolute paradise for foodies, especially foodies like myself who enjoy food when fresh, local, ripe and its most simple form. A little olive oil and vinegar, a little oregano, a few olives, fresh goat feta, crispy cucumbers and sweet red bell peppers AT EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Difficult even for a picky eater not to like the food in Greece. Greek yogurt topped with honey and pistachio, frozen greek yogourt with berries, local salami…yyyuuuummmm. Exploring the flavours of Kalymnos was my own personal second favourite activity (or perhaps even my first).

It is true that sweet treats are very present in Greece and especially when traveling and in need of quick, easy snacks that don’t require prep or can be packed easily. However, fresh produce is everywhere and is so affordable compared to BC!

Oh, the joy we had in stopping on the side of the road to buy fresh feta from the local lady cheesemaker, or fresh oranges and strawberries from the mobile market – a pickup truck loaded with produce going around the island each day.

Agriculture is a very important part of Kalymnos economy, as the thousands of free-roaming goats and chicken can attest. Grapes are grown in the lush Vathys valley. Fish is caught every day, right there off the shores of Masouri.

 

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Meeting the local fauna

 

Restaurants all take pride in the authentic Greek menus they display on the black chalkboards. Eating out is way more affordable than in other european countries. Count 12-15 euros per adults for an entree and a beer.

 

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Après climb dinner and drinks at Azul

 

Portions are generous enough so two entrees can feed a family of three with leftovers to take home. Greek cuisine is simple but so tasty. Greek wine is okay and quite pricey. Beer is thirst quenching after a day spent outside in the sun and of much better value.

On the go, grab a gyro! For a mere 2 bucks, those tasty pita bread filled with chicken or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and tzatziki make up the best lunch.

 

5. Archeological & Cultural Wonders

As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts many remnants of the past and does well at restoring, interpreting and showcasing them.

The Orthodox calendar is filled with celebrations of all kind so chances are one is going to fall while you are visiting. We were there for Catholic Easter (not really a big deal) and the Orthodox Easter or Christos Anesti (Christ Arisen), celebrated in Kalymnos with dynamites and fireworks across all the island, in memories of the battles against Turkey and perhaps as a warning to the neighbouring country with whom Kalymnians seem to hold on-going tensions. The detonation of dynamite bouncing off the limestone cliffs was really deafening and I sure was glad to be witnessing the celebration in downtown Pothia rather than climbing in a cave that could collapse from the strength of the explosion!

 

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Othodox Easter Sunday in Pothia

 

Massive family reunions seem to be the tradition on Christos Anesti and the equally traditional lamb roast is what brings the families together. Wandering through the streets, we couldn’t help but feel our mouth water to the fragrant smell and sight of perfectly roasted animal on the tiny balconies. Having a taste of a juicy and flavourful chunk of lamb kindly offered by a local was a pure delight to our daughter.

 

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Mmmm…roasted lamb

 

Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island.  Exhibitions feature antiquities from the Prehistoric and Post-Byzantine era, presenting thus timelessly the island’s history over millennia.

The Castle of Chora is one of the most famous attractions in Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothia once resided and it is considered as the medieval capital of KalymnosThe castle took its final form in 1495 and was inhabited continuously until 1812 . Our little clan enjoyed hiking up the 230 steps leading to the Castle, wandering through this larger than nature open-air museum and exploring the many chapels and building that once constituted the town. With a little imagination and many princess and dragons stories, this kept our child entertained and interested for a full half-day.

 

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Fishing is an important part of the island’s culture and economy

 

The Maritime Museum of Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. It presents the naval tradition, history and methods of the sponge catching, along with many artifacts from ancient shipwrecks.

 

6. The hiking

There are many great hiking trails on the Island most of which are fairly easy and short and can be managed by strong little walkers or parents carrying the precious load…or a mix of both, like in our case.

Our whole crew had an amazing day hiking the Island most-traveled hiking trail: the Italian path, from Pothia to Vathys.

Though the trail is in much better condition on the Pothia side. Built by during the Italian occupation of the island under Mussolini, this easy 8-kilometre journey took us from the narrow streets of the capital to the quaint port of Vathys over a pass culminating at about 400 m above sea level with amazing views along the way. The work that has gone into paving the first portion of the trail to carry weapons and supplies is unbelievable.

Along the way, the landscape evolves from urban at the start to a few gardens and farm on the outskirt, then to dry and deserty land on the plateau with views of the sea and the neighboring Island of Kos. Then, upon descending toward Vathys, the lush valley bottom lined with fruit trees and vine welcomes the travellers that then end up the journey with the refreshing view of the harbour, its cute houses and colourful fishing boats.

This hike is best when completed early in the day as there is no shade at all and no access to water.   From Masouri, we took a bus to Pothia and then a scenic 30 minute taxi ride back to Masouri after a well-deserved swim and ice cream.

Kalymnos hiking map can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and includes the location of all walking trails as well as all the climbing sectors.

 

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Scenic trails everywhere!

 

 

Getting there, getting around and getting a roof overhead

Kalymnos being a remote little island, it can be a bit challenging to get to, especially when the weather is not cooperating. From our research, we found that flying from Athens into Kos and then taking a ferry ride was the fastest, safest and most cost-efficient of all. The flight takes about an hour. Then a taxi takes you to Mastichari for about 15 euros. From the port, a fast or a slow ferry sails across to Kalymnos in 20 to 45 minutes for 5-10 euros per person. On the return day, it’s best to allow plenty of time to get to the Kos airport and to book a return flight later in the day as the stormy sea might get in the way of catching your flight.

Scooters are the absolute best way to get around the island, although it’s not very convenient with an infant. We used a mix of scooter rental (12 euros per day or weekly deals around 55-60 euros (yes, the 3 of us rode on it with all the gear! #dontdothatathome) and public transit (2 euros per trip). Small rental cars are also available and are certainly the best option for families of 4 or with babies. Otherwise, when staying in Masouri, many climbing sectors, stores and amenities can be accessed on foot.

 

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The Best part!

 

Note that tap water in non-potable so, therefore, the freshwater logistic needs to be planned efficiently, hence a car might be useful for families. Free water springs are found in Masouri and bottled water can be purchased everywhere, but please, do our dear planet Earth a favour and don’t contribute to the plastic orgie in the sea.

All accommodation options can be found in Kalymnos – (except camping?!) but our recommendation for families really is the apartment with a full kitchen. Little studios are less costly but are limited in cooking amenities and usually more designed for couples. I personally find that you always end up spending more time in the unit as a family as you would without kids, might as well be comfortable.

Our travel party of 5 opted for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment that we rented from Poppy and Nikolas Sdregas, a lovely local couple. We thought the place was a little pricey and located oddly close to the road but it offered comfort and convenience of cooking most meals in, easy walking access to everything and a common living area to hang out as a family. Moreover, the kindness and attention of the owners really made our stay enjoyable, especially the fridge stocked with bottled water, wine and breakfast items upon our late night arrival.

Bottomline

We had been wanting to experience Kalymnos for so long and the waiting was well worthwhile. Kalymnos is getting better every year with more sectors, more routes and more amenities being added. We were surprised to see how family-friendly the destination is and enjoyed discovering the island with our daughter, my father and stepmom so much. Kalymnos must be on every rock climbers list and having a family should not be the excuse you are making not to go. Go! Go, now!

For useful travel information visit: climbkalymnos.com

P.S. I would like to say a special thank you to Jacques and Diane for being such formidable travel companions and grandparents and allowing Hervé and I to climb together again. Thank you to Hervé for being carrying such a heavy load around each day and still managing to send some pretty impressive routes. Thank you to my little Eva for being such an incredible adventure partner and a keen little rock climber and finally, thank you to my friends Anne and JD for giving us the guidebook and lots of very useful tips.

 

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One very content father!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Generations On A Quest For Waves, Rock & Volcanos In Tenerife, Spain

This past winter has been the coldest and snowiest in years in Western Europe. By traveling over there to spend our six-month sabbatical holiday, we didn’t expect to face that much cold weather. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a shorter, milder winter. Since our trip didn’t quite go as planned with Hervé’s knee surgery and a missed 2-week trip to Spain in November, we were all feeling a little sun deprived.

