News from the Verdon October trip.

23rd Oct 2011

Belay m du t 5 Moon

Well, another Verdon trip comes and goes, which obviously means the van did get fixed just before we had to leave. In fact I didn’t pick it up until 2 hours before Alex and I had to set off from Sheffield to get down to Dover. It was all a bit of a last minute rush to get the van packed up, not what you want but it all turned out fine in the end- although the van does still have an intermittent problem and it was a bit worrying at times but it managed to get us to the South of France and back, so I can’t complain.

It was hard to know what clothing to pack for our October trip, so everything went in but as it turned out shorts and vests were the order of the day and duvets were definitely consigned to the bottom of the heap. For me this was great news, being a sun lover, although I have to say even I found it too hot at times. In fact there was one memorable day towards the end of the trip where we decided to do a long route called “Les Marches du Temps” f7a. To be honest we were running out of options for routes (hmm, I guess that’s a slight exaggeration, I’m sure I could go back to The Verdon every year for the next thirty and not run out of things to do) but it felt we had limited choice of classic long routes left…in the shade…so due to frustration more than anything we decided to plump for “Les Marches..” which was fully in the sun all day. (By the way this was the route that Leo Houlding and Tim Emmett did on Top Gear a few years ago).

As we were abseiling down the route (it’s 8-10 pitches, depending on how you do it), the heat was becoming ferocious. And what didn’t help was that we discovered the water hadn’t made it into our sack that morning but luckily my friend Ollie Ryall was at the top and we hadn’t got too far down, so we shouted up to him to pass us some down. Which thankfully he managed to do.

Anyway, the topo isn’t the best and it’s not overly clear how the pitches break up but we knew it wasn’t harder than f7a (hmm those Verdon grades take a bit of beating!), so it was just a case of climbing up and stopping at the belays as they came and hoping for the best. There is one aid pitch on the route given A0, which fortunately the previous night Alan Carne had given us some local knowledge about. The tip was that it might be worth putting some slings on the bolts as you are abbing down the line; well how right he was. I put the slings on and even with these on Alex really had to push hard to get up this pitch. It really wasn’t easy and at A0 a bit of a joke, it’s unusual though as most of the A0’s in The Verdon are true bolt ladders.

Anyway, to cut to the chase we got completely fried from the start. We initially enjoyed the sun but by pitch 4-5 it was starting to get a tad on the toasty side and just hanging on the belays was grim let alone climbing. Only in the top half of the last pitch did we get any shade, this route really is exposed and there are no handy chimneys to hide in (damn, where are those chimneys when you need them?!), it’s just a flat wall climb. Anyway, with the top in sight I surged on stringing a couple of pitches together and slumped onto the rim. I felt pretty dreadful and stumbled about trying to make a belay and get ready to bring Alex up. At one point I was standing up and I almost passed out, I think my blood pressure had taken a dramatic drop and also felt like being sick. It really wasn’t a good scenario but thankfully I was at the top and water wasn’t far away. Alex was in a similar state to me and was almost being sick as she was climbing but she made it up and collapsed on top. It really wasn’t a very nice experience and to top it off the route didn’t even seem that great either. But I may have to do it again in better conditions because maybe the Sahara like conditions clouded my judgement.

Something cool that happened as we climbed the route was that a base jumper sailed past over our heads. It was mad and the noise was something else, I thought it was a vulture at first but then quickly realised it was human to which I had horrific thoughts of seeing someone top themselves, then came to my senses and realised it was a base jumper. I don’t have a great desire to do this but if I was going to do it anywhere, the gorge would be a great choice- pretty stunning and more importantly high enough not to be horrendously death defying. The speed at which he dropped through the air, really was incredible, what a buzz!

On our trip, I think Alex and I managed to get seven climbing days squeezed in, of which there were two highlights.

The first was a route called “Les Rideaux de Gwendal” f7b/+, which is a fantastic 250m route on some amazing Verdon terrain. A true journey up the face, with a variety of climbing styles on it. I was annoyed and pleased at the same time on the crux pitch as I came incredibly close to onsighting it. I just had an annoying foot pop near the top of the crux section and took my first Verdon fall. I got back on and carried on up to the belay without too much trouble. It was a little frustrating as I think this pitch rarely gets onsighted but equally nice to feel like I was climbing well. Also, Dave Graham said that it’s the hardest f7b pitch he’s ever done- that’ll be those Verdon grades again!

The other highlight wasn’t so much a climbing experience as a caving trip. Along with a couple of our GB compatriots Jim Burton and Adrian, the four of us intact with hangovers (whoops) headed off to do a three pitcher called “Gueule D’amour” f6c. It was another scorching day but this wasn’t a problem for us as this route climbs the inside of the cliff, yes honestly, it chimneys it’s way up a cave system in the depths of the Verdon Gorge. Eventually you pop out near the top and climb an intimidatingly steep, yet juggy f6c into the daylight. Head torches are an absolute must and a tolerance of prehistoric insects is handy. Unfortunately, Miss Alex Hughes has a teensy phobia of insects of any kind, the guys were in front and were trying to keep it quiet that they’d noticed a plethora of rather large, hairy alarming creatures. But in the end she noticed them, kind of hard not to really as you are in a tight spot surrounded by rock walls bracing yourself to set off chimneying. I don’t think the screams could be heard in the bar but my eardrums took a while to recover. Poor Alex, it wasn’t fun for a while there but she managed to make herself climb up and  luckily the higher she got the more the numbers of creepy crawlies seemed to dwindle. Suffice to say, this climb is a dream for adventurers amongst you and the route finding is not always obvious. It was great fun doing it in a group and seemed to work wonders as a hangover cure too!!

At some point in the trip we had a day off the longer adventurous stuff and headed to a sport climbing area called Sector Hulk, atmospheric and aptly named. Although it’s cragging on the North side of the gorge, it’s quite an escapade just to get to it. You basically have to tyrolean across the river, then ascend a via ferrata for 15 mins or so. There’s knotted ropes to pull up and ancient ladders to gingerly climb, all this done sees you end up in a giant cave of impressive tufas- I was in heaven, don’t think Alex was so keen…it’s funny how nothing in the Verdon is quite as straightforward as you’re used to, I think that’s part of the appeal- you always have to work a bit.

Anyway, I onsighted a f7c here called “Peau de Hulk”, which I really enjoyed, brill funky tufa 3Dness. I don’t think it was the hardest f7c ever as there was a massive rest in the middle but another sign that my climbing is on the up.

Anyway, enough of the Verdon except to say we had some great company as ever. In the form of Jim (our man on the ground) Burton, Adrian -Jim’s mate- and Nat and Paul from Sheff (also Seb from Germany and friends). We generally met in the bar most (every?) evening and chatted about the days’ trials, tribulations, grades (!) and successes. We also spent many evenings playing pool and drinking a bit too much red wine and Belgian beer but hey, the evenings were chilly, the nights long and that bar is a bit too inviting and has plenty of sockets to charge our various batteries!!

Off to see the specialist at the hospital and get some definitive information on what’s going on with my shoulder injury, what it actually is and what I can do about it. We will see…