Although a mere 1660m high in a country boasting summits up to 4810m, Le Robion is a fine vantage point from which to appreciate views of a very attractive bit of Hautes Provence, in France. The mountain dominates the skyline as seen from the nearby Verdon Gorges. It towers nearly 1000m above the town of Castellane and with a prominence of 619m and isolation of 10.7km (see Peak Bagger.com) offers uninterrupted views in all directions – as I discovered soon after dawn on 31st May 2014.
Montagne de Robion is very varied in appearance, depending on the side viewed from. From the top of the Verdon Gorges, to the south west, the peak is at its most dramatic, presenting as a sharp triangle of inhospitable rock. It is at its gentlest from the north – from where it is seen as a great wooded whale back – up whose slopes the normal route zig-zags. From the south it presents as an impenetrable looking white wall of limestone, almost Dolomitic in appearance – and the scramble route weaves its way amongst the buttresses, with Saint Trophime Chapel at the base at 1367m – and the tiny village of Robion about 300m below that.
There is relatively little information about this little mountain on the web. What little there is mainly refers to the standard hiking route to the top from Castellane, from the north – and the route I used to summit. I found reference to a scrambling route up to the summit from the south. The only other route mentioned is a 16km mountain bike route which completely encircles the mountain. Thus only 3 routes will be described on this page - and two somewhat briefly. I hope other routes will come to be added in the passing of time.
Having seen Le Robion from the top of the Verdon Gorges and thereby seen a little of the limestone precipices adorning its southern aspect, I would have expected the mountain to feature a few rock-climbing routes. If there are I wasn’t able to find any. The closest I came up with was the scramble route – briefly described and with link below. However, if any readers can put me right as regards rock-climbing routes, I’d be pleased to update this page with the information - or see them added as route pages. Perhaps the close proximity to the 500m routes of the Verdon Gorges has kept the rock-acrobats attention off Le Robion, whose precipices are not so steep - and more time consuming to reach.
Castellane is the main centre for Le Robion. Of population 1500 this almost alpine town boasts being “The gateway to the Gorges du Verdon” and offers a plethora of high adrenaline activities from paragliding, bungee jumping, rock-climbing to... well, canyoning of course (a variety of different ways of being dunked in the foaming torrents to be found in the depths of the famous gorge - see below). It is an attractive looking town with a heritage dating back to the middle ages – although the peace at the numerous open air cafes around the town square is shattered somewhat by the thunder of hoards of bikers passing through.
Speaking of thunder; the area has a reputation for spawning impressive electrical storms during the summer (see section on WEATHER below). In May/Jun 2014 the weather pattern was that of fine in the morning – leading by mid afternoon to torrential down pours associated with dramatic thunderclaps which (in both senses) drowned out the roar of the bikers.
Castellane is about 240km from Grenoble in the north, 170km from Marseille to the southwest and 100km from Nice to the southeast. Main access routes as follows:
From north (Lyon, Grenoble) most routes converge on the northern stretch of A51, past Sisteron, before leaving motorway at Peipin. Next principle town is Digne les Bains before heading southeast on N85 passing through Barreme and finally entering Castellane on D4085.
From the south there are two principle routes:
Click on link for principle railway connections.
Click on link for principle bus connections.
Main airports are at Marseilles and Nice – click on link for airports and bus connections.
Every kind of accommodation is available in and around Castellane from camping, Self catering, 'Gites', B&B and on up through a range of hotels. For more information click on links below:
Approach to all routes:
The key is the D102 minor road as it branches off main D4085 coming into the Castellane from the east - and just before the latter goes over a bridge and towards town square. The D102 stays on south bank of the river and approximately parallels it heading south west for about 1.5km. There is a minor wiggle to the left and back just before the end of this section. The road then angles up and away southwards from river and main valley - and starts to follow a stream (Torrent de Rayaup) down in a wooded rocky cleft to the right of the road, which thus far has been in forest pretty much all the way. The road eventually crosses the stream, and continues climbing alongside the other bank, right round to the other side of Le Robion Peak to access the village of Petit Robion at 1085m.
Find the D102 as above and follow it for nearly 2km out of Castellane to where there is a small parking bay, in the trees to the left of the road. This is just after the road does the little squiggle and then angles up away from the main valley. Actually there are two bays about 100m apart – at 732m altitude. Between the two bays and on the right and opposite side of the road a crucial sign indicates the start of the route, initially scrambling down to the bottom of a rocky slope amongst the trees and to the stream called Torrent de Rayaup. Cross the stream mainly guided by cairns and other markers. The path soon becomes very clear and starts to ascend a couple of switch-backs before straightening up and angling to the southwest and following a fairly straight course for the next 700m and climbing all the time.
