Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

Climbing in the Verdon

Posted on 2012-05-20 - filed under verdon

Whenever a vacation takes me near mountains or canyons, I try to sneak away for a day of rock climbing.  So when I was planning the itinerary for our recent trip to France, the Verdon Gorge immediately came to mind.  The Verdon is one of the largest canyons in the world (what we call a canyon is called a gorge in Europe) and is considered Europe’s most beautiful canyon.  It was formed by the Verdon River, which is named after its turquoise-green colour.

Luckily, I was able to find a British guide named Alan Carne that lives in the area and specializes in the Verdon Gorge.  The Verdon is known for its huge white limestone walls.  I don’t do a lot of climbing on limestone and I had heard that the ratings there are stiff so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Alan suggested that we start with a classic route called L’Epéron Sublime (7 pitches, 510c A1 or 5.12).

When climbing in a canyon, you have to either hike or rappell to the bottom first.  In this case, Alan lowered me using a 200 meter static line.  Because the wall was so steep, I ended up hanging in space a good bit.  Our route started from a ledge that Alan called “the garden” about 150 meters above the river.

Once we started climbing, I realized that the climbing was going to take some getting used to.  The limestone on this route tends to be quite slick and the feet felt insecure.  However, there were usually nice pockets and cracks for the hands.   Limestone usually means face climbing, but L’Epéron Sublime is somewhat unique because it follows a crack and corner system and requires the use of crack technique.

I’ve climbed in a bunch of places, but the climbing in the Verdon is unlike anything I’ve done.  The walls are steep (rarely less than 90 degrees and sometimes overhanging) and the climbing is very sustained.   A typical 5.10 pitch involves long sequences of moves at that grade, making the climbing physically demanding with a serious, exposed feel.  It’s as if the wall is trying to push you off.  For this reason, I didn’t ask Alan to let me lead any of the pitches (those of you that have climbed with me know that’s unusual).

All that being said, I loved it.  The moves were very aesthetic (that one’s for you, Arne) and good technique is rewarded.  And as you can tell from the videos, the views are amazing!  One of the highlights was watching Alan free a short 5.12 section on pitch 6.

Despite a late morning start, we moved pretty quickly on L’Epéron Sublime and finished with plenty of daylight.  So we decided to tackle another route, Afin que nul ne Meure (rough translation:  â€So nobody dies”) (5 pitches, 5.9).  Compared to L’Epéron Sublime, this bolted route felt really easy.  Alan and I traded leads and finished the route in about an hour!

After 12 pitches of climbing, I felt surprisingly fresh.  Alan, who is super-motivated despite 30+ years of climbing experience, asked if I wanted to do another route but I was hesitant to push my luck.  After all, when you’re climbing in canyons there’s only one way out!

Overall, the Verdon Gorge is one of the best climbing destinations I’ve visited.  The approaches are super short, the climbing is stellar, and the weather is mild.  And Alan was a fantastic guide — motivated, strong, and knowledgable.  I’d love to go back and spend a week some time.

Originally posted on - Kevin Dahlstrom's blog.

Pichenibule – New Wave Verdon 70s style!

Posted on 2012-05-20 - filed under verdon


 In the 40 year old climbing history of the Verdon, this immortal classic stands at an historical and ethical crossroads in French and argueably world free climbing:  the birth of « Rap bolting »!
By 1976 many of the great crack systems and big aid routes of L'Escales had been climbed (ground up of course!), and one might have thought the golden age of the Verdon had come to an end.  Between these crack systems however were huge pillars and shields of the most perfect grey limestone yet discovered.

Though to all appearances smooth and featureless, when  viewed after rain and from afar the shadows of the finely sculpted Gouttes d'eau (vertical water pockets) were apparent. It was audacious to think of venturing out onto these walls  in the 'ground up' zietgiest of the early to mid 70s but Stephane Troussier and Jacques « Pschitt » Perrier did just that, traversing out of Luna Bong to  establish the wildly exposed arete Necronomicon. Original, and controversial at the time « Pschitt » followed this up a year later with a true masterpiece that ushered in a new approach to the development of climbing in the Canyon. Reasoning, « Why climb new routes from the bottom with bolts, when it seems more logical to start from the top and find the best line? », then exploring and equipping using fixed ropes along the grey shield  that separates Les Dalles Grises from the  3rd belvedere viewpoint,  Pschitt located the intricate traversing line  that would become Pichenibule, and then later  Ctuluh and Gwendal.  

Whether you consider him innovative and modern or a dangerous subversive, the result was a timeless classic. Even today there is a seed of doubt as one leaves the comfort of the Jardin des Ecureuils traversing out above the void of red overhangs to arrive at the point of no return  below the desperate Bombé de Pichenibule. This penultimate pitch was freed by the late great Patrick Berhault in 1980 and remains a  total « sandbag » 7b++! Fortunately it is equipped as an easy A0 giving access to the magnificent final 6a pitch.