Therefore, in December we started looking for a warm and sunny European destination to meet up with my mother who lives in Quebec for late January/early February where we could potentially climb, hike, enjoy nice walks on the beach, discover a new culture, eat well… and forego socks. 

“Being able to wear sandals” is an important factor in our decision-making process as it means that we are not particularly looking for 30-degree weather but rather a mild climate to enjoy some outdoor activities and have a drink on a patio without wearing a toque and a down jacket…or wool socks. While I personally enjoy a climate with four distinct seasons very much, living in flip-flops year-round would be my absolute bliss. 

In our research, we quickly stumbled upon the Canary Islands as an ideal destination both for the climate, the warmest of all Western Europe for this period, and the ease of access from the continent as well as from Canada. Tenerife also seemed like the best island for us to visit due to the concentration of points of interest AND climbing sites.

Once we made our choice, it wasn’t difficult to sell the destination to Mom who was eager to escape winter, to spend time with her granddaughter and be a player in our six-month lifetime memory-making family adventure. 

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Landing on Tenerife 100% Vida

It’s on a sunny 25 degree Celsius Thursday that we picked her up at the Reina Sofia International Airport in our Peugeot Partner minivan for a two-week  exploration of this fascinating island with the goal to find activities and attractions to suit every family member’s taste and fill our head, ears, eyes and taste buds with the Island’s wonders.

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from black sand beaches at sea level
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…to snowy 3700 m high peak

Here is a summary of our highlights!

Wind & Waves – Breathing the Atlantic Ocean

All five of us were unanimous on the best beach area of the whole Island: El Medano.

Located only a few kilometres from the South Airport, this small community is the absolute wind & wave sports Mecca and the one with the best vibe in Tenerife. 

On the beachfront, a wooden boardwalk leads from surf shops to cool cafés and bars. Small size hotels and apartment buildings, kilometres of fine sand beaches, warm water, a vibrant scene made out of small families, old surf bums, backpackers, retirees and friendly locals make up the landscape of El Medano, along with the Montana Roja, the omnipresent red volcanic hill separating El Medano from La Tejita, the also very nice neighbouring beach town.

our happy beach town!

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Cute stores & cafés
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Fine sandy beaches and warm water

In El Medano, one can rent a wind/kite surf, a SUP or a surfboard for cheap or take lessons in any of these sports. For 20 euros, we rented a surfboard for 4 hours with 3 wetsuits and spent a very fun afternoon in spite of the strong winds, while grandma took pictures, fed us ice cream and kept our little girl wrapped in a warm towel each time she got out of the water shivering.

Another beach that all five of us really enjoyed was La Playa de Las Teresitas, a few kilometres north of Santa Cruz for its super fine white sand and crystal clear water. We thought it was well worth a sunny picnic stop before heading to Anaga and its wetter and cooler climate.

Beware, however, that isn’t unusual to come across a bare naked German swimmer. Tenerife, like many islands, hosts its share of quirky, free-spirited souls!

Volcanic Rock – Climbing in Tenerife

While rock climbing wasn’t the main objective of our trip and neither did we expect a fantastic climbing destination, we were still happy to have brought the gear along. 

A keen crew of young climbers – locals and foreigners – are spending countless time and energy to bolt and equip new sectors on the unique volcanic rock. The main climbing areas are located near the village of Arico, up in the Teide National Park and on the south-west side of the Island near Guia de Isora. Trad climbing, bouldering and even deep water soloing can be found on the Island which benefits from a climate suitable for climbing year-round.

Climbers will find accommodation, gear, information and climbing lessons quite easily in Tenerife through the Tenerife Climbing House  and  Roxtar Climbing Shop.

My husband and I were able to leave grandma and daughter at the vacation rental a few half-days to check out some of the sectors; we also found one site suitable for young children.

In the hills behind Arico, a short hike down the trail leading to El Barranco del Tanque takes the climbers to Tamadaya, a canyon right out of the Flinstone movie in less than half hour. There, families will find plenty of routes in the 6th grade and a few in the 4th and 5th, flat grounds and solid rock to spend a fun day.

Near Guia de Isora, the sector of Guaria is located in a nesting area of importance for several species of birds and therefore, the number of climbers allowed to access the area is limited to 70 per day. A daily permit system is available online.

We appreciated the effort going into developing the climbing sectors but agreed that the consistency in the grading, availability of easy routes, the chossy nature of the rock in some areas and the sometimes spaced-out bolting (many routes are bolted from the top) made the destination not quite ready yet for masses of climbers to visit. 

Kamikaze-type stronger climbers will, however, enjoy discovering this new territory, especially the sectors in the Teide National Park for the unbelievable scenery and harder routes which we didn’t get to explore because it was completely snowed in at the time we visited.

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Climbing in Guaria

Mountains & Valleys – Tenerife’s Best Hiking 

Not too far from the coastal resort towns and quaint fishing villages lie hundred of kilometres of high-quality hiking trails. The rich and diverse biodiversity and landscapes of Tenerife make it a very interesting ground to explore by foot.

From the drier hills of the south coast to the lush rainforest of the Anaga Peninsula and the high alpine environment of Pico del Teide – the highest peak of Spain culminating at 3700m – one cannot get bored of walking.

Our crew enjoyed going on some shorter walks towards the pine forest up behind Granadilla before heading to the beach in the afternoons.

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hiking with grandma to some remote hamlets between peaks and ocean

We also were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of landscape which reminds us of the Peruvian Andes on more challenging hikes on the North-East end of the Island.

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The stunning Anaga Peninsula

 

Our favourite trail was the one linking Punta del Hidalgo to Cruz del Carmen, a 10km /900m vertical one-way hike. While our daughter had to be carried a large part of the way, we encountered a friendly Swiss family of five with whom we shared a few kilometres. 

The sight of a 7, a 10 and a 12-year old cute children enjoying their hike fully was very motivating for our daughter as much as the few chocolate cookies they kindly shared with her. 

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a landscape reminiscent of the Andes
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hiking on steep but good trails
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Peru-like lush vegetation

While we, unfortunately, weren’t able to pay a visit to the Teide National Park due to heavy snowfalls (we were escaping winter after all!), we did get talked into the very touristy but not less fascinating Masca Valley hike, 6km /- 600m vertical one-way,  which we didn’t regret at all.

We set off from the town of Los Gigantes early on a sunny but brisk Sunday morning by bus to Santiago del Teide, the local outdoor Mecca. Riding with us on the bus was an older Danish man retired on the Island and absolutely found of hiking. He told us this amazing story of the eruption of the Chinyero back in 1909 that was threatening the village and how few local men miraculously stopped the lava with their faith.

From Santiago, we took a taxi ride to the stunning village of Masca to avoid the herds of hikers coming on the first bus later in the morning. After a cafe con leche, all five of us started the descent toward the deep canyon in good spirits. Four hours of leapfrogging our way from rock to rock, we reached the ocean where we had just enough time to enjoy a refreshing dip before heading back to the town by taxi boat (reservation highly recommended).

The Masca Valley hike is not to be underestimated and requires a good physical condition and adequate shoes, plenty of food and water. The canyon, however, is stunning and in spite of the business of the trail, the itinerary is really unique and very worth spending a day.

Culture & Nature – Diverse Landscapes and a Rich Heritage

Tenerife is the island with over 3000 ecosystems. From high alpine to sub-alpine, temperate rainforest to desert with tropical areas in between, Tenerife boasts the most extreme climatic regions all squished into 2,000 sq km of land.

Geologically, the island is also fascinating in its diversity. We haven’t ceased to be amazed by the black volcanic rock along the coastline, the fine white, black or pink sand beaches dispersed around the island or the jagged peaks of Anaga.

Many zoos feature the various animal species from the island for the enjoyment of visitors young and old. The marketing of these zoos is also very present everywhere on the island and it’s difficult for a kid not to notice it and feel attracted.

