Ex Northern Dalesman Paoli was a rock-climbing expedition taking place in Corsica, France in April 2019. The expedition took place over 11 days and was attended by 13 personnel.
The first obstacle was to physically get to Corsica, and so 9 Officer Cadets and 1 member of staff set off at the leisurely time of one o’clock in the morning on a coach from Leeds to London Gatwick Airport. We made it to Nice Airport without any dramas and, despite some questionable passport placement, on through to Bastia Airport, Corsica where we were greeted by the instructors. A brief journey from the airport later, we arrived at the self-catered lodge which would be our home for the next 11 days; much to the relief of the expedition leader.
After a family meal and a decent night’s sleep, the first day of rock climbing began. The party was split into two groups: the continuation group (those that already possessed their basic climbing qualification) and the RSF group (those without any climbing qualifications). Blessed with bright sunshine and clear skies, the RSF group made their way to the bottom of the crag for an introduction to climbing on top-rope whilst the continuation group ventured to the top for an introduction to climbing gear and building anchors. The RSF group managed to get some impressive climbs in for a first day, including several 5a and 5b routes, and the remainder joined them after being told they were now to climb on the anchors they had just built; there were mixed reactions to such a task. Despite nerves, everyone climbed the routes they had set up and the day provided a thorough refresher of, and introduction to, climbing. Upon our return to the accommodation, a rota was set up to cover cooking and cleaning for the duration of the trip and so, a trip to the local supermarket and an ungodly amount of chopping later, the group sat down for an evening meal; giving everyone to opportunity to relax and discuss the trials of the day over a beer or two.
Day 2 did not grace us with the same fortunate weather, however our instructors quickly adapted and delivered a series of lessons to both groups including crag etiquette and climbing technique before taking advantage of a gap in the inclement conditions to get to the crag. Despite heavy fog and intermittent rain, both groups managed to climb as a whole on top-ropes and get a fair few routes sent. This included a particularly interesting 5c, which proved emotional for the majority of those who sent it. Despite time on the rock being limited, everyone was happy to get at least 3 routes each sent and we all returned to the accommodation satisfied with the day’s climbing.
The following day demonstrated a change in pace for both groups; the RSF group set out to conduct significantly more difficult climbs; pushing into 5c and even 6a territory on a top-rope, whilst the continuation group were reintroduced to lead climbing. With a back drop of a good 150ft, the continuation group successfully undertook leads varying from 4a to 5a grades in the usual format of clipping in on the way up, clipping in at the anchor and lowering off. All participants appeared to quickly pick it up with nothing more than a few fearful screeches and the occasional death grip; a grand success by anyone’s standards.
Day 4 blessed us with fantastic weather and we were fortunate to have stunning views of the surrounding areas, both mountainous and coastal. The past few days had led to the natural progression of the continuation group being taught how to pull through the anchor at the top of a lead climb. Having to clip themselves into the anchor and untie from the rope was nerve-racking for all involved, however everyone successfully completed the lead climb, set up the rope at the top and lowered off with relative ease. The RSF group continued to progress with top-rope climbing, pushing physical and mental boundaries whilst sending more difficult climbs. The improvement in their technique was evident, and both groups were manoeuvring up the rock on hand and footholds they previously saw as unworkable; the slight exception being the occasional employment of an alpine knee.
The next day’s climbing allowed the continuation group to utilise the skills they had learned on climbs ranging from 4a to 5c, with one participant leading up an impressive crack. The change in pace from just clipping in at the top to pulling through the anchor and, most significantly, having to untie from the rope, was obvious, however all members of the group conquered the task with relative ease. The RSF group, being on their final day of the course, had an introduction to lead climbing which was well received by all.
Day 6 somewhat broke up the climbing phase of the exped as all members of the group were taught how to conduct a group abseil, an assisted abseil and a self-protected abseil. Despite the weather, everyone managed to conduct all of the abseils, though the instructors looked somewhat windswept after being exposed at the tops of various routes all day. The abseiling was a hit with all participants, particularly the self-protected abseil, as it demonstrated the opposite side of climbing necessary for multi-pitch.
With all the necessary courses and training completed, the instructors encouraged the group to become more independent during the last three days of climbing. Instead of setting up routes for us, they handed over the guidebooks and allowed us to identify the routes we wanted to climb and then lead them. It was an incredibly valuable experience as everyone drew upon the skills learned over the training phase and took ownership of their own climbing in small groups. Two members set a very impressive route, which demanded bouldering as well as roped climbing techniques, and everyone achieved personal bests, achieving climbs ranging from 5a to 6b+. It also allowed the instructors the much-deserved freedom to get some climbing done, with two of them also achieving their hardest grade climbed. On the final night, the instructors cooked a BBQ for everyone, complimented by a birthday cake for one of the OCdts to celebrate her 21st; a fitting conclusion to a very enjoyable expedition.
“Climbing in Corsica posed both a thoroughly enjoyable mental and physical challenge; all whilst in the company of good friends and in an exciting location.”