Corsica: Granite Wonderland

Corsica: Granite Wonderland

Words Camille Doumas

When Raphael Fourau invited us to come to Bavella in Corsica, we didn't hesitate. We had only met each other at the rock face a few times before, but he quickly convinced us of the aesthetic potential of the Bavella Needles. He goes there to photograph his friends Thibault Saubusse and Jeff Arnoldi at Delicatessen, the great mythical route of the Bavella Needles. They had been there for several weeks already with the aim of linking this great route of 5 pitches (8b, 7c +, 7c, 8a, 6c), opened in 1992 by Arnaud Petit and Stéphane Husson. The idea of finally getting to visit this granite of exceptional reputation enchanted us! 

This is how we found ourselves a few weeks later loading our bags in a parking lot along the road that goes up to the Bavella pass. Ropes, static line, quickdraws in shambles, shoulder belts, shoes, chalk, an armada of straps and carabiners, photo equipment and liters of water—all were needed because the path (or rather the obstacle course) which goes up to the foot of the cliff is long and steep. As we walked we were unable to see our destination; we were wrapped in a moist and thick mist that gave the place a mysterious atmosphere. We discover the Corsican maquis: A kind of Mediterranean jungle comprised of very dense vegetation that's dry, rough and entangled with sweet smells and aggressive brambles. We went along a canyon, across a river and entered a mining area. We made our way over large slabs, sometimes on all fours, sometimes by some sections of climbing. It was as if we were on a treasure hunt. Through the haze that was struggling to dissipate, the granite giant looked down us from above. The orange tower that houses Delicatessen is at the top, but we could only imagine it. We finally reached our goal after more than two hours of walking.

The draws were left in place in the first length by our companions. They followed a streak in the middle of the face, going up along shells, waves, and tafonis—big holes with an improbable design. Here nature is lace and painted by Gaudi. It is a delicate monster that unfolds before my eyes and I am speechless, because in truth, I have never seen a wall as beautiful. Delicacy is also necessary when we begin climbing. There are few hard pulls, instead only bumps, flat areas, a gratton here, some crystals there. Nothing is a hold but everything can become one. We must contort, find our balance, place our feet with accuracy. Each movement is learned and felt with all the body. Each must be done with subtlety, in a delicious mixture of strength and precision. It is an extremely technical climb, but equally demanding on the physical level. It is not enough to squeeze as hard as you can with your fingers; your whole body must act on the holds. Guided by Thibault and Jeff, we discover the movements. We explore the way, learn the choreography. Behind us, Raph is there, suspended in his harness, lost in translation. He immortalizes Jeff in the first pitch. He and Thibaut will link all the pitches ten days after our visit. As for me, I will remain hypnotized by the route. Falling under its spell, we spend the next few days exclusively in it, almost forgetting that the Bavella massif has several hundred routes.

As on Delicatessen, the majority of the routes present a style of climbing which is simultaneously technical and powerful, confusing and demanding of solid technique. It is necessary to know how to manage the holds if we hope to progress. The rock abrades the rubber of our shoes and the skin of our hands. Each section is a problem that must be solved by a good dose of technique, strength and lucidity—like U Tocardu, the 8a major route of the wall. I need some attempts to decrypt the movements, comprehend the effort needed before l dare to put myself to a real test.  Often, it is during these moments of intense effort that a photographer best captures the beauty of climbing and all that defines it: A climber, a state of mind, a route, an environment. On my side I'm getting used to it, I'm trying to play the game and make it easier. So when at the end of the afternoon, the shade begins to touch the cliff, I know that I must hurry. I must reach the granite wave before the shadow engulfs it. There follows a race with the sun and another fight with U Tocardu. I go forward and try as best I can in the different sections to finally reach the final move exhausted. The shadow is right at my feet, I grab the lip of granite and Raph presses the trigger a fraction of second before the fall.

French dad and photographer, specialized in climbing, travel and outdoor photography