After a short research, it appeared to us that Loro Parque was the one to visit, for it’s unique educational and conservational vocation. In spite of a fairly high entrance fee (35 euros per adults, kids 5 under are free), the day spent at Loro Parque was a great experience for the whole family and I can understand why it is rated in the world’s top visitors attractions on Trip Advisor.

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One happy little girl at Loro Parque

We enjoyed learning about the marine mammals and learning what to do if we encounter a whale stranded on the beach. We were delighted to observe and learn about the many parrot species of the park including the ones that were saved from extinction with the help of the Park’s foundation and scientific team. 

Our child’s environmental consciousness was reinforced by the evocative images on pollution caused by plastic, marine transportation, industrial activities and other human behaviours and the arm it can do to wildlife.

Due to its geographical location almost half-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands hold a very special place in the history of world’s exploration. It is so interesting to read about how key Tenerife was in providing food, supplies and staff on the first sailing expeditions around the globe, including Magellan’s very first circumnavigation. The island boasts a few interesting archeological sites and a great ethnological museum at the Guimar Pyramids, and the opportunities to find out more about history are plentiful.

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Residents of Guimar celebrating San Antonio

Very Spanish indeed, Tenerife also boasts a very sensible influence from Northern Africa and even Central and South America in its culture. Catholicism is also an important part of Tenerife’s culture and can be witnessed through the architecture, the local celebrations and way of life.

Tapas, Fish & All The Flavours from Las Canarias

With climatic zones and soils so diverse, everything can grow on Tenerife. Agriculture, namely the culture of banana, aloe and pineapple, is a major economic driver. One can find a variety of fruit and vegetable year-round and enjoy some good quality wines from the grape grown and vinified right there on the Island. Foodies like me will be glad to hear that food and drinks prices on the island are at least 30-40% cheaper than in continental Europe which really makes a Tenerife vacation more affordable especially with the hefty exchange rate with the Canadian dollar. 

We simply couldn’t get enough of those gigantic sweet red peppers, delicate-tasting avocados or sun riped bananas. 

Fresh fish of the day (expensive but so tasty!), tapas (we’re in Spain after all) can also be found everywhere as well as some very local specialties such as goat stew, papas canarias (wrinkly potatoes cooked in salt water), or mojo, tasty red or green sauces made out of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices.

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The cultural melting pot of the Island also brings an international diversity to the food scene including many English Pubs, Italian, Indian, Moroccan restaurants. Happy hour is popular in the many resort towns and one can get a pint of beer for as low as 1 euro. Hurray! The bars of Tenerife also serve excellent cafe con leche for 1-1,50 euro.

Our best dining experience on Tenerife was at Bea’s restaurant (the owner of the condo we rented) Tabaibarril in San Miguel de Tajao . Upon arriving, we were invited to pick our fresh fish and seafood right from the kitchen and had it prepared to perfection. We also enjoyed having a drink and a few tapas at Cafe Al Mar in Poris de Abona near our condo and watch the sun go down. We also sampled some very traditional cuisine of goat stews, local charcuteries, cod, tuna cakes and grilled pork chops at the impeccable Tasca del Horno in Granadilla. 

Like all busy tourist destinations, however, it can be difficult to pick a good and authentic restaurant that serves fresh local food. Wandering off the beaten tracks into lesser visited areas is always a good option to come across interesting flavours.

Cozy Beds & Sweet Dreams

Visitors benefit from loads of accommodation options everywhere. For 40-80 euros per night, we found modern and comfortable 2-bedroom condos to rent to house our extended family. Some areas of the Island namely Los Christianos/Playa de Las Americas/Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz seemed more expensive and given the short distances, it’s better value to stay in quieter areas and drive for those who would really want to spend time there. 

Those areas are critically over-saturated and spoiled by mass tourism, unfortunately, which is a deep contrast with the pristine nature and unoccupied areas in the center and north of the island.

In order to limit further hotel/tourist accommodation development on the Island and foster a higher yield tourism type, the government now limits the building of new visitor accommodation to five-star resort-like establishments offering new attractions and activities through a strict moratory.

We preferred to stay in quieter communities such as El Poris and Juan’s apartment was our best accommodation by far and the best suited to our muli-generational travel party with it’s two bedrooms and large living areas.

We also check out the campground near Playa de La Tejita which seemed like an interesting option in the future. Free camping can also be found in some places. As mentioned earlier, Tenerife Climbing House can also be a great option for climbers in a hostel-type formula.

In the North, Punta del Hidalgo or Taganana seemed like quaint and authentic places to settle for a few days. 

Getting There & Getting Around

Flying into the South Airport is an inexpensive bliss from any major Western European city. The three of us flew direct on Easyjet from Geneva for 400 euros all in, including a checked bag. From Canada, flights are available starting at $1,100 from any major cities with one or two stop-overs.

Ferries from Cadiz are also a good option for travellers in a van/camper or the ones with lots of time on their side.

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Waiting for the bus after a long hike

A rental car is absolutely necessary for anyone planning on exploring the rock climbing sites. For hikers, foodies, surfers or cultural buffs, Tenerife has a very robust public transit system that will take you to/from any location for 1 euro per trip. The island also boasts beautifully paved winding roads that seem well suited for bike tourists/cyclists…but beware of the many, many hills!

 

Tenerife: An Exotic & Distinctive Winter Getaway

In conclusion, my mom, husband, daughter and myself all agree on the fact that Tenerife was an ideal destination for us to meet and spend quality time together in a warm location. We were struck by the beauty of the scenery and the ease to get around. We were pleased to discover how friendly and welcoming the people of Tenerife are and how proud they are of their island.

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Los Gigantes – High cliffs diving into the ocean

In two weeks time, we filled our bodies with vitamin D from the sun & vitamin C from the fresh fruit and filled our minds with stunning images. We filled our pockets with volcanic rocks and our shoes with fine sand and most of all, we created family memories that we are not close to forget.

P.S. A special thank you to my beloved mother for joining us on that trip and being our best adventure pal and your granddaughter’s best roommate ever. Je t’aime!

!Hasta Luego!

Finale Ligure: Pizza, Playa & Outdoors

The “Outdoor Capital”

Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.

Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.

Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.

Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!

The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks – as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!

 

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The beach after the storm

 

On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.

Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.

 

That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.

 

Some online research has proven the theory to be true:

“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established  the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which  Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com

While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.

 

The Outdoor Pursuits

Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.

Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.

On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.

The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!

At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!

 

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Cragging at Rocca di Petri on a warm December afternoon

 

The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.

 

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The Riviera- between coastline and mountains

 

Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

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Italy’s Holiday vibes

 

The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.

 

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The area boasts many sporty hikes and scrambles to suit every taste

 

 

Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.

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Fall is the prime season for Mountainbiking

 

The lodging

Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).

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Our vacation rental in the morning sunshine

Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.

One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).

 In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!”  Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.

Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.

Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!

 

The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!

Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.

 

Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!

 

 

 

On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?

The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.

The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)

I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”

 Arrivederci!

 

More info:

Hiking guidebook Trails of Finale

Climbing guidebook: Finale Climbing by Marco Thomas Tomassini – translated into several languages and to be purchased at a local store or online.

Official Visitor Website:  www.turismo.comunefinaleligure.it 

 

 

Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

Carnet de Grimpe: 24 heures au Mont Temple

 

Nous sommes au début du mois d’août 2012. Hervé, mon fiancé, et moi en sommes à notre deuxième année à parcourir les courses classiques des Rocheuses et des montagnes Columbia, à ski, en escalade de glace, en escalade de grandes voies et de voies alpines.

Nous nous régalons à découvrir ce nouveau terrain de jeu et à nous adapter aux aspects qui le rendent si différent des Alpes: nivologie caractérisée par des mètres et des mètres de neige, approche version “chantier” dans la forêt dense, nature plutôt friable du rocher, quasi absence de refuges, éloignement et animaux sauvages; dont les plus encombrants sont de loin les moustiques et les ours grizzlis.

Photo: Thomas Biteau
Belle rencontre! Photo par Thomas Biteau

Nous avons plutôt la forme et l’idée d’ajouter quelques courses d’envergure à notre liste, dont la célèbre Arête Est du Mont Temple près du Lac Louise en Alberta, est tentante.

