Cap Canaille - Falaises Soubeyranes - Traverse Philemon E > W
Spectacular hiking and scrambling beside the Sea, under and over dramatic cliffs. Several sections exposed to dangerous falling, not a good choice for persons unaccustomed to exposed scrambling and hiking.
The first section of this route is shared with the Vire des Immortelles] traverse – which might be a better choice for a party with greater technical rock-climbing capability.
Drive the Route des Cretes from Cassis or La Ciotat and park by its intersection (GPS latitude/longitude approx N43.18000 E5.57250) with the spur access road to the Semaphore. Walk south on the road to the Semaphore about 600m. Go around the left (E) side of the Semaphore building, then Left onto a trail marked with yellow paint SouthEast on the crest going gently downward. After about 120m, the wider yellow trail soon curves left away from the crest. Leave that for a narrow trail marked (intermittently) with black paint (also perhaps some older blue-paint triangles). Key is to stay on the crest, aiming for the Bec de l’Aigle rock, roughly SouthEast. After going down another 100m, the trail reaches a flat area, then bears right to the top edge of the cliff, then reaches a big view toward the E (lat/long ~ N43.1732 E5.5773) - about 300m from the Semaphore. Now looking to the E and S there is no cliff visible: the land goes moderately downward S toward a flat area.
Here the Black trail turns Right to go roughly S about 70m down to that flat area, with some scrambling on rocks. Then continue another 15m down to a smaller platform.
See a bolt near the small platform, turn right and face W or NW to look down the first steep section, which goes downward about 10m. This can be taken with a rappel, or down-climbed on positive holds at difficulty not more than 3a.
A dirt trail continues downward moderately for another 50m, then goes more or less horizontal, and after another 75m reaches the overhanging cliff.
After this it is difficult to get lost. Bolt protection every 15m or so, also opportunities to thread slings around trees or rocks. Stay at the same horizontal level until reach a large subsidence, with a dramatic gap in yellow-brown rocks just a few meters below (see photo). While it is possible for the daring to go directly across the gap, it is also possible to traverse around its right side. The exit from this can be sandy + loose and a bit scary, but protectable with rope with bolt or rock-thread.
Continue W horizontal on the ledge about 100m until reach a steel spiral “pigs tail”, with two or three bolts nearby with a rope thru them, with a black paint marking in the shape of right-angle (see photo). This is the top anchor of the main rappel. (This point is about 400m NW from the first steep 10m down-climb / rappel.)
The length of this single rappel is 30 meters (perhaps a bit less). Its lower section hangs in free space under a big overhang. Making the rappel on a 60m rope gets down to a rock platform below the overhang. The traverse route continues down a dirty gully at the W (descender’s right) side of the platform (difficulty 2+ with possible top belay anchor near bottom of rappel).
Using a 70m rope for the main single rappel will reach nearly to the bottom of this gully (and so avoids the need for down-climbing most of it). With stretching of the rope, a 60m rope might reach partway down into the gully, perhaps past its most difficult and dirty + loose upper entrance. The lower section of the gully has rock holds that could be down-climbed with good stemming/bridging technique. But in that case the person rappelling must be very careful not to rappel off the end of the rope and so fall, and must be able to disconnect safely from the rope in the midst of a steep gully.
After this there’s a long section of hiking generally NorthWest on a narrow trail thru prickly bushes with lots of little ups + downs, with dramatic rocks above. Then reach the Pas de la Chevre, a treeless rock face with ledges ascending toward the west (see photos). Very exposed to dangerous falling (but perhaps not as difficult as it looks). Protectable by rope with bolts spaced every 10-15m.
After this more hiking on narrow trail. At around latitude/longitude N43.1852 E5.5618 (about 1500m NW from the big rappel), the trail turns diagonal Right (not necessarily distinct or well-marked) and you climb diagonally left-ward up the slope about 25m, then turn to climb straight up the slope about 20-25m - very steep - toward some smaller cliffs (see photos). Then climb diagonal Left about 25m. Then more directly upward (with a fixed rope) toward a break in the rocks, followed by a little more scrambling up. Finally a 3m very steep rock dihedral with another fixed rope – tricky + strenuous exit move, feels like solid 3a (see photo).
Now on the crest (at latitude/longitude ~ N43.1858 E5.5618), see the road Route des Cretes, walk easily about 50m W + N to the Parking (GPS latitude/longitude ~ N43.1863 E5.5614).
Hike E on the Crest trail. Or, longer distance but easier, walk E on the road back to the start parking.
The climbing sections are very short. It’s mostly a long hike, about 3 km on the main traverse itself from the start Parking on the Route des Cretes to the finish farther W on the Route des Cretes, plus another 3-4 km to return to the start Parking.
Summer time: could work with an early morning start.
This traverse could also be done in the opposite direction (W > E), but that requires much more difficult climbing moves.
Alternative: More exposure and climbing with less hiking (and less rope weight) could be obtained by going in and out from the east end (not completing the traverse) - but this requires 3a or 3c climbing to get back out … First go in as far as the top of the big 30m rappel (pig’s tail). Now two options for additional exposure or climbing: (a) Set up a Top-Rope on the pigs tail for climbing the upper 15m of the line of the big rappel - nice moves on sandstone (difficulty 4b/c); (b) continue traversing NW at roughly the same horizontal level (similar climbing and protection to what has come before), perhaps until you see an old tree hanging down into space blocking the traverse – then turn around and come back. Getting the last 15m to the tree is much more difficult climbing than anything previous on this tour, and going beyond the tree the next 20m NW have bad loose rock and is tricky to protect. After perhaps trying those additional options, return from the pigs trail the same way back toward the SE. After the track leaves the overhanging cliff, it goes roughly horizontal for 75m, then uphill for 50m and reaches the base of a cliff. Continue along base of the cliff a short ways until encounter puddingstone rock. Look up and see a line of weakness – that’s the 10m rappel. It can be climbed on positive holes not more difficult than 3a – but not much protection for the leader. Or continue along the base 10-20m further and find bolts and climb up following those: better protected for the leader, but the climbing moves are harder, more like 3c. . (or more climbing with less rope weight by doing the traverse in reverse from West to East, but much greated difficulty). . (or another way to get more climbing with less hiking is do the Vire des Immortelles]).
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