Orpierre is a small idyllic town in the southern of France, in the Haute Alps. The old centre of the town dates back to the 14th century. The landscape is hilly, with cliffs sticking out where erosion has had its way. The surrounding landscape is mostly used for growing different fruits, like grapes, cherries, apples etc. The area is quite sunny with about 300 days of sun each year. It’s possible to climb there year round, but the months of December, January and February are wetter than other months.
The town has suffered a decrease of inhabitants for a very long time. First numbers are from the end of the 18th century, and since then the town has shrunk. In 1983 two young climbers discovered the town and its rock climbing potential and since then things start to change for the better in this town. By now there are around 500 routes spread over 4 km of walls. Many of those routes are multi-pitches. The easier routes, grade 3, 4 and 5, are bolted very comfortably, both single and multi-pitches. So if you want to get some experience on multi-pitching this is definitely the place to be.
A downside to all this, is that this rock is so popular that it’s sometimes very hard to find a free route. The busiest seasons are known to be during the Easter holiday and during August. But even on regular working days there are still quite a few people out on the rock. If there are some (easy) routes that you really want to do, it might be smart to make an early start.
The guide book can be bought at the climbing shop in town. Most of it is written in French, English and German. The book comes across as a bit messy, and you might need to take some extra time to get the information that you need, but it’s definitely all in there. The routes are not extensively explained but all the basic information that you need is there, such as the amount of quickdraws, length of the route, direction of the face etc. In the back of the guide are more routes on rocks close by, around half an hour drive from Orpierre.
Traveling to Orpierre
The easiest way to get to Orpierre is to go there by car. The town has a small supermarket, and a few restaurants but it’s not big. So it is advisable to have a car to get you to a big supermarket in Laragne or to do some sightseeing when you have a resting day.
It is however possible to use public transportation to come to Orpierre. Closest train station is in Laragne and from there you can take a bus or a taxi to Orpierre. Since you can reach all routes by foot within an hour from the town this is a good option for those without a car or drivers licence. Although I have to say that I was very happy to use the car to drive to the upper car park since the walk is quite a steep climb and you want to save your energy for the climbing. The closest airports are in Marseille, Nimes and Avignon.
Where to stay
There are two options to choose from when visiting Orpierre. You either go camping or you can stay at a gite. I don’t know too much about the gites, but I think google will get you the information you need on that, I do however know that Mirjam Verbeek offers one gite. There are two campgrounds directly attached to the town. They are quite big, busy and luxurious, you’ll find these easily when you search for them online.
The campsite that you probably won’t find when you don’t know exactly what you are looking for is called camping Les Catoyes. It’s a beautiful campsite with many cherry trees, and in the spring you can camp underneath a stunning flowering tree. This is probably your cheapest option as well for a stay at Orpierre. You’ll most likely need a car if you chose this option. Even though it’s a 7 minute drive to the town, one doesn’t necessarily require to drive to town every time something is needed. They offer bread in the morning, they offer a few groceries too and you can get an evening snack there as well. They also used to have a small place to cook, a refrigerator and an indoor bouldering wall, although I’m not sure if they still offer these amenities.
For most routes a 70 m rope will suffice. The guide book advices however to have a 90 m double for some of the multi-pitches. They don’t explain why you would need it though. Many of the multi-pitches end in a place where you can easily walk down to the base of the route, so no hassle with abseiling, just bring your shoes up and walk down after the climb. The where and how are shown perfectly in the guide book.
Bring 14 to 17 quickdraws and gear to re thread your rope when you finish the route. The multi-pitches are bolted really well, but when you are meant to walk down there as there aren’t are any anchors installed. You will only find two bolts, so you have to build your own belay station. Of course don’t forget gear for a safe abseil, there are a few routes that you walk out of at the top, but you need to abseil about 30 m in the middle of your walk.
A helmet is necessary, especially in the multi-pitch routes, or if you are underneath one. The easier multi-pitches routes sometimes have a short walk in the middle, in these areas loose rock, plants and other debris are present.
As said a few times before, the rock of Orpierre is full with multi-pitches. It’s the perfect spot to learn about it, or to practice it. There are quite a few 100 to 150 meter long routes that are not harder than a 5c. If you are more experienced you can find routes with pitches up to 7c. Besides these you can also find many challenging sport climb routes, with the hardest at an 8c. But there are way more routes in the 4’s and 5’s.
In the area around Orpierre there are several options to do via ferrata. The closest is a half an hour drive away, others are a bit further. Check in the list of websites for two pages with lists of routes. Grimper a Orpierre does also offer a guided via ferrata climb.
What else to do
There are enough hiking paths around Orpierre to enjoy yourself with a nice day hike. Good maps for this are the blue maps from IGN. Unfortunately Orpierre is on the side of the map, so if you want a full orientation of the town it’s best to get two maps, 3239 OT Rosans Orpierre and 3339 OT Sisteron.
The area is also very popular among cyclists so you will more likely meet a few people going around on mountain bikes and racing bikes. For more information and routes check out the Routes in Buech website, also for hiking and horseriding.
When you have a day of rest or bad weather take the car out for a spin and drive around the beautiful and diverse landscape. There are quite a few historical sites to discover as well, both in the old towns and in the surrounding outdoors, the area breathes history.
Since the town of Orpierre is so popular it’s not hard to find trainers who use this spot to take out groups for climbing courses. One of these trainers is Mirjam Verbeek, she was the lead champion in The Netherlands for many years. Now she is dedicated to share her extense knowledge and experience to others, and she is known to do so very well.
When I was in Orpierre I didn’t have any experience with multi-pitching, but I wasn’t interested in a full course. Together, my climbing partner and I, arranged a full day climbing session with Brice from Grimper a Orpierre. There he taught us the basics of multi-pitching and afterwards we’ve had a lot of fun trying out the multi-pitch climbing ourselves.
Climbing in Orpierre – http://www.orpierre-escalade.com/fr/
Grimper a Orpierre – http://www.grimperaorpierre.fr/index.html
Mirjam Verbeek – http://www.mirjamverbeek.com/default.html
Camping Les Catoyes – http://www.camping-lescatoyes.com/
Routes in Buech – http://www.buech-rando.com/en/accueil.html