by Pierre Fuentes.
Le chaos de Targassonne, as the French call it, is a huge boulder field located between the little town of Font-Romeu and the village of Angoustrine. If the names do not ring the bell, this is probably because the place is mostly unknown to foreigners. Although in May 2004 hordes of climbers, including the usual world class mutants, came to the Targassonic Freeclimb event however most of the year the place is quiet. Lets face it: if you are going to boulder in France, you will probably end up in another place known to you as Font (though everyone else calls it Bleau).
My brother has moved in Toulouse two years ago and since he is a climber as well, I sometimes go climbing in the Pyrennees. Nevertheless, I had not been in Targassonne before March 2006. The place is nearly as enjoyable as Font. It is just very different. I was well prepared, as he had warned me "There is no point staying there more than two days. The granite is so rough than your skin will be gone after a couple of problems!". This was the first good surprise, I didn't use much finger tape and my Climb-on cream remained in the bag. After three days of bouldering in le chaos, my fingertips were in a much better shape than after a good session in Wicklow.
Pierre on Pain is the language we use, 5+, Dieux-Paiens.
Conditions were the second good surprise. When the plane landed in Carcassone, the weather was pretty miserable; from the sky, you could see how the showers from the previous days had transformed most of the fields into pools of mud. However at 1600m, in Targassonne, le rocher was dry. We climbed in T-shirt and even had to look for the shade in early afternoon because the rock was too hot. The good mood abandoned us around 5 o'clock when clouds started to gather over our heads. By 6 o'clock it was snowing and the wind was a real killer. So we had to retreat much lower beside the coast in Perpignan, which is only an hour drive. The same scenario happened again the next day: we found bone-dry rock when we arrived in the morning, and enjoyed it till the late afternoon.
Until now, you always thought that La Cote d'Azur was the sunniest part of France. At the end of the seventies, the French government chose Targassonne to start its solar energy research program as it receives the highest amount of sunshine in the whole country. And if you go there, you won't miss the huge mirror dish in Odeillo Via, a solar furnace that was used to concentrate sunrays. Another feature hard to miss is the huge concrete tower above the valley: this is the solar plant Themis, which actually gave its name to one of the numerous bouldering spots. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view...), some French technocrat decided that these technologies were nothing compared with good old nuclear power.
The huge mirror dish in Odeillo Via
As for the boulders, well, there are plenty of them. So much that the locals will thank you for cleaning and opening new problems. This is what they say in the guidebook anyway, because I have hardly met anyone there. The locals are so busy skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, bolt-clipping, wind surfing, mountain-biking, hill-walking, ice-climbing and sun-bathing (they give me a full list in the tourist information office, but I lost it) that they hardly have time for proper bouldering sessions. So don't worry, there is plenty to do on rest days.
Still, they manage to put up a few circuits about ten years ago, described as "easy but interesting". However they have very little to do with those developed in Font. For example the blue circuit in sector "Dieux-Paiens" is graded ED+ and has 9 problems ranging from 6a+ to 8a. Even though they have no real consistency in terms of difficulty, they still help guideyou through the developed areas.
We mainly tried two sectors: Chapeau and Dieux-paiens. Chapeau would be the equivalent of the Bas-Cuvier, as it is the most developed sector and is literally beside the car park, the pub and the camping, where you can buy the guidebook. The Chapeau itself (the hat) is a pile of huge boulders full of problems including aretes, walls, slabs, roof, highballs, from easy warm-ups to savage lines...Dieux-Paiens is more spread out and harder to find, though it is definitely worth a look. A lot of beautiful lines await you there as well, with different orientation that allows you to climb the whole day long.
Pyrenees Carte N8, Cerdagne / Capcir, 1:50 000, Editions randonnees pyreneennes, Institut Geographique National (IGN) is very handy to orientate yourself in the Cerdagne region
You can download a guide book from the following website, which works a bit like www.bleau.info though isn't as descriptive: targabloc.apinc.org
The video of Targassonic Freeclimb can be watched at petzl.com
Hardly a guidebook, the following is a map of the various sectors with details of the problems and circuits: Targassonne, guide du chaos, Ph. Gondoux Ed. Ozone 3, 1999, 8 Euro (although they left it to me for 6 Euro). Available at the "La Griole" camping, just beside the Chapeau sector.
There is also an update notebook available at the bar Le Pirate in Angoustrine.