Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

Robin Brooke and Paula Ryan (UK/NZ)

Posted on 2012-05-14 - filed under testimonials


"What an amazing climbing venue, which somehow lived up to the pretty high expectations we had set, but what really made our first visit something we won't forget was Alan. Deep local knowledge, understated personality, infectious energy, huge experience and skills, bucket loads of passion for climbing and the Verdon; along with patience, coaching, and great judgement - makes for a perfect combination to introduce you to the best of the magical Verdon, improve your climbing skills, and dream up new objectives for the future.
My girlfriend and I spent five days with Alan in May, we've a reasonable amount of experience leading to F6a outdoor in the UK, but were looking for someone who could help us maximise the time, give us confidence in the intimidating situations, and help get the best from our first visit.
Each day Alan struck the perfect balance of challenge and realism, coaching along the way, taking us to the pick of some classic routes including some very long and sustained , often aided by his 200m static line allowing for some unforgettable descents into the gorge and getting early access to routes. We've come away stronger, better climbers, with some amazing memories, and some of Alan's infectious passion.
Looking forward to another opportunity to climb with you again,
Robin & Paula."

Robin and Paula – The road to La Demande!

Posted on 2012-05-11 - filed under news

Over 1400m and 43 pitches in an intense 5 days of climbing. Just finished a great week climbing with Robin and Paula from the Castle gym in London in a fantastic progression of   Verdon classics.

Threatening storm clouds, light rain and strong south winds meant caution and speed were of the essence on our first day so "El Gringo Loco"(6a) and "Les Dalles Grises"(5c) allowed for a good warm up. Unfazed by the exposure Robin and Paula moved quickly and efficiently in our rope of 3, and with the wind turning west later in the afternoon it looked good for the rest of the week.

Cranking up the atmosphere and difficulty on day 2 I got out the static line for the approach to "La Derobee"(6a+). The 200m  freehanging ride down the "Castapiagne Rouge" is perhaps the most spectacular approach in the Gorge and nearly always allows us to be first on the route. The difficulty proved to be just right, with them both having to "dig in" a little on the final steep 6a+ pitch. We finished off the day with more dramatic exposure and an ascent of the most famous 5c pitch in the Verdon – "Wide is Love". At the grade this is really a must on a first visit to the Gorge. I managed to capture some of the emotion on video below.

Day 3 was planned to tap a little more into the energy reserves before a rest day and preparation for the 12 pitches of "la Demande". "Pas de Prelude pour Herve"(6a+) is only a couple of years old but is fast becoming a modern classic. 5 pitches below the 'Dent d'Aire and combined with the 3 pitches of "Dolce Vita"(6a+) to finish it makes for 8 pitches of sustained climbing at around 6a – 6a+ on superb rock. It was the perfect end to the 3rd day. 

A rest was now certainly welcome before the main event.
"La Demande". Probably the most historic climb in France, outside of the Alps. I've climbed it many times since 1979 and although it now has more fixed gear than back then, it still has an alpine like atmosphere and feels like an adventure on a very big cliff. It would be the first time I'd climbed it as a party of 3 but I had no doubts that Robin and Paula would be up to the job. They'd been efficient and focused so far, and today wouldn't be any different. They pulled out all the stops and we completed the route in around 8 1/2 hours including stopping for lunch, photo opportunities, and taking the time to appreciate the grandeur of the surroundings. We were also fortunate to be alone on the route which added to that 'mountain atmosphere'.

As memorable a day for me as it was for them on their first visit to the Verdon.

Unsurprisingly, after such a magnificent effort on La Demande, fatigue had started to set in, so for the following and final day of the trip we opted for "L'Arete du Belvedere", 8 pitches, and a lovely moderate warm down to an unforgettable 5 days climbing.
Until next time, well done guys, and thank you!

Black Pot – Prise de Cent – Tentative d 'Evasion link up

Posted on 2012-04-20 - filed under verdon

Photo: view down 'Black pot' from 'Tentative d'Evasion'
view down 'Black pot' from 'Tentative d'Evasion'

I had one of those fantastic 'not just another day on the crag' days yesterday with my buddy Simon Aldinger.  This 8 pitch link up defies my literary skills but for those operating around 7c it is a world class wake up call to the dangers of complacency at having the incredible L'Escales in your back yard.

