The Verdon- Part 2

12th Jul 2011

After two days climbing in a row, we were ready for more- well that’s what we thought! We wanted to have an easier day of mileage, so abbed down a popular f6a called Karin’s Line. It was a long and very good route but the weather was really hotting up and after climbing this we realised how tired we were. So we decided to have a rest day and drove down to a gorgeous spot by the river and spent the rest of the day swimming and sun bathing. It was lovely and just what the doctor ordered.

Alex and Lucy at the top of the Verdon.

Our next objective was a classic line called ‘Eperon Sublime’ f7a/A0 right of Luna Bong. This was a fantastic route with some of the best pitches of f5+ climbing anywhere. There was a mind blowing f6b traverse that initially looked improbable as it heads off left into nowhere land. With limited footholds I found myself making the classic mistake of hanging on too tight to the handholds and in the hot conditions this wasn’t the best plan. It all felt greasy and intimidating but was a great pitch. Alex had the f7a/A0 pitch which again was too hot to climb, so she tested out her new found aid climbing skills on this. By this point, we were in the glare of the afternoon sun and it was probably around 30 degs- not the best place to be in these temps. Alex was starting to hallucinate and I was gently wilting but we still had a few pitches to go to get to the top and forged on. We collapsed at the top in a dehydrated heap, having got another classic under our belts.

The next day saw us heading down the valley to check out some local sport climbing. We needed to drive to charge our devices, so headed for an hour to ‘Bauchet’. This is a great crag with lots of quality sport routes, steep and pumpy. It made a nice change and was sheltered from a few showers that were in the area. I managed to onsight a thuggy f7a, which in my non-climbing condition was pleased with and I realised I was starting to feel like a climber again.

There was a bit of rain the next morning, so we had a van clean out and pottered about drinking coffee. Alex went for a run later on and I went off exploring in the valley checking out other sectors in the gorge.

The next day we felt fully rested and had an absolutely brill day. We felt confident to up our grade a bit, so headed to a three star, four pitch f6c called ‘Durandal’. This was a lovely route which had two contrasting f6c pitches- mine a longish plod on pockets (v pleasant and completely different to what we’d experienced so far) and Alex’s had a fierce bouldery steep start. The rock was lovely on this route and the exposure was far less obvious as we were tucked away in an alcove. We were also adjacent to a vultures lair. Not sure how else to describe it, as it was a large cave in the rock face. And when the pair swooped in to land, the aural and visual experience was incredible. Seeing these gigantic birds so close up was a very special moment. It just reinforced why I love climbing so much. It’s not just for the physical experience of climbing on rock but it’s the places you get to and the wildlife you get to see at close quarters- awesome!

We went off and had a spot of lunch and still felt raring to go, so we upped our game again and headed off to find ‘Heure Zero’ a three pitch f6c+. Although not a long route in the Verdon scheme of things, it was probably one of the best routes we did. Truly fantastic climbing (if not a little spicy for the grade!) that felt almost like climbing a route in Pembroke but on bolts. Very very good and a great end to a long day.

Unsurprisingly, we felt a rest day was in order, especially because we wanted to attempt another long route next. So off we trotted to the river and topped up our tans and immersed ourselves in the clear blue water of the Verdon river- what more can you ask?

Our objective (highly recommended by Jim, our local guide) was on the other side of the gorge on La Duc wall and called Serie Limitee f7a. The main reason for heading to this wall is that it’s in the shade for a good part of the day and we definitely didn’t want to repeat our heat induced delirium of ‘Eperon Sublime’. Our confidence was up and we felt ready to tackle a f7a. With eight pitches ahead and a tyrolean approach, we got an early start. Dragging yourself along a tyrolean with all your ropes and gear is not quite what we wanted at 7.30am but it was a good wake up call and got our arms working!