Le Mont Temple fut le premier sommet de plus de 11 000 pieds (3500m) à être gravit dans le Rocheuses par son arête sud-ouest (voie normale). La voie de l’arête est quant à elle fut gravit en 1934 par O. Steigmaier and H. Wittich. Considérée alors une des voies le plus difficiles du secteur par sa longueur et son exposition, elle perdit un peu en prestige dans le années 1970, avant de connaitre un regain de popularité du à l’inclusion dans la liste des “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” (50 Ascensions Classiques d’Amérique du Nord). Pouvant être complétée en une (longue) journée, cette voie semble un objectif idéal pour nous, aventuriers du dimanche.

Mont Temple
Impossible de manquer ce sommet imposant sur depuis la route

De plus, elle présente un défi intéressant de par son aspect complet incluant escalade de rocher, déplacement en terrain glaciaire puis sommet à plus de 3500 m et descente à pied par un autre itinéraire. En dessous du niveau technique de plusieurs autres voies que nous avons grimpées dans le Rocheuses et les Alpes, l’exposition de cotation IV n’est toutefois pas à sousestimer.

Cet été, ma grande amie Anne et un copain de longue date, Thomas, ont fait le trajet depuis le Québec pour passer un moment avec nous et se joindre à nos projets de grimpe. Après un séjour dans les Bugaboos, Anne, plutôt adepte de bloc à cette époque, choisit de poursuivre sa route vers Squamish.

Thomas reste avec nous et rapidement nous nous mettons à échafauder notre plan d’ascension du Mont Temple. Par un beau vendredi après-midi, nous prenons la route en direction de Castle Junction et son terrain de camping, ou nous allons tenter de dormir quelques heures avant d’entreprendre la course. Arrivés au camping vers 19 heures, nous sommes rejoints par une autre cordée de copains: Kent et Seb.

Après un repas vite avalé et une minutieuse préparation des sacs à dos, nous nous mettons sous la tente pour quelques heures de repos.

À 1h00 du matin, après avoir vaguement fermé l’oeil, l’alarme sonne. C’est l’heure de vérité. Les trois Français: Thomas, Hervé, Seb, ainsi que Kent et moi-même montons dans notre camion et mettons le cap sur la route du Lac Moraine et le départ de la course, tout en partageant un gruau d’avoine plutôt insipide à même la casserole.

Arrivés au stationnement, il nous faut quelques minutes pour trouver le départ de la sente devant nous mener au départ de l’arête. La nuit est bien noire et nous avions du mal à nous orienter. Sans réel sentier, nous tirons à vue en remontant un couloir d’avalanche abrupte pendant près d’une heure. Nous nous suivons de près en essayant d’être le plus bruyant possible pour signaler notre présence aux grizzlis, généralement nombreux dans le secteur.

la bonne humeur règne dans ce départ nocturne
la bonne humeur règne dans ce départ nocturne

Le talus estinstable et la lueur de nos frontales à peine suffisante pour éclairer le parcours. La pente commence à se redresser d’avantage et nous devons nous aider de nos mains pour passer certains ressauts. Après plusieurs passages un peu techniques, nous savons qu’il est temps de nous encorder. La pénombre est toutefois si profonde qu’aucun de nous n’arrive vraiment à voir si nous sommes au pied de l’arête. Nous décidons de nous arrêter pour faire une pause et attendre les premières lueurs du jour pour réévaluer notre trajectoire.

Il fait froid et, aux petites heures du matin, le sommeil semble vouloir nous rattraper. Un rat a décidé de nous mener la vie dure et s’attaque à nos sacs à dos pour y trouver de la nourriture. Même les cailloux que nous lui jetons ne semblent pas le décourager.

Enfin le ciel s’éclaircit, ce qui nous permet de nous orienter. Après avoir grignoté une maigre barre de céréale nous nous remettons à grimper. Il ne faut pas trop trainer car la route est encore bien longue.

Nous avalons le dénivelé positif plutôt rapidement pendant la matinée, qui est chaude etensoleillée. Nous alternons les passages faciles et succession de vires herbeuses au rocher instable.

Moraine Lake
Une vue qui en vaut la peine. Tout en bas, le lac Moraine
grimpeurs sur l'arête est du Mont Temple
tout là-haut sur l’arête, la vue est imprenable

Puis, nous arrivons au passage où sont concentrées les difficultés techniques de la voie : deux longueurs de 5.7 suivies de quelques longueurs en 5.5 avant de rejoindre la vire médiane de l’arête.

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un des passages clé dans du rocher bien pourri

La cordée constituée d’Hervé, Thomas et moi prend les devants. Le rocher friable rend le passage délicat, surtout encordés en flèche où deux personnes secondent le grimpeur de tête, chacune sur une corde indépendante. Le premier doit évidemment s’assurer de ne pas faire tomber de rocher sur la tête du second, juste en dessous.

Puis, Kent prend la tête de la seconde cordée, secondé par Seb. À quelques mètres audessus de la vire, une prise de main casse et Kent fait une chute qui le ramène directement sur la vire dans un fracas de douleur; son pied a percuté la vire en premier lui fracturant la cheville nette.

Je comprends vite en entendant les hurlements qu’un accident s’est produit. Seule au relais suivant et en bout de corde, je suis complètement inutile. Plusieurs minutes s’écoulent et je vois enfin poindre un bout de casque. Kent a réussi, de peine et de misère, à sortir les longueurs clés et à rejoindre notre cordée sur une vire de bonne taille.

Je l’accueille avec grand soulagement, car l’idée d’avoir à effectuer un secours en paroi dans ce rocher de qualité douteuse me semblait peu réjouissante.

Kent a eu de la chance de ne s’en tirer avec une simple blessure à la cheville; aussi encombrante soit-elle, sa vie n’était pas menacée. Nous nous rendons cependant vite à l’évidence que la seule option viable pour Kent est d’appeler les secours du Parc National de Banff. Avec une cheville fracturée, il lui est impossible de compléter l’ascension, puisqu’après l’arête, il faudrait grimper la pente de neige sommitale et entamer une descente de plusieurs heures dansdu terrain instable.

Avec regret, Seb sort sa radio de son sac et appelle les secours.

appel des secours
Allo, l’hélico…Roger 10-4

Notre groupe rejoint la grande vire médiane d’où il est plus facile pour l’hélicoptère de récupérer Kent et Seb. Je dois avouer qu’à ce moment-là, nous souhaitons être évacués par hélico également, ce qui est impossible vue la taille de notre groupe. Puisqu’il reste encore plusieurs heures de clarté et qu’aucun de nous trois n’est en détresse, nous savons que nous devons continuer.

Nous transvidons le contenu des bouteilles d’eau de Seb et Kent dans les nôtres, prenons ce qui leur reste de nourriture et convenons qu’ils iront à l’hôpital de Banff avec notre camion, et qu’ils nous récupéreront ensuite sur le stationnement dans la soirée.

Secoues par l’accident denotre amis mais surtout conscients du temps précieux que l’accident nous a fait perdre, Hervé, Thomas et moi reprenons notre ascension en direction des “Black Towers” aussitôt que nous entendons l’hélico approcher.

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Secours du Parc de Banff à l’approche

Puis, nous voyons la cordée être soulevés de la vire, suspendus par leurs harnais à un long câble, comme deux minuscules araignées, se faire basculer en pleine vitesse au-dessus du vide et redescendre dans la vallée. La vue de l’hélitreuillage est si impressionnante, que l’envie d’être évacués nous passe et nous avons redoublons d’ardeur dans la grimpe.

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A l’approche des Black Towers, la section la plus engagée de la course qui vaut bien sa cotation en IV

Les “Black Towers” se révèlent être un cauchemar. Le rocher friable de la vire inférieure semble solide et compact en comparaison. Après plusieurs erreurs de trajectoires et une désescalade de névé exposée, nous nous retrouvons dans l’ombre de la face, un dédale de poussière et de rocher friable qui se dérobe sous nos pieds et n’offre aucun encrage solide pour nos protections. A chaque pas, Hervé nous projette une pluie de rocher en pleine tête.

