Bec de Sormiou: climbing inside an awesome marine milieu
All the Calanques are truly amazing, a world famous environment for climbing and hiking; the “Calanque de Sormiou” is surely one of the finest place in this peculiar rocky group, rich of limestone towers, steep walls and needles towering the Mediterranean sea along the coast situated between the small town of Cassis and Marseille.
The beautiful summit of Bec de Sormiou, only named “le Bec” by local climbers, overlooks the marvellous Sormiou‘s bay with its fascinating white North-East face, a steep wall molded by an excellent extra-white limestone. The “Bec” is a true twin-summit peak, surrounded from the water and projecting itself towards the sea like a gigantic rocky prow. Climbing is marvellous, mainly unrolling along steep and sculpted slabs.
From Cassis, take the road D559 towards West. After crossing the Col de Gineste, the road descends to the East side of Marseille. Follow the main road getting to the Mazargue obelisk, situated in the East side of Marseille. When reaching the "Mazargue" round-about, turn to left and follow the well signed road to Sormiou, reach the Sormiou Col and from here follow the narrow road descending to the small village of Sormiou and leading to a barre (toll-parking, 4 euro in 2012). Parking. An important notice: the road is closed about 1 km. before Sormiou Col all the year during the week-ends and holidays and all the days from the middle of June to the middle of September. About 20 km. from Cassis.
Walking approach to the NE face
From the parking reach the beach in half a minute and follow on the right a good path (black marks) rising along a scree gully. After 1 minute exit the gully and go towards left following the mainly level trail n. 3 leading to Cap Redon, a rocky saddle overlooking Bec de Sormiou beautiful North-East wall. Scramble down an easy slab, then a reddish gully leading below the starting point of the first great routes (“Antecime” sector).
The climb on Bec de Sormiou started in 1927 with the ascent of the “Arete de l’Extreme Bec”; in 1940s and 1950s several new routes had been realized on the “Bec” by famous climbers as George Livanos “the Grec”, Robert Gabriel, Charles Magol. Amongst the classic routes the ancient one is “La Momie” (1937), while the most aesthetical are the “Pilier NE Integral” and “le Couchant”. The most recent ones are “Antifada”, “Les traces du passé” and “Antecime”.
“Pendant la marche qui permet d’arriver au Cap Redon, et bien qu’elle soit courte, on a le temps d’èprouver la sensation de quitter le Coeur du massif pour s’avancer vers le large” – Gaston Rebuffat
Main Routes overview (French Scale):
- Traversée et Arête de l'Extrême Bec 5a - Tour de l’Extreme Bec 5c - La Grande Traversee du Bec 6c - Envers de la Momie 6a+ - La Mechoui 5c - Directe de la Momie 6b+, 4 pitches - Pilier Droit de la Momie 6c+ - Sous le lien du temps 6c - Les Leaders 6a+ - Marchand de Soleil 7b - Sybarites s’abstenir 7a+ - Iena 6c - Couloir Tanner 5c - Le Couchant 5c+, 5 pitches - Malice des Enchanteurs 6c - Éperon NE intégral 6a+, 5 pitches - Directissime des Dalles Blanches 6b+ - Antifada 6b - Les Traces du Passé 5c+, 6 pitches - Antecime 5c, 6 pitches
A very frail “milieu”
The Sormiou area is situated inside the Calanques National Park the climate is extremely arid and the winds may sometimes be violent; this factors, together with the closeness to the urban areas, make this environment particularly frail. Fires’ risk is very high; Sormiou, Morgioux and Callelongue routes are closed from 7h to 19h starting from June to the end of September. Fires, free camping and bivouac are absolutely forbidden.
The Mediterranean climate – sunny and very mild – is extremely dry in this area; the precipitations are very few and centred on rare rainy days, but sometimes becoming torrential. Eastern and North Western winds – the last one is the famous “mistral” - sometimes may be extremely violent. The Calanques are almost entirely molded by the urgonian limestone, a white sedimentary and hard rock having an excellent quality.
Summer is very hot and it’s impossible to climb on Southern sides. Local climbers adapt themselves to the climate, climbing all around the year and choosing the sunny sides in wintertime and North faces during the hot season. An excellent advice for planning a climbing trip: the best season goes from October to May.
“Escalade Les Calanques” by Andrè Bernard - Gilles Bernard - Pierre Clarac – Hervè Guigliarelli – Bernard Privat Ed. Nota Bene
“Calanques Escalade” by Jean Luois Fenouil and Cèdric Tassan – Ed. VTopo
"Alpes du Sud - Provence" by Hervé Galley - Editions Olizane
"Les Calanques de Marseille a Cassis" 3615 IGN 1:15.000
The best place to stay is in the little town of Cassis:
Camping Les Cigales Avenue de la Marne - Cassis Phone 00330442010734