4 double rope rappels lead down Les Dalles Grises to the Jardin des Ecureuils. From here descend with care to arrive at fixed ropes leading to 3 further rappels and the base of the Canyon.  Traverse left for about 200m (facing the wall) around a rock spur. Ascend slightly to attain a small ledge. The climb starts on a pillar on the far right of this.


Pitch 1 :  5c. Rock a little 'crusty' Belay in small cave on the right.

Pitch 2:   6a. Traverse right horizontally right to a small pillar and up to belay.

Pitch 3:   6a. Follow the 'old school' corner crack. Physical.

Pitch 4:   5c. Similar to the previous pitch arriving at the Jardin des Ecureuils.

Pitch 5:   5c. From the left edge of the Jardin continue as for "Afin..." traversing left past this route's belay to an isolated anchor.

Pitch 6:   5c. A superb pitch traversing horizontally along huge Gouttes d'eau to finish up a corner(slightly runout). Belay on ledge above tree.

Pitch 7:   6a+. Superb climbing on pockets. Follow diagonal line of bolts leftwards. (avoid gold coloured bolts on Agorgeamocles).

Pitch 8:  6b. A technical leftwards traverse then up a corner crack to a belay in  common with "Les Rideaux de Gwendal". 

Pitch 9: 6c+. 'The Business'! A long, sustained which traverses left(fingery) then follows diagonal cracks to a hard finish.

Pitch 10: 6b. Traverse left to a spectacular hanging stance at the base of the famous 'Bombe de Pichenibule'.

Pitch 11: 7b+ or A0. Easily aided to a 2 bolt anchor.

Pitch 12: 6a. Superb and runout pitch to the top.


Gear: Double 50m ropes, quickdraws, small set of nuts and cams, a few slings.

Annot trad climbing festival

Posted on 2012-05-20 - filed under news

Photo: Alan on La Sadomachiste Direct (7c)
Alan on La Sadomachiste Direct (7c)

Despite the forecast predicting heavy rain and cold temperatures over the Bank Holiday weekend, about 150 people headed to Annot for the first trad climbing festival organised by  Lionel Catsoyannis and other local climbers.

The aim of the festival was to let people know about this unusual climbing area, to launch the new guidebook and introduce climbers to the delights of climbing without bolts.

As well as plenty of climbers from all over France the event was attended by climbers from Italy, Spain, Holland, Slovakia, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the UK, giving the weekend a truly international feel.

As you would expect from the South of France the itinerary was very laid back and centered around the Cafe du Commerce in the middle of town!

Practicing placing cams on one of Annot's easier sectors.
Saturday consisted of workshops for climbers new to placing trad gear and around 70 people took the opportunity to have a go and try out equipment provided by the sponsors (Wild Country, Totem Cams, Black Diamond).

Apart from that people just got on with their own thing with the classic routes receiving a lot of attention.

That evening the bar laid on a special ‘climbers menu’ and a band who belted out classic rock covers late into the night!

Heavy rain overnight threatend to ruin the second day but fortunately it stopped and when the sun came out the rock dried quickly allowing people to explore the 15 sectors and over 150 routes developed so far.

Again, most of the classic lines were busy while spectators grouped together to watch attempts on some of the harder climbs. That evening there was a talk about the history of climbing in the Verdon Gorge and a film about the Taghia Gorge in Morocco, as well as more ‘hanging out’ in the bar.

Unfortunately Monday was very wet and climbing was impossible so quite a few people headed home early or took the opportunity to explore the area around Annot. For those who did stay Tuesday turned out to be fine and bright and gave another superb days climbing.

This short film gives a good idea of the type of climbing found at Annot as well as capturing the atmosphere of the festival: Annot trad climbing festival film

Highlights of the festival include Alan Carne’s on-sight of the difficult roof crack C’est ta Rate en Realite (7b), Nicolas …… ascent of Miss Annot (7b) as well as brave attempts on La Sadomachiste Direct (7c) by Alan Carne and one of the Czech climbers.

The organisers are already talking about next years event which they hope will be bigger, better attended and blessed with good weather.

For those of you who couldn’t make it or have only just found out about the trad climbing at Annot then I recommend you make the effort to visit this fantastic venue.

More info about the trad climbing at Annot can be found here:

Originally posted on -

Jaimella and Dave Espley (UK)

Posted on 2012-05-15 - filed under testimonials

Hi Alan, I am not sure if you remember, but you taught Dave and me the basics we needed for sports climbing last April near La Palud. We carried on climbing throughout our trip, stopping off in Arco and the Frankenjura, and when we got back to England we moved to the Peak District and learnt to trad climb. Thank you for giving us the confidence to do this (and helping us choose such good equipment). We even spent a week in February ice and mixed climbing in the Cairngorms and Glencoe Thanks again for everything. Jaimella and Dave