Verdon Gorge
May 2010.   Report by: Bryan Rynne


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After talking about going to Verdon for several years (and driving past it on the way to Orpierre on a couple of occasions) Patrick and I finally got our act together and got out there this year. We flew to Nice, and stayed in the village of La Palud sur Verdon, about 10-15 minutes drive from the main climbing areas.

We stayed in the hotel Le Provence, which is right in the heart of the village, but there are several other hotels and gites close by. The village also has two bars and a couple of restaurants, a good (small) supermarket and a very small climbing shop.

Verdon is, of course, renowned for the serious nature of the climbing — a 400m deep gorge which you abseil into for most of the climbs and then have to get back out again! In view of this, we had decided to aim at some of the less serious climbs and to hire a guide, Alan Carne, to get us up some of the tougher routes.

The first day started off fairly cool and grey so we decided to do a few easy short routes. Alan (by phone) told us how to find the abseil points for these routes — this was very helpful as I think if we had been relying on the guide-book we would have spent a long time looking for them. Unfortunately, just as Patrick reached the top it started raining and by the time I was half-way up the final pitch it was pouring down. However, by some judicious pulling on the rope I got to the top. At this point Alan showed up expecting to have to rescue us — this was very good of him since we were not expecting to meet up with him until the next day. This set the pattern for much of the week — cool and grey mornings and wet afternoons.

We met Alan the following morning and, in view of the poor weather, we spent the morning looking around at the location of various climbs and abseil points, while hoping for better weather later on. This reconnaissance was well worth doing — he showed us a lot of obscure and difficult to find abseil points, and generally explained how things worked here. Fortunately, the weather slowly brightened up so that by the afternoon we could do a climb. However, first we had to get down to it, which involved being lowered 200m in mid-air on Alan's static rope — not much fun! Especially as the Italian hitch the rope was running through caused us to start spinning on the way down. However, we got down unscathed (without even any seasickness), and this was much quicker than doing 5-6 abseils. We then did Pour une Poignee de Gros Lards, F6a, 175m, 7 pitches. A very enjoyable route on good rock and in a great, exposed location.

The next day we were on our own! We got up at the crack of dawn (well, it seemed like it to me, but Patrick was of the opinion that dawn had been several hours earlier) and, since the morning seemed good, decided to have a go at La Demande, 6a, 380m, 12 pitches. This is one of the first routes climbed in the gorge, and starts from the gorge floor. It is given E1 5b in Birkett's guide 'French Rock'. Personally, it felt like sustained E2 5c to me, and I use the UK grading advisedly — the bolting is atrocious, so it is essentially a trad route (the bolts are very widely spaced, and almost always placed in easy ground, never where you actually need them). Since E2 5c is pretty much our upper climbing limit progress was slow, and by mid-afternoon it became clear that we could not finish before dark, let alone before an approaching rain storm hit us. This led to a long retreat — made more difficult by the fact that the first half of the route is up a slanting crack system, so we had to haul our way back across the face all the way down. Fortunately, we got back to the foot of the gorge before it started raining — unfortunately, our car was at the top of the gorge! This meant that we were faced with a 7 mile walk, first along the sentier by the river at the foot of the gorge, then along the road, back to La Palud. To complete the rout, after about a mile of the walk it started lashing with rain, and we only had light wind-shirts with us. Luckily, about half-way back we managed to hitch a lift, and so got back to La Palud in time for several large beers (we were too late for any food, but by this point we didn't care, so long as we got some beer).

The rest of the week was a mix of walking, an afternoon of sports climbing near Aiguinnes, and some further relatively short climbs (100-150m). This included another day with Alan, on which we did Mangoustines Scatophage, 6c+, 150m, 5 pitches, and top roped various routes off the 'belvederes' (the view points built on the hairpin bends on the road above the gorge — the chunky railing provided very quick and reassuring belays).

Overall, a tremendous climbing location. Although we were unlucky with the weather we certainly got a feel for the place and did some very good routes, if not as many as we had hoped for.

Guiding and general information
Finally, if anyone is interested in hiring a guide to climb at Verdon both Patrick and I would highly recommend Alan Carne. He is a superb climber, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the gorge, and was very helpful to us, both in the climbing (obviously) and in providing information about Verdon.
Also, obviously there are lots of web pages about Verdon gorge, but some of the ones that we found useful are: