Se Bon!

The Verdon Gorge, France - Europe's answer to me missing Yosemite. Arriving via Ryanair pretty late in Montpellier on Wednesday, we quickly equipped with our steed (thanks Hertz for the upgrade to a Golf TDI) and were off to get the 2-3 hour drive to the Verdon out of the way so we could catch [...]

The Verdon Gorge, France – Europe’s answer to me missing Yosemite.

Arriving via Ryanair pretty late in Montpellier on Wednesday, we quickly equipped with our steed (thanks Hertz for the upgrade to a Golf TDI) and were off to get the 2-3 hour drive to the Verdon out of the way so we could catch a few zzzzs before being faced with my first Verdon big wall and Ari’s (my climbing partner) first big wall ever!  We wisely brought our European lifesaving device, a GPS unit, but an hour into the drive I looked down and realized something was amiss.  It was not charging and the battery was almost dead.  We were about to navigate Europe in the dark sans GPS, sans map.  Panic ensued but rationality persisted.  Some exploratory analysis of the problem found that the negative had broken off the GPS car charger.  A search of the car and luggage determined the missing part was not onboard.  A stop at a gas station in which all transactions and communications had to be performed through the window and a small drawer led to the acquisition of 1) yet another hilarious episode of my linguistic charade chronicles 2) an increased desire to learn more French than the 24 hours prior study had provided me 3) a map of France 4) the determination they do not sell either GPS or GPS chargers at French gas stations and 5) (possibly the most impressive acquisition) paperclips.  We began to attempt navigation with the map but rapidly concluded that fixing the GPS at risk of electrical shock was the better option.  This undertaking minus a fair share of the electrical shock risk was performed by Ari and thankfully returned us to status quo – GPS navigation.  We parked a few kilometers outside of the Verdon, threw our sleeping bags out on the ground and called it a night.

The Gorge du Verdon, France

Gorge du Verdon

Thursday morning we arose early and traveled the remaining distance to the Verdon in the dawn light.  The goal for the day was the 200 meter, 9 pitch Or Sujet (6c, 5.11 a/b).  The route was fairly sustained (with 5 pitches at 6c) but had comfortable belay ledges and the more challenging pitches were shorter than the easier ones, making it a pretty perfect route for us and it would be hard to describe the setting as anything less than amazing.

P3 of Or Sujet (6c, 5.11 a/b) - Verdon Gorge, France

P3 of Or Sujet

Or Sujet went well – well being defined as finishing alive, in the daylight, with only minor mishaps while learning a lot and having a good time while being in an amazing setting.  We managed to get lost on the descent (which had painted red dots to mark the way) but fortunately so had plenty of other people and several abseils eventually placed us at the start – a generally good place to be.  We had some beginner climbers get lost on the descent above us and then attempt to murder me by throwing some rather large rocks in my general direction.  Rocks hurt and the valuable lesson was learned that routes near beginner climbs in the Verdon, of which there are not many, require helmets.  Beyond that Ari learned a lot about multipitch climbing, from rope management to belaying while hanging on a wall and jugging.  He also learned that climbing shoes can develop blisters readily on 9 out of 10 toes if you have not been climbing as frequently as you should.

Nearing top of Or Sujet (6c, 5.11 a/b) - Verdon Gorge, France

Nearing top of Or Sujet

Topping out around 4 we headed into La Palud, the local town.  It was siesta and no place served food until 20:00 so we visited the grocery store to stock up on water and then the bakery to try their chocolate croissants and buy some pretty amazing sandwiches.  Lazing about we eventually motivated ourselves to drive around the gorge some and explore our next day’s climb before choosing a rocky outcropping above the gorge to park inconspicuously and throw our sleeping bags down for the night under a beautiful starry night only interrupted briefly around 0100 when a 300lb wild pig stumbled into our territory and needed some encouragement to depart.

La Palud, France

La Palud

The next day we climbed A Tout Coeur  and finished up Coeur de Verre.  While the route was supposed to be 7 pitches we managed to split it into either 8 or 9 with every pitch falling between 6a (5.10a) and 6b+ (5.10d).  It has the misfortune of once being easier and so traffic has polished the rock making it slick like marble in many places.  The route was pretty much plumb line vertical without exception meaning most belays were hanging belays, where one simply anchors into the wall with no where to comfortably stand.  This made for far greater exposure and in my opinion better climbing and a truer big wall experience but had the unfortunate effect of turning Ari’s blisters into angry blood blisters.

We finished around 4 and celebrated by revisiting the grocery store and the bakery and having our first wine from Provence de Verdon which turned out to be rather surprisingly, horrible.  We decided to relocate to Chateauvert, a famous sport-climbing area of which we learned from our friend back at home in Germany. Chateauvert is where climbers go to mix it up from the technical Verdon faces to more powerful overhanging climbs.  This had the added benefit of providing Ari’s feet the ability to spend most of the day free from his climbing shoes and me with a very dedicated belayer.

Quick Reference Guide:

Guidebook: France Cote d’Azur (Rockfax Climbing Guide), by Chris Craggs. Full color and in English.

Location: LA Palud sur Verdon, France

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Eric grew up in Southern Los Angeles, surfing the beaches and hiking the Sierras with his mom and dad. He is an avid backcountry skier and climber having led alpine ski descents of Denali and Mont Blanc as well as numerous Colorado and California fourteen thousand foot peaks. He has climbed extensively in the Sierras, Colorado and throughout the Alps.

Eric has written 16 articles for Thrillseekers Anonymous.

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