About 1km out from car park and just over 100m ascent another sign is reached at a junction in the path at 832m. The route to “Sommet de Robion” is clearly marked, with a turn to the left ('Tour de Robion' is straight on). From the junction and sign, there is 5km distance and 828m ascent to the summit – about 2 ¾ hours.
The route now climbs the steep wooded slopes of the northern aspect of Le Robion in a series of somewhat laborious switch-backs. At around 1300m (and with a little relief) the last of the switchbacks is passed and the path dips southeast, into an attractive mossy part of the forest, at a (temporary) levelling.
The route continues to be marked by red/white paint on trees and/or yellow blips on rocks. Somewhat less distinct in the trees the path crosses the very broad crest of the ridge to the other side of the mountain, before taking (after 250-300m) a right angle turn to the R (SW). With a few undulations the route now approximately parallels this indistinct crest continuing to the southwest and towards the still 1km distant summit – and still over 300m above.
At this elevation of over 1300m now, the trees are becoming smaller and the forest starting to thin. The reward for this is increasingly frequent clearings and views over the south side of the mountain – over the little village of Robion. Large broken limestone cliffs are below and not visible - but they are there and it would be a bad idea to go in that direction if lost in mist.
In this next section it is back to gaining height again, although mostly not as steeply as on the switchbacks behind and below, on the north side. The trees gradually peter out and the terrain gradually gives way to open grassy slopes dotted with boulders and small limestone slabs. The last of the forest persists as a few bushes and the low pine-trees over to the right – and the route comes to follow a strip of open slope between these and the edge of the south side of the mountain to the left (steep slopes are visible from here).
The path becomes less obvious for a while at this point. A few small cairns are dotted here and there, in addition to the occasional yellow paint splash to show the way. But the signs are more subtle and it may be possible to blunder in mist. For route finding on the way up it doesn’t matter so much, since as long as an upwards course keeps being followed, the summit will be reached. On the way down it may be a different matter, since it would be quite possible to miss the entrance of the path back into the forest – and be landed with having to make a tedious search - that is in addition to possibly getting too close to the edge of the buttresses...
After the very last tree there is nothing but a couple of hundred meters of open slope up to the summit.
Time: 3 ¼ hours up. 2 ¼ hours down = 5 ½ hours total.
Distance: 6km one way = 12km total
Total ascent: 928m
The same D102 minor road as described above can be followed beyond the parking areas for the walking route, over a little pass and eventually round to the little hamlet of Petit Robion at 1085m, and on the southern side of the mountain. From there are trail climbs nearly 300m to the Saint Trophime Chapel at 1367m. From here there is scrambling route to the top of Robion Peak – following a weaving course ascending some 293m up through limestone buttresses. I haven’t made this ascent myself – please see link to a description of an ascent.
Assuming a start is made from Petit Robion:
Time: 2-3 hours to summit
Distance: about 3km (one way).
There would be various possibilities for descent - including return to Robion via north side of the mountain - or continuing on to Castellane. Return to Robion would be quite a long route - and would need to be worked out using an appropriate map - see below.
LE ROBION TOUR:
The only other route I have found for this mountain is a 16km mountain bike trail encircling close to the base of the mountain. This would make a fine addition to MBPost.com. Sadly it doesn’t yet feature – here is a challenge to any SP writers who write for both sites.
Of course, this 'Tour de Robion' could also be completed on foot - and would be a fine objective for a moderately long day-trek.
The start is at the same parking bay on D102 as for the walking route above and some 2km from Castellane. The walking route is followed as up as far as the path junction with sign at 832m – but instead of turning left for the summit, the route carries on straight on – signed “Tour de Robion” and “Basse de la Doux” 8.5km. The route can be followed on relevant IGN map (see below) – and Basse de la Doux is a waypoint at a path junction at 1151m, round the corner on the southern side of the mountain. The route goes on to pass through Robion and Petit Robion before crossing the D102 and following a forest trail which emerges near to the original parking place.
Total distance: 16km
Total time: given as 5 hours on a mountain bike... and correspondingly longer on foot - time would need to be added to make allowance for all the ascents and descents involved with this route.
Institut Geographique National (IGN) Carte de Randonnee 1:25000 offers a good map series. The following are the two maps which cover the area:
3542 OT 'Castellane': for Castellane and Montagne de Robion
3442 OT 'Gorges du Verdon': for Verdon Gorges.
No permits or particular regulations required to access this mountain. Common-sense consideration for the environment, land-owners and other mountain goers is recommended.
Wettest months: October & November with about 110mm rain/month
Driest months: June, July and August - especially July at < 10mm rain/month - June and August both around 30-40mm rain/month
Hottest months: July & August - range 19-27°C
Coldest months: January & February - range 3 -12°C
Above data obtained from following weather page
Click on following link for French meteo for Castellane
The area is justifiably famed for its thunderstorms. A glance at some of the rock-climbing sites will soon confirm that - after all, being say half a days climbing up the 500m precipice of L'Escales would be an acute issue. Ask any local as well.
I have personally experienced 3 major Verdon thunderstorms, which equates to one per day for the number of days I have actually been there! Here I shall digress into anecdote:
On 29th May 2014 my wife and I arrived in Castellane for the first time. Thanks to a misunderstanding with Fanny the Sat Nav (who due to another misunderstanding was speaking to us only in French... ) we were later than we intended and arrived in the town square at about 2pm. The sky was rapidly turning black and within a few moments literally exploded. As we fled for the nearest café we were caught up in a stampede of very wet bikers and almost trampled underfoot. The café we chose was soon awash - with water pouring in from the street - but also water draining from the sea of saturated black leather and grey biker-beards (average age about 55). But the staff were clearly used to these occurrences and sprung into action like a well drilled special forces military team... two leapt out of some dark recess (due to the lightning the lights had gone) and fought the onslaught armed with buckets, mops and some sort of giant squeegee thing designed to repel very large puddles. All the time we were being deafened by some of the loudest thunder-claps I have ever heard. An extra squad of waiters and waitresses appeared from other dark recesses - and somehow (despite the lack of electricity) the espressos, cappuccinos and croque monsieurs kept coming...
Next morning there wasn't a cloud in the sky - and we did a walk into the bottom of the famous gorges. By 12 noon the sky the was dotted with fluffy cumulus clouds. By 1pm there were few gaps between the clouds, some of which were turning somewhat dark - and after the experiences of the previous afternoon we decided to make a break for it - well, as much as you can break anywhere up 400m of steep gorge side. We just made it to the café at the top - and by 2.30pm the heavens opened again - first rain, as previously, in huge lumps. But then so much hail that the beautiful summer of the morning was transformed into an arctic wonderland: in a couple of minutes everywhere, including the road, turned white.
Next day was the same - only it was just rain again, but earlier - around 1pm (and this time we got caught in the bottom of the gorge...).
A mountain page on Le Robion would be incomplete without a short section on the famous gorges – which start just a few km away from the south-western extremity of the peak. There is a more detailed full page on summitpost in the canyons section: Gorges du Verdon
The gorges are compared to The Grand Canyon in Arizona and indeed there is a section at the top end actually called Grand Canyon. However, the scale is much smaller, with maximum depth of 700m in the French version as opposed to 1800m in the American one.
Numerous walks, scrambles and climbs are possible in this natural playground. Refer to the summit post link above or here is another link to an informative looking climbing site if you wish to know more.
If you just want to get an overview of the gorges scenery then there is a highly recommended 23km road loop starting and finishing at La Palud sur Verdon: this is the D23 – also known as Route des Cretes (Crest Route) which closely follows the very edge of the most dramatic and deepest part of the gorges, including along the top of the Escales cliff – one of 3 main rock-climbing venues. There are frequent view points along this route – from where it is possible to be rewarded with a birds eye view of the odd Golden Eagle as well as the most wonderful scenery.
Down in the darker depths of the gorge the scenery is also most impressive, albeit less sunny. As above, this is the haven for those who enjoy extreme water-sports - but there are in addition some great walks, some of which traverse some quite long tunnels (head-torches are needed).
When holidaying with a wife who has declared the trip as 'not a climbing holiday' it may be necessary to be a bit creative when it comes to keeping up some form of summit intake. I have found that this can mean doing with a little less sleep...
Walking off the effects of a fine restaurent meal near the centre of Castellane, I noticed that the skies were beginning to clear - following the earlier dramatic thunderstorm which had produced so much hail that it looked as if it had been snowing. It was about 10pm on Friday 30th May and nearly dark. Apart from sleep and breakfast there was nothing on the agenda until mid morning next day - when I was due to meet a cousin, coming up from Nice to join us for a couple of days...
By 10.30pm I was driving along the little D102 road trying to find the parking area for the ascent of Peak de Robion. In near darkness I missed it but found the second one, which I hadn't known about - and in consequence it was not until 11pm that I looked in the right direction and found the sign pointing the way to the path - down the bank beside the road, to a stream. In my pool of torch-light everything was still dusted white with hail from the earlier thunderstorm - initially just a sprinkling remaining, but after a couple of hundred meters of ascent it was cold enough to have remained 2-3cm deep on the path. I could imagine I was setting out on a climb in Scotland in the depths of winter.
Half an hour out I found the sign at the path junction - and turned left as per direction to "Summit de Robion". There followed a weary succession of switch-backs, rising up through an unchanging tangle of forest, eerily illuminated at the edge of my little circle of torchlight. Every so often I would be rewarded with a glimpse of the streetlights of Castellane, twinkling in the blackness through a clearing.
By midnight I was maybe 400m above the town - and beginning to feel distinctly tired. For a start it was long past my normal bedtime (matters at age 53). I had also had the (soporific) benefits of a 3 course meal with my wife. Finally I had also had a full days activity - including a stiff walk into the bottom of the gorges - followed by an even stiffer walk back out, in order to beat the thunderstorm. So I was ready for sleep - but nothing doing; in the interminable succession of switch-backs there was no level area upon which to unpack my sleeping bag.
Around 12.30am the gradient and switch-backs finally eased. The path now angled away from the main valley and off into the forest adorning the broad crest, which in due course would start rising to the top of the peak. At least, that is what the map said - I could still see no further than the perimeter of the little pool of light produced by my headtorch. The main thing though, was that for a hundred meters or so it was level - or nearly so. I moved off the path into the undergrowth - and was soon un-rolling my sleeping mat onto a bed of hail - with a few pine-needles showing through.
I intended to get on the move again before dawn - in order to summit, get down, get a shower and breakfast - and high-tail it off to Castellane bus terminus to meet my cousin. However I slept longer than I meant - and the dawn woke me, with dull rosy light filtering in through the pine trees. It was past 5.30am and I'd hoped to be on the go an hour before. I had a hasty drink and bite to eat - initially feeling a little cold outside my sleeping bag... temperature zero centigrade, no doubt in part thanks to a contribution from all the hail - now frozen hard.
I re-found the path - and it was soon rising upwards again, weaving around and mostly just over on the other (southern) side of the spine of the mountain. In due course I was rewarded with some beautiful views of the sun rising to the southeast...
But I had little time to dawdle. It was now past 6am. I was still 400m below the summit. In the next 3 hours I needed to be able to reach the top, take some photos - and then be back down at the hotel by 9am.
Half an hour later I emerged from the forest - and more views to the south - and then surprised a substantial herd of little Chamois, glowing in the golden light of soon after dawn. They hung around for long enough for me to capture them on my camera - and then melted away round to the northern side of the mountain.
Fifteen minutes later I was standing beside the summit cairn - and able to see why the mountain was said to be a good view point. A short walk along the crest from the cairn opened up a 360 degree vista - including to the top end of the Verdon Gorges. I was particularly taken with the sight of the 1179m rocky rognon featuring the Chapelle St Etienne, poking up through early morning mist filling the valley bottoms...
I luxuriated in the golden vista and the utter tranquillity of the moment.
Reluctantly I tore myself away. I had an hour and a half in which to get down a 2 ¼ hour descent, pick up the car - and drive for quarter hour back to the hotel. I set off down the track at a slow trot - ignoring the age related pains in various places. The sun was gradually rising higher in the sky and the light increasing. For a moment I started to get a little too warm - but then it was back into the frosty shade of inside the forest again. I passed the place where I had spent the night. Soon I was descending all the switch backs of the night before - except that this time at the clearings I was rewarded with a breath-taking view as opposed to just blackness and a few twinkly lights. At some point I clocked that I was below the level of the top of the peculiar rocky rognan with church on top - which I had seen from the summit. A little after that I left the sunlight again - this time completely as I descended down into the greyness of the valley mist layer, with still about 200m height to lose to get to the bottom.
I just made it in time to join my wife for café and croissant at the hotel... and to present myself, suitably showered, in the centre of Castellane before the arrival of my cousin, who had travelled up from where she is living in Nice. It seems she had boarded her bus at about the same time as I had started my journey down from the summit...
We sat and had a café and pain au chocolat in the town square - enjoying the first rays of the sun to burn through the valley mist. Within a few hours the 3 of us were being caught in the rain from the third thunderstorm of the Castellane holiday - as we walked briskly up out of the Verdon Gorges...
A lot of links are already included in the text above, but here are 3 more: