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Ascent of Montagne Sainte-Victoire - Bau des Vespres on 2018-11-02

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Friday, November 2, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Montagne Sainte-Victoire - Bau des Vespres
    Location:France
    Elevation:3314 ft / 1010 m

Ascent Trip Report

Montagne Sainte-Victoire: what a marvellous mountain - we’d been looking forward to climbing it for years and it didn’t disappoint. Santa Venturi in Provençal Occitan. A symbol of Provence, like fellow high prominence peaks Mont Ventoux and the Sainte-Baume massif. The major landmark of the Aix-en-Provence region, beloved of Cezanne, Picasso and many others. A towering presence over the surrounding country; the north side with its dry slopes carpeted in garrigue (scented scrub), teeming with pines and crossed by stone-walled paths, the south presenting its steep limestone cliffs towards the sun and Mediterranean Sea. The massive ridge extends 18 km in length, 5 km in width and with a 7 km long summit plateau, between the departments of Bouches-du-Rhône and Var. It’s enormously popular for walking, climbing and other outdoors activities but access is restricted between 1st June and 30th September because of previous catastrophic fires (see link myprovence.fr for details).

No risk of fires today though. Early drizzle with an initial cloud level of 900-1,000 metres but with steadily improving weather from midday onwards with dry predominantly blue sky conditions thereafter, albeit with a fresh November breeze.

An east to west walk from the Col des Portes to Les Cabassols, co-incident with the GR 9 for much of the route, crossing the four principal summits: Pic des Mouches (1,011 m), Bau des Vespres (1,010 m), Le Signal (969 m) and Croix de Provence (946 m), and with a bonus visit to the Sainte-Victoire Priory. The itinerary made possible by the generous sacrifice of the car driver who returned to the starting point after our ascents of Pic des Mouches and Bau des Vespres (the 2 contenders for true high point of the mountain according to different sources) to collect me 8 km further west at a significantly lower elevation.

The Col des Portes on the D10, 6 km east of Vauvenargues, has parking for up to 3 cars in a lay-by, a further 3 or so cars on the opposite verge and a much larger car park a little way further east. The path to the summit is waymarked by finger posts and red flashes on the rocks, well graded and maintained underfoot and took us just under 45 minutes to gain the ridge, where we joined the GR 9, and a few minutes more to the top. We would have made it faster but stopped to chat with a couple of elderly hunters on the way. The summit sports a ceramic orientation table and an IGN marker next to the mini-weather station on the higher rocky outcrop. Fortunately no “mouches” (flies) today.

The GR 9 is marked by the usual red and white stripes at regular intervals and we followed it ever westwards. The section skirting the north side of the Bau de l’Aigle (“Outcrop of the Eagle” in Provençal) involves two short sections of moderately exposed, easy scrambling but it’s well protected by chains should one need the reassurance of holding on. The remainder of the traverse, though undulating steeply at times and with intermittent limestone pavement that requires dextrous foot placement, is easily followed. It is never more than YDS class 2, with marvellously evolving views and variety of scenery on the way. The alternative summit area, the Bau des Vespres on the Plan de la Crau, is much more extensive than the more conical Pic des Mouches. It is covered with scrub and marked with various cairns but the exact highpoint location is difficult to determine and my GPS identified a couple of places of height indistinguishable from Pic des Mouches (pretty much where the IGN map spot heights are).

The Croix de Provence initially looks to be in the very far distance but as each top is achieved it moves increasingly into view. The current 19 metre tall cross being a steel construction from 1875 on a concrete plinth, the whole assembly having been extensively renovated on 2004. The 360 degrees views from the cross are spectacular, better even than those from the Pic des Mouches. I spent a happy time using the Peakfinder app to identify all the closer and more distant mountains several of which I had climbed over the years.

The 17th century Sainte-Victoire Priory is an interesting side trip just below the summit from where the well-trodden Chemin des Venturiers (Path of the Mount Venture pilgrims) continues steadily down into the valley, somewhat hard underfoot and initially hemmed in by stone walls but through delightful woods on the middle to lower slopes. A ford crossing the L’infernet river towards the very end provides a minor challenge if you’re not prepared to take your boots off and wade through and finally you’re back at the D10 in Les Cabassols, just west of Vauvenargues, where a large lay-by with information signs awaits. It took me 6 hours for the full hike inclusive of all lunch, photo and other stops.
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