Essayant tant bien que mal de nous abriter, Thomas et moi sommes aussi inquiets de voir chuter notre premier de cordée que de se faire décapiter par une pierre. Transis de froid, nos bouteilles d’eau complètement à sec, nous commençons à avoir le morale dans les chaussettes, chaussettes qui soit-dit en passant sont trempées depuis notre traversée du névé.

À ce moment, Thomas trouve les mots justes pour décrire les fameuses “Black Tower”; avec un air grave et une mine déconfite, il me regarda et dit avec son accent français: “Les Black Tower, c’est l’enfer sur Terre”. Je suis tout à fait d’accord.

La mine d’Hervé, notre premier de cordée n’est guère plus rassurante. Complètement déshydraté, il nous affirme que si à la fin de la prochaine longueur nous ne sortons pas sur l’arête sommitale, il va jeter l’éponge. Définitivement le plus expérimenté de nous trois, avec un moral d’acier et un instinct remarquable, le fait d’entendre mon cher fiancé jeter l’éponge n’est pas rassurant. Bien que je ne sache pas trop ce qui nous attende si Hervé décide de ne pas continuer :

Est-ce que cela signifie un bivouac dans la voie à 3500m? Une hypothermie assurée et des engelures certaines à mes pieds mouillés? La mort par la faim et la soif ? Je lance ma petite prièrepour qu’il atteigne le sommet de l’arête et la pente de neige sur la face nord.

Hervé fini par rejoindre le sommet de l’arête suivi de peu par Thomas et moi, ragaillardis par l’espoir d’enfin terminer cette course. Quelle n’est pas ma déception quand je vois la distance qui nous sépare encore du sommet du Mont Temple! Vers 20h00, avec près de 15 heures d’ascension, l’idée de marcher en crampons et piolet pendant encore au moins une heure ne me fait pas rêver. De plus, la pente de neige semble plutôt glacée, surplombant les imposants séracs de la face Nord.

Arête Sommitale du Mont Temple
Si près du but…

Armée de mon piolet playmobil, je me maudit de m’accrocher à mes réflexes à l’européenne, avec un sac à dos minimaliste et de l’équipement hyper-léger. Si le poids du sac est un facteur qui peut ralentir le rythme, le climat et l’isolement des Rocheuses Canadienne requiert quelques kilos de matériel supplémentaires pour faire face à des situations d’urgence.

Malgré tout, la traversée de la pente de neige se passe plutôt bien, Hervé et Thomas m’encordent au milieu afin de compenser une chute potentielle due à mes encrages moins qu’optimaux.

Nous atteignons le sommet vers 20h30, sous un ciel d’une beauté ahurissante, fatigués, soulagés et fiers. Sans trop tarder, nous capturons l’instant par quelques photos, enlevons nos crampons et entamons la descente par la voie normale du Mont Temple, un des scrambles les plus longs et engagés du secteur. Nous voulons perdre le plus de dénivelé possible avant la tombée de la nuit, car nous savons que l’itinéraire de descente peut s’avérer difficile à trouver.

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Au sommet, heureux de ne pas avoir à passer la nuit dans la face!

De retour à l’étage subalpin, en pleine pénombre, nous sommes également de retour en terrain à grizzli. Les autorités du Parc National recommandent de circuler en groupe de quatre ou plus et de rester groupé, sous peine d’amende salée… ou d’une rencontre inopportune.

Malgré l’épuisement, nous finissons la longue descente en chantant et frappant dans nos mains et en espérant que les rangers ont mieux à faire que de patrouiller les sentiers à minuit.

Nous rejoignons le stationnement du Lac Moraine vers minuit et demi. Il n’y aucune âme en vue. Une bonne demi-heure plus tard, affalés les uns sur les autres sur le stationnement, nous entendons finalement le ronronnement caractéristique de notre camion au loin. Seb arrive pourvenir nous chercher!

Rongé par l’inquiétude, il a arpenté la route plusieurs fois pour tenter de nous trouver et était prêt à alerter les secours à la première heure du jour.

Sur le chemin du retour, en finissant les restes de gruau d’avoine insipide laissé la veille tant nous sommes affamés, nous entendons l’alarme sonner; il est1h00 du matin. Nous terminons uneascension qui a durée 24 heures.

Les 24 heures les plus longues de ma vie…

 

Easter Wine Tasting & Climbing in Skaha, BC

Easter in Skaha is becoming a tradition for our family…and every other climber in Western Canada, as we found out this year.

Integrated into the BC Provincial Park system less than ten years ago, the Skaha Bluffs keep gaining in popularity as the number of rock climbers in Western Canada grows exponentially year after year.

Tucked on the Western slopes of the Monashee mountains just above Skaha Lake near Penticton, the Bluffs offer close to 1000 routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.14. This South Okanagan gem benefits from a warm and dry climate that is unsurprisingly very appealing to warmth-deprived Calgarians escaping the cold and Vancouverites escaping the wet and gloomy.

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Hiking to the bluffs in the warm spring weather on a previous visit to Skaha

If the destination is popular in the spring and fall, it is known as almost too hot for climbing during the summer months; climbers then have to aim for early morning and evening sessions. I have heard through the great vine, however, that local route setters are currently working on a new north-facing crag…Some winter climbing is also possible sometimes, although the gate to the parking area is usually open from late March to late November.

Speaking of vine, the climate in Skaha combined with the nature of the rock are not only benefiting climbers; they are also creating the ideal conditions to grow grapes. The perfect exposition combined to gentle slopes, rocky soil, cutting edge irrigation technology and a local savoir-faire developed over the last thirty years or so make this area one of the best in Canada for producing award-winning wines.

Fine wines, great climbing, and decent weather forecast all aligned to guarantee a great time on our Easter getaway.

If we’re usually camping on our annual Easter getaway to Skaha, this year we were lucky to benefit from the warm hospitality of my sister Anne and her partner Chris, recently established in Shaka where Chris’s family is from. In addition, our father, Jacques, also decided to tag along for the trip and booked a last-minute flight ticket from Quebec City into Cranbrook to enjoy the road trip with us and a long overdue get-together with my sister and I.

Although climbing was obviously on our list, this time we took the opportunity to explore a bit further what Penticton and the Skaha area have to offer in terms of activities for the small and big kids alike.
The heavy rain we had on the first morning didn’t put a damper on our spirits and we headed straight for the Penticton Aquatic Centre, auntie, and grandpa in tow. My daughter, who I suspect to be way more interested in swimming than she is in climbing, was in heaven!

Splashing in the huge hot tub

Penticton, a City of over 40,000, really has an amazing selection of recreation amenities and counts on a state-of-the-art aquatic centre that provided a full morning of fun for everyone, in spite of the mega yellow water slide being out of service.
The rain finally stopped around midday and therefore we were able to get out for an afternoon stroll in the gigantic Skaha Lake Park.

Rated #1 attraction in Penticton on TripAdvisor, this park located a stone’s throw away from my sister’s place didn’t disappoint. From riding bikes along the lakeshore to building sandcastles on the beach, goofing around on the two playgrounds and feeding the gazillion ducks in the creek, the park was well worth the daily visit.

One of the daily visits to the Skaha Lake Park
Not quite the beach temperature yet
Paved trails to ride bikes

And of course, there was the climbing!
We had never seen the Bluff’s parking lot this full, but we still managed to find some routes to kick off the season and spook the crap out of ourselves awaken our senses on the tiny technical ledges.

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My sis and I climbing side-by-side on the solid gneiss

We all gathered at the “Day Care” crag on a warm afternoon to make the kids climb and I must say that it is a very good initiation area, as its name tells. It was surprising over that weekend to see how many climbing families there are and to see that more and more parents are starting to appreciate this family-friendly activity (or perhaps it is that more and more climbers are starting to have kids?? I wonder…)

Parents will have to be mindful of ticks early in the season and do a full children and pet checkup at the end of each day.

Maya and Eva, 3 1/2 and ready to rock
Climbing lessons are on!