I knew this link up probably hadn't been done before but even so I was stunned and mildly intimidated at the virgin beauty of the first pitch. 7c+ and a kind of super direct  to the first pitch of Mangoustine Scatophage this 45m bulging grey wall was equipped in 1988, the newness of the stone and spider web in the occasional deeper pocket indicates it has probably had only a handful of ascents. What a privilege. If this was at Ceuse it would be one of those pitches on the circuit, like 'Femme Noir', or 'Berlin' with its tell tale tick marks, polish and decoration of hanging quickdraws! Here only the bolts, happily not too Verdonesque, are a sign of passage. Beyond this the climb takes in 2 pitches (6b, 7a) of  'Prise de Cent' on scarily rough and sharp orange rock before breaking through a huge roof (8b+ or A1 for us mortals) into 'Tentative d'Evasion', 50m of wild overhanging tufa crack (7c, 7b) in  mind blowing position with the Verdon Gorge spread out below our hanging belay.

Onsighting this first pitch was certainly optimistic as a warm up but it felt good to get it with a couple of hangs having put in good fight. Its very sustained, no extreme moves but with multiple blind alleys, bad feet and sucker pockets through the bulging crux section. A rest day will see us back knowing the trick is to move fast through here then carefully manage the rests in the slightly easier (7b) finish to the anchor.

Psyched to get back to it tomorrow!

Rappel 'Dalles Grises' to the Jardin des Ecureuils,  traverse 40m right then descend slightly around trees to arrive in a flat area below an imposing grey wall. The offwidth crack of 'Barjots' is on the right.
Pitch 1: 7c+ (7b obligatory). Ultimate Verdon pockets – Mega!
Pitch 2: 6c+ Runout! Belay as for Mangoustine.
Pitch 3 6a Start as for Mangoustine but up to belay instead of moving leftwards.
Pitch 4: 6b Traverse right on amazing sharp orange rock, up past a scoop to hanging belay.
Pitch 5: 7a Traverse horizontally left on same rock to sharp crux and Juniper tree belay.
Pitch 6: 8b+ But who knows? Climb through massive roof to wildly exposed belay. (clip stick was useful for us)
Pitch 7: 7c Awesome overhanging crack and tufa action. (This can be linked in with pitch 6)
Pitch 8: 7b More of the same to top (50m).
Gear: 15 Quickdraws
Quality: *****
I sent it!! 25/04/2012

La Demande

Posted on 2012-04-11 - filed under verdon

Photo: Matt on the summit of La Demande
Matt on the summit of La Demande

We have an expression here in Provence which is "Noel au Balcon Paques au Tisons" "Christmas in the Sun Easter by the Woodfire"  Its turning out like that this year. Winter was just  too perfect to last much longer!

I just got back from a short and rather washout visit to Margalef in Spain, trying to get some climbing in between long bouts of rain.

Driving back I was praying I would be granted some respite for Wednesday when I would be climbing La Demande with London climber Matthew Alexander. Matthew is on a 3 month climbing roadtrip and one of his objectives is to do one of the great classics of the Verdon. His schedule is tight and we really only have the one day to bag it so when it rained all day Tuesday the outcome was less than certain for the following day. Wednesday dawned damp and cold but dry and with a forcast of  strong west wind to blow the cloud away looks like we might get our chance. Arriving at the base the route is actually dry, but will those upper chimmneys  be? 

Matthew is very efficient and we move quickly in order to keep warm and not get caught in any late afternoon showers. Arriving at pitch 10, the first chimmney its as I feared, streaming wet! These upper pitches never feel as easy as their 6a grade would suggest and it looks like I'm going to have to be creative and climb to the exterior of the chimmney bridging wide and trusting my feet on the drier but polished side walls and  avoiding the wet stream running down the right hand side, feels a little scary and insecure. Its the same on the following chimmney but all passes without mishap and we're home and dry so to speak, and on the summit 6hours after starting, just as an afternoon shower comes on – perfect timing. 

Thanks for a great day Mathew!