Again, this route was amazing. Very varied climbing including tufas, which I wasn’t expecting to find in The Verdon. And just good pitches on quality rock. We were able to leave our trad rack behind for this one, as it’s well bolted. I managed to onsight the f7a pitch, which was good. It had quite a technical fingery crux but didn’t feel too bad. It also had some judiciously placed long slings on a couple of bolts, for those who prefer just to pull past this section- very civilised and French! The descent was a six abber but wasn’t too difficult to find and went without any hitches. We finished in the sun and headed up to La palud for a well earned drink and probably a pizza. Conveniently, there is a very good pizza van outside the bar and they let you eat it on the premises, it’s all very well set up for that true holiday vibe. And we fully took advantage of it….more than once!

We were now only a few days away from leaving, so had to decide whether we just went for it and climbed everyday or took another rest. It was a tough call, as we wanted to climb everything but experience had taught us that we were always a bit more tired than we expected after the long days and early starts etc and we wanted to finish on a hard route. So, sensibly, we opted for another rest and literally did nothing except find a tree and read underneath it ALL day. The heat had now reached ridiculous levels and was way into the 30’s, so the tan just kept getting better.

We had to find a route in the shade, so La Duc was the best option again and the obvious choice was a 10 pitch f7b called ‘Alix Punk de Vergon’. But nobody knew anything about it, even font-of-all-knowledge Jim Burton didn’t know anyone who had done it.

On paper, it looked like a very big undertaking, quite ambitious for us and a lot harder than anything we’d done. We were umming and arring about whether to go for it but in the end got brave and decided to go for it- what a good decision.

The route went like this: f5+, f7a+, f6c+, f7a+, f7b/A0, f6c+, f6c+, f7b/A0, f6c, f7a- phew!

We got up at 6.30am and pulled our way along the tyrolean around 7am. It felt a little harder than it had done, also I had randomly caught a cold, so was feeling a bit under the weather. Was attempting this route a good idea? Anyway, we headed up and found the base of the route and Alex set off. I joined her and tentatively moved out onto the f7a+. I have to admit to being very pleased with how I climbed on this pitch. It had a very technical crux on tiny crimps and barely anything for the feet. But somehow, I dug deep and managed to power scream my way through this tricksome section and plough on to the belay. I don’t know if it was because of the early hour or possibly the style of this pitch but it felt like the hardest one I climbed all day. After getting through this, our bodies were waking up and we really started motoring- which for us was not the norm- ha ha.

Alex did a great job onsighting the next f6c+ and I onsighted my next f7a+. And in fact went on to onsight all my subsequent pitches. Alex opted to aid her f7b pitch which was sensible as it was a very burly tufa with a nasty slab finish to get to the belay, I’m glad I didn’t have that one! In fact, I was playing it all very tactically comme les Francais. Not having my usual endurance I thought I would just pull up Alex’s pitches rather than climb them, so I saved energy for my pitches. This proved extremely beneficial and meant that I was able to give my all on my routes. From the bottom we wondered whether we were biting off more than we could chew, as retreat would’ve been a logistical headache. This route goes up the centre of the wall but weaves about a lot too. So once we were a few pitches up we were truly committed.

We summitted around 2pm and had had an amazing experience. The climbing was incredible on every pitch, giving tufas, walls and traverses. The rock quality was fantastic, in fact a little too fantastic. By the time we reached the top our hands were so sore, that the abseiling was a bit painful. A small price to pay though for probably one of the best routes I’ve done in a long long time- awesome!

I really don’t think we could’ve ended our trip on a better note but in fact it wasn’t quite the end. Although, we were driving off the next day- Wednesday-, I still wanted to squeeze one last route in. So on Wednesday morning, Alex was happy chilling, Jim and I went off to climb ‘Riviere d’Argent’ a four pitch f6b+. I was on such a high and was just happy hanging off belays in the Verdon Gorge for one last time. Jim had the two crux pitches which was fine by me and I had some pleasant f6a’s…and then we finished and went back to find Alex. All that was left was to fuel up in La Palud and commence our long trek back up to Dunquerqe. I was tired yet happy and even heading through some heavy rain didn’t manage to dampen my spirits.

But now I’m back in blighty and the tan is starting to fade, I hope The Verdon doesn’t become a distant memory and I’ll be able to head out there some time soon. It really is a special place…go there if you haven’t, you’ll love it!