On a long weekend, those who want to tackle specific projects have to get up early to beat the crowd, which my husband and I took turns to do…on some mornings.
Another highlight of our stay was the time we spent with Chris’ family around great meals and the chugging tasting of local wines.

Paul, Chris’s father took us all on a nice walk along the mountainside to the nearby Pentâge Winery on Easter Sunday.

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Grasslands and rocky cliffs are typical of the area’s landscape
Half of our wine-tasting posse on its way to the winery
Pentâge’s vineyards overlook Skaha Lake and the valley
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One kind of “Heaven’s Door”

There, we were introduced to Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner, former Vancourites established on their land since 1996.
Passionate about their craft and so eager to share their knowledge with their visitors, Julie and Paul grow 19 types of the highest quality grape in small lot releases on their 23-hectares property.

Cheers!

In the sleek design tasting room where colourful local paintings contrast with the dark plywood and steel walls, Julie served us a crisp Gewürztraminer, followed by a Sauvignon Blanc and an oak barrel-aged Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier, which really delighted our privileged group of tasters.

We then completed the tasting with a rich Syrah and took our glasses outside on a private tour of the impressive 5000 sq. ft natural rock cellar carved right from the bedrock, which offers the controlled climate required for the French-made oak barrels to operate their magic.

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Eva and Uncle Chris climbing the granite slabs in the natural rock wine cellar, a glass in hand

Paul the winemaker then took some time out of his busy schedule to share some of his wine-making and travel stories with us…along with some dirty jokes.

We left the winery with fuzzy heads and a baby stroller heavy with a sleepy child and numerous bottles of Pentâge wine; some of them were consumed that very night, paired with the delicious Easter dinner prepared with love by Sally, Chris’ mother.

We departed Skaha the next morning with the skin on our fingers still intact, as this time we didn’t make climbing the core focus of our stay. However, we departed Skaha with our batteries recharged from the great times spent with the family (and extended family) and a bottled sample of Skaha’s terroir in our luggage.

Where to stay in Skaha (if your sister doesn’t  live there):

Banbury Greens Campground (opens on April 1st) Special early season rates for tenters and small camper vans. Sits on the right side of the lake to get the early morning sunshine. Hot showers, fire pits, and electrical hook-ups. No groceries nor restaurant nearby. The most popular spot for climbers.

Penticton is a fairly large City and therefore you will find accommodation options to suit any taste or budget from motels to vacation rentals: www.visitpenticton.com


Where to eat:

Bad Tatoo. A craft brewery with a great ambiance and tasty pub fares and healthy dishes at a reasonable price point.


Where to have a drink:

The Cannery. The other craft brewery. Excellent beer with the flagship brew being the Muse. Snacks and sandwiches available.


More family-friendly activities:

Ride the Kettle Valley Rail Trail between Penticton and Naramata

Climb indoors at the new bouldering cave in town

Tour other wineries of the South Okanagan VQA (which most of them open on the Easter Long)

Drive down Route97 to Oliver and Osoyoos and check out the Desert Interpretive Centre

Hike the Skaha Bluffs’s Trail and look for bighorn sheep and snakes.

Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

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A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

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Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

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Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
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Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

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The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

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Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
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Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

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Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

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Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

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our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge

A Weekend of Rock Climbing in Revelstoke, Toddlers in Tow

Everybody loves Revelstoke.

Nestled between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains, this railway and forestry town really is gifted with an amazing geography. Glaciers and dramatic snow-capped mountains, the mighty Columbia river as a backbone, lush rain forest with oversized cedar trees and ferns. Everywhere, the influence from the West Coast can be felt; in the culture, the lifestyle, the vibe…as well as the amount of annual precipitation.

Abundant precipitation in the winter (in the form of cold, dry powder snow) is part of what has made Revelstoke, or Revy as the locals refer to it, a skiing Mecca. With its incredible ski resort that boasts the highest lift-accessed vertical in North America and hundreds of acres of pristine and rowdy terrain for cat, heli and backcountry skiing, Revelstoke is up and coming on the global best ski destination scene.

Revelstoke also has an impressive network of high quality single track trails, like hundreds of veins on which fresh-air deprived mountain bikers from all over Western Canada and beyond come to ride, up & down.

However, what Revelstoke is less known for is the diversity and the quality of its rock. About ten different climbing areas are scattered around town, all within 10 to 30-minute drive; trad or sport, from the short single pitch to the 450m multi-pitch bolted routes on the Columbia Buttress, from low grades to 5.13 +, there is no shortage of fun routes to climb.

Both ourselves and our loyal climbing partners and friends Marc and Shenoa had been to Revelstoke for climbing before kids and had all had an amazing time.

The highlight of our previous visit had been climbing at Waterworld, a cliff on the side of aquamarine Lake Revelstoke, a few kilometre north of the dam. After a 2-minute hike, climbers rappel down all the way to a small wooden platform only a foot or so above the water. Although the couple of 3-4 pitches routes at Waterworld are all bolted, they offer a nice alpine-like challenge as once you’ve rappelled into the unknown, you’re committed to at least climb the easiest route up: Gilligan’s Island ( 5.8). On hot summer days, make sure you take a skinny dip from the platform before you start the climb, at least you will feel nice and cool for the first few moves! The photo featured at the top of this post was actually taken 6-7 years ago, during our first visit to Revelstoke.

With great memories from our previous experiences, when the time came to decide on a climbing destination for a long weekend in the spring, we quickly reached a consensus. Over and above the good climbing options, we were all pretty confident that this place would also be very kid friendly with easy and convenient camping options and other fun family activities to keep our busy toddlers entertained.

On the May  long weekend, then, after the usual full day of packing, we set off to enjoy a couple of days of climbing in Revelstoke, kids in tow.

Our family set up camp at the Williamson Lake Campground just a kilometre out-of-town on the Thursday night. We had booked well in advance knowing that this would be a very busy time in Revelstoke and we didn’t regret it as the place was full. Our daughter was ecstatic when she realized that there was a fabulous playground at arm’s reach from  our campsite, which in fact made us feel like we were camping at the playground. Wiliamson Lake was also pretty cool with tons of fish to feed Cheerios to from the dock.

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Eva and Finn “setting up” THEIR playground for the weekend

Although this type of campsite wouldn’t normally be our fav, this time around we were thankful to find hot showers, plenty of other kids for our children to play with AND a washer and dryer that we were stoked to find when the camper’s roof leaked gallons of rain water onto our bed.

Our friends Marc, Shenoa and their little boy, Finn,  only met us the following day and brought along a canopy tent that also proved to be quite useful in the rainy weather.

Shenoa and I had the privilege to tackle the climbing first as the papas took care of the children. Under a beautiful sunny sky we aimed for the Begbie Bluffs and spent our afternoon connecting with the local rock at the Raptor wall. We were glad we hadn’t taken the kids as there was little to no flat and safe space at the bottom of the crags. At Raptor wall we found some nice vertical routes from 5.8 to low 5.11 . We came back to the campground late afternoon to relief the dads and let them enjoy a few hours at Begbie Bluffs. The little ones on their end also had their share of fun while they dipped their naked bums in the lake and made sandcastles.

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Herve on the steep and classic “Flashdance” (5.11a) on Raptor Wall

The following day, after a short stroll  downtown, we stopped for delicious coffee and treats at La Baguette, a local favorite held by a fellow couple of Quebecois. As the name indicates, La Baguette is a fine bakery where you can buy your daily loaf of fresh bread, order a full breakfast or lunch and treat yourself with their in-house baked goods and tasty gelato. This place is tiny and can be very busy so come prepared to wait to be served, but the wait is always worth it.

Later that day, we all packed up to go spend the day at Blanket Creek Provincial Park.

Herve and I then left our precious, who was snoozing in the camper, to the attention of our friends and went for a romantic outing on to the Blanket Arête (2 pitches, 5.10d). The Arête is highly visible from the bridge over Blanket Creek when driving south towards Galena Bay. Although the walk to the start of the climb made it feel like the rock would be mossy and moist, in the end it was a really nice climb, with the bouldery crux being at the start of second pitch.The Blanket Creek Crag also boast some single-pitch routes, mostly in the low 5.10’s. While the provincial park is ideal for families, the crag is unfortunately not.

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My date scoping “Blanket Arête” from the bridge
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A little moss on the first pitch of Blanket Arête
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Marc taking his baby-sitting role very seriously

After this quick outing, we went back to the day use area to relief our friends and put our parents hat back on. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking to Shannaghan Falls, chasing gofers and playing in the sand by the lagoon with the two tots. Upon Marc and Shenoa’s return from their climb, we had a nice picnic dinner in the park before heading back to our own campground for the night.

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Shannaghan Falls are only 5 minutes walk from the campground on a stroller-friendly trail

 

When we woke up on the Sunday, it was pouring rain. This meant we had some time to explore what Revelstoke has to offer in terms of indoor activities and we were quite pleased with all the options! Of course, we all indulged once again in one of our favorite activity, which is going for coffee and treats. We also checked out some of the towns’ boutique stores, before heading to the aquatic centre for a swim. Revelstoke’s public pool is quite impressive with its 3-storey high water slide, its kiddy pool and deep water solo like climbing wall. Everyone had a good time there and we ended up staying for a few hours! In the end, we didn’t even get a chance to check out the other “indoor” options such as the Railway Museum, the Dam, or the Begbie brewery.

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Our little gourmet is always up to checking out the local dining scene…especially when it comes to sampling “pains au chocolat”
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Our two dwarfs enjoying a hike in the rain (aka so glad we packed warm clothes and rain suits)

On our way back to the campsite that day, we decided to go check out another climbing area, “the Drive-In” which is only a few kilometres from Williamson Lake on the east shore of the lake. This area is nothing major but it was steep and sheltered enough than even after a day-long rain shower, some of the climbs were still dry. We decided to give it a go and were quite pleased with the end-of-day muscle stretching opportunity at this low-key crag.

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Herve and Marc checking out the Drive-In, which boasts a few .10’s, .11’s & .12’s

After one last nice camping dinner all together and a restful night, we all set off the following morning. Our friends hit the road back to Kimberley and we set off West towards our next destination, Squamish, where we were intending to spend the rest of the week.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped to the ultimate kid’s attraction on the Trans-Canada Highway, the Enchanted Forest. For a mere $11 per adults (free for tots) our mini spent a full 2 1/2 hours visiting every single hobbit’s house and shaking hand with every one of the statue animals, elves and other fairy tale creatures.

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The closest thing to heaven for a 2 1/2 year old: the Enchanted Forest at Three Valley Gaps

In spite of the rain, we had a great time climbing and enjoying family time in Revelstoke. If you head there, make sure to purchase the excellent local guidebook “Revelstoke Rocks” from 2010, self published by local route-setter and mountain guide Ruedi Beglinger.

Provincial Parks near Revelstoke, such as Martha Creek and Blanket Creek offer great camping options. There is also numerous forest service roads and backcountry camping options out-of-town.

The town has good boutique shopping, a good Saturday morning Famers Market, as well as plenty of excellent dining options. For quick and easy meal with the fam, check out Nico’s Pizzeria and the Village Idiot, or for a more refined dining experience, Woolsey’s Bistro or the 112 Restaurant and Lounge won’t disappoint.

There is no shortage of good swimming holes on hot summer days as well as plenty of stroller-friendly multi-use trails around town, including the Greenbelt. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks are also located very close from Revelstoke and boast multiple family friendly hikes and scenic views. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience it all this time…

We will back there for climbing and all the other fun stuff, that’s for sure…because for kids and adults alike, AND for non climbers, Revelstoke does rock!

 

 

From 2 to 82: 3 Generations on a Trip to Cassis, France

Last November, like every year, we went to France to visit my in-laws. Since they are well into their 80’s and no longer really keen to go on vacations on their own, we thought it would be great to go with them on a trip. We were committed to do all the travel arrangements and the driving, so what would be left for them to do would be to enjoy the ride and spend quality time with their grand-kid, away from their daily routine and chores.

There were a few reasons why we set our choice of destination on Cassis and the Calanques:

  • It was a fairly short drive from where they live (a mere 3 hours), which would suit elderly parents just as fine as our two-year old daughter.
  • Having been there as a young couple before kid, we had found Cassis very quaint and charming, which is contrasting with other major resort towns on the Riviera.
  • Cassis is located by the sea in the Provence region; it benefits from a pleasant Mediterranean climate which was important to consider given the time of year we would be traveling.
  • The Calanques offer plenty of scenic sightseeing and walking options that are well suited to children and seniors alike.
  • Most importantly (and a little selfishly too), it’s a fantastic climbing destination. Although I must admit that being a multi-generational trip my husband and I didn’t have much expectations as far as rock climbing goes)

With the rental car all packed up, the five of us set off on a beautiful Sunday morning for Cassis.

I had arranged accommodation in advance and had opted for a 2-bedroom condo located on the heights of Cassis, that I booked for the full extent of our stay. The condo happened to be the best option for us as it provided a quieter option to hotels downtown. We also wanted the convenience of a full kitchen, a large dining room, a nice patio and yard and a swimming pool (that we contemplated lots but really never used!).

Cassis is a VERY busy town 4-6 months of the year and can also be VERY pricey, but fortunately, traveling in November opened up more affordable lodging options. The full week rental plus cleaning fees was about 500 euros, which can quickly turn into 1100 euros during peak season. The owner was personable as “jail’s door” as my dear husband would say, and therefore our interactions with him were limited, but he had a cute bunny in a cage that my daughter made friend with…until he bit her hard.

The kitchen being separated from the dining/living area by 3 steps was, in a way, sort of ideal, and it set a different tone to our family time from the get go…My mother-in-law having reduced mobility, the kitchen by default became my kingdom, which allowed my in-laws to relax and let themselves be pampered and served. I know by day 2 they were both bored stiff to not be able to do anything in the kitchen, but overall, I think they quite enjoyed spending more time with their grand-daughter and being fed different food.

We also discovered that multi-generational travel (love the term!) brings a different pace then what we were used to; but you know what, we also realized that 80-year-olds and two-year olds are in fact on a similar schedule! Our daughter’s most active times of day are early morning and late afternoon, and this seemed to suit my in-laws quite well.

A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees
A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees

Between breakfast and lunch taken at the condo, and between the afternoon nap and dinner is when we did our exploration of Cassis and the Calanques, and it was awesome! Here’s what we have enjoyed the most:

  1. Walking around the port and chillin’ at the Café:

Cassis is such a picturesque town, everyone has to at least spend a few hours wandering around, peeking into the over-priced stores, and sitting at a patio to enjoy a cup of espresso or un demi (glass of beer). Multiple celebrities own properties in Cassis, so who knows, perhaps you will recognize one of them…

The only downside to the downtown is that there is very little parking nearby which is less than convenient when traveling with a young child and seniors, but being November, we still had some luck finding spots not too far…just be ready to leave a whole whack of change…

Cassiscafé
Multigenerational travel or when the little ones get all the attention

2. Shopping at the Marché

Le marché is an institution no matter where you are in France, and even more so in the South. This is where people socialize, get some fresh gossips, buy their produce, a fresh loaf of bread, and of course a little piece of Provence such as lavender-scented olive oil soap, some Santons or a traditional tablecloth.

Note: there is even less parking spots available downtown on market day…

CassisMarché
Embracing the French life on this rainy market day

 

3. Taking a drive to explore La Calanque de Sormiou

If the drive through Marseille and its dodgy neighborhoods is a bit daunting to many people, a visit to the Calanque de Sormiou makes it well worth the adventure. Just outside the city limits, a drive on a narrow windy road up a small pass in the mountains and down on the other side takes you to this beautiful fjord. Once there, you feel you are on an isolated island in the middle of the sea.

Busy with the tenants from the many little “cabanons” in the summer, mostly recreationists and fishermen, and groups of youth part-taking in sailing camps at the UCPA,  it is a ghost village in November. The breeze from the sea, full of iodine is very invigorating and the view truly breathtaking. The walk to the end of the “cabanons” is only a kilometre, which was perfect for the young and the young at heart.

CassisCalanquesSorimiou
La Calanque de Sormiou in rest mode after the busy summer season

 

4.Walking to la Calanque de Port-Miou

This Mediterranean Fjord is the closest to Cassis and can be access by a short easy walk. The biggest challenge once again is to find a parking spot nearby. Port-Miou in Provencal dialect means “Better Port” as it offers a nice anchoring locations for boats, sheltered from the wind.

CasisPortmiou
La Calanque de Port-Miou is the closest to town and offer an easy walking access

 

5. Taking a drive to the top of Cap Canaille via la Route des Crêtes

La  Route de Crêtes is closed several months of the year and mostly during the summer months, the main reason being forest fire hazards as we found out when we were there. Fortunately, it had reopened a few days into our weekly stay after an episode of strong wind and we were able to take the impressive drive and stop at the top to take photos. Note: children would be best kept on a leash is what we learned in a very scary way as our daughter ran for the edge and was caught just on time. Be cautious up there, parents; toddlers are unpredictable.

We also welcomed the opportunity to check out the anchor stations of famous climbs that top up right where tourists take their photos.

The view from there is stunning and on bluebird days you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the Calanques and the vastness ( and blueness (?)of the Med.

cassiscapcanaille
Photo spot at the top of the Cap Canaille. Watch your kids as there’s a 200m drop right there!

 

6.Checking out the waterfront play area at La Ciotat

One fine day we went on a mission to shop for food (we actually did that everyday, several times a day) we ended up in La Ciotat looking for a larger grocery store than what Cassis offers, which is very limited and quite expensive. We decided to check out the port area, which from our memories was industrial and ugly. To our biggest surprise the whole waterfront “promenade” had been recently revamped and beautified and hosted the most amazing playground ever. This really made everyone’s afternoon as our daughter played and made friends, we socialized with some parents and my in-laws quietly sat on a bench, enjoyed the sea view and the sight of their grand-daughter playing and having a blast. That night we also brought some amazing seafood from the grocery store and had a feast back at the condo.

 

Cassisparc
Having a good time with her new friend at La Ciotat’s seafront playground

7. Climbing a multi-pitch route (yes, we finally did that!)

Towards the end of our trip, my husband’s best friend came to visit us, which opened up some climbing possibilities. We were also joined by our dear friend from Marseille, Elie, who at 76 years old still rocks his 5.10 on lead. One morning I took off with my two partners in crime, left husband, toddler and in-laws behind and went back to the Cap Canaille to climb the route “2 Vauriens 3 Canailles” (6 pitches, TD-, 6a+, 150m). After a spooky pendulum rappel down from the photo spot at the top, we let Elie lead the way on this pumpy, juggy, beautiful climb with a bouldery start that has left us a bit shaken. If the climbs in the Calanques can be polished and crowded, the Cap Canaille was a good surprise…but to this regards, locals say that Cap Canaille is NOT in the Calanques…

CassisElie2
Elie as keen and happy as ever, rocking this multi-pitch like a champ in his own backyard
CassisElie
Un vaurien ou une canaille?
Cassisraph
Raph focused on the steep, pumpy 4th pitch

It was a great adventure with the 2 boys, just like in the old days, that we finished with a beer at a Café in the port and another seafood feast at night back at the condo. Don’t feel sorry for my husband who stayed behind since he went back with his buddy to climb the same route the next day and was also pretty stoked about it. We also checked out one sport climbing crag that wasn’t anything worth bragging about but still offered a fun afternoon outside with our toddler girl and some deserved rest at the condo for my in-laws for whom sometimes, being around a 2-year old 24/7 can be a little overwhelming…fact duely accepted and understood 🙂

cassiscrag
Checking out a local crag on la Route des Crêtes

 

All things considered, this first multigenerational trip was awesome. We had lots of quality family time and hubby and I were even able to escape for a romantic trail-run together. We had a little beach time and ate lots of excellent food. We dined-in most of the week as it was more convenient for our family and kept the costs reasonable. We were able to purchase good seafood locally or at larger grocery store of communities nearby. We also indulged in some good fine pastries and enjoyed our daily croissants and pains au chocolat and coffee at the port. The fair weather has also contributed to make our stay in Cassis the most pleasant, as we were able to spend most of our time outside…Had it rained all week, we certainly would have found the condo a little small…espceially with an energetic 2-year old.

Most importantly, I think our trip was a success because were able to manage everyone’s expectations, individual pace and interests so everyone from 2 to 82 could have a fantastic time.

 

 

The Little Climber’s Gear Check-List

We are so excited!

In 3 dodos (three sleeps) we’re leaving for an eleven-day climbing trip in BC. This year we’ve decided to do our spring trip a little later than usual and to stick to destinations within our dear Canada for a few different reasons: low Canadian dollar, lack of friends with the same schedule and a desire to spend some time with Tata (French slang for Auntie) on the coast. Our trip will be in two phases; we will spend the first half in Revelstoke, and the second half in Squamish. These choices will allow us to split the drive in 2 (Squamish is a mere 12 hour + drive from Kimberley, where we live), and will provide great variety in the climbing and in the scenery.

Our Mini actively helps with prepping our camper and packing her stuff, which really contributes to building the excitement!

A few weeks ago, I came across this excellent blog post from mother, climber and writer Beth Rodden on great outdoor kid gear. (I must say that I pretty much agree with all her list, with the exception perhaps of the Poco Plus child carrier by Osprey. I would certainly have used and loved this pack had it been generously donated by a sponsor! Unfortunately, we stuck to a much more minimalist version by Deuter, generously donated by dear friends with two older kids. My husband decided this Deuter pack was more aligned with his own vision of what mountain gear should be: light, light and light. The fact that there was no padding and storage space for useful things such as diapers, water, food, spare cloths was to him, a detail he could cope with.)

Anyhow, our daughter is now almost three years old, very active, and somewhat interested in climbing and hiking…all by herself (I DO IT! …sounds familiar?). With quite a few camping and climbing trips under her belts, we now have our list of favs when it comes to packing her gear. Here’s our check-list:

1- Deuter Little Star Sleeping Bag: Can be extended to fit children from age 1-6. Combined with the Z-Thermarest= hours of entertainment


2- Petzl Ouistiti Full Body Harness: for the 5-minute climbing session which last less time than it took to put that thing on 🙂

3- Patagonia Capilene Thermal Underwear: our MUST since birth. Need to transition to a t-shirt rather than onesie now as missy doesn’t wear diapers anymore

4- Helly Hansen Rain Set: The suit was great up to 2 and potty training. Now we find the 2-piece set more versatile. Can be layered with warm pieces to replace a snowsuit…Yeah, we’re going to coastal BC…did I say the weather can be unpredictable in BC in May, or in fact, every month of the year?

rainsuit

5- Grivel Kid’s climbing helmet: cute and functional, can also be used as a bike helmet for space saving purpose

6- Mammut Kids 10L Backpack– (because she wants to hike ALL BY HERSELF!): a serious review website would say: storage= 0, functionality=0, waist belt=0, hydration system compatible=0, cuteness=10, stuffed mammoth=10.


7- Shoes: hikers, beach/water shoes, Keen sandals, Bogs rain boots… weather can be unpredictable in BC in May…tak’em all.

8- Books: Mountain-related for total immersion into our element

9- Sun/bathing suit: in case we get the odd warm day

10- Sun hat+sun glasses: for the style, and the odd sun ray

11- Ukulele: for showing off with Tata by the campfire

12- Smartwool Merino Socks: a couple of pairs, they are simply awesome

13- Flash light: for reading the cool mountain books on line 8.

14- Water bottle: You know the great $30 Klean Kanteen kiddy water bottle …NOT! A $10 no BPA version will do just FINE!

15- SMALL toys+ favorite SMALL stuffy: ’cause that’s all that fits into the 10L backpack on line 6.

packing list

16- Patagonia Puff Ball jacket: warm, versatile and so reversibly stylish

17- Bubbles, bucket and shovel: to keep busy at the crag, beach or campsite

packing list2

Allright, I got to go finish packing!