Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

Climbing with the "King of the Verdon".

Posted on 2010-03-15 - filed under testimonials

Climbing with Alan in Verdon was an unforgettable experience; a perfect introduction to this world class climbing in some of the most stunning wilderness in Europe. I didn't want to post these photos without sharing my experience, so the following is a work in progress…

I traveled by the tiny Chemins de Fer de Provence train, from the Riviera to Verdon country, to meet and climb with professional guide, British expat and Verdon climbing legend, Alan Carne. After three hours of winding up the valleys of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and watching the most perfect sunset cast pink glows on the white peaked alps in the distance, I arrived at Mezel Chateauredon station. Mezel was not actually a “station” per say, it reminded me of the Breakneck ridge stop on New York’s Metro-north train - just a platform, and an old abandoned house. I jumped off, lifted my heavy pack onto my shoulder, and watched the tiny train chug off into the night. As it disappeared, I was left in complete silence and darkness, less for one flickering streetlight. Before I had time to worry about what I would do if, for some reason, Alan did not pick me up, the headlights of his car pulled in.

Alan had invited me to stay at his house during my time there, a beautifully old 1650’s stone cabin in the tiny Provencal village of Puimoisson. The home still has its original oak beamed ceilings, and tile floors; warmed only by a fireplace and filled with pictures of him and his wife climbing all over the world. Alan told me stories of Verdon and we talked about the following days climb over a piece of homemade quiche, and that night I went to sleep in absolute anticipation and excitement about what was to come. I had been dreaming about climbing in Verdon for a long time, and it was about to become reality.

Early the next morning, in the icy cold dawn, we headed out for the Gorge with some apprehension that the minus two degree air would prevent us from climbing anything we had planned, as the rock would be too cold to touch. March can be an iffy time to climb in Verdon. Warm, clear days are equally mixed with cloudy, snowy days. 

Verdon blew me away. As we hoped and waiting for the sun to burn off the cloud cover and begin to warm the rock enough to climb, we explored the gorge edge near Belvedere de la Carelle area, Alan pointing out some inspiring and impressive routes along the L'Escales. The Gorge du Verdon is a 700-meter deep river canyon that is in someway’s more spectacular and dramatic than the Grand Canyon because it is so steep, vertical and so narrow. Standing on the edge, looking down and imagining descending into this void and then balancing above it on these perfectly vertical walls, gave me a huge lump in my throat, and a bit of nervousness in my stomach. This was going to be extremely exciting. 

Within an hour, the clouds had disappeared and the temperature rose sharply by ten degrees. The sky was a flawless blue and the rock was warming. The gorge had invited us to climb; we peeled off our layers and began. We decided on a 200 meter climb (accessed by repelling halfway down the gorge) Afin Que Nul Ne Meure “So that no one dies” – for me a perfectly challenging, yet not impossible intro to Verdon rock. Taking in the view on my first belay, I watched a giant vulture soar past me, igniting the air with the breadth of his wingspan, and during my first pitch, a helicopter flew through the canyon, nearly at my level. The white peaked col d'Allos hill and Trois Eveches mountain range served as our backdrop and the sounds of the roaring turquoise glacier river below, filled the silence of the giant gorge. 

I had to dig deep on the last pitch, pulling up some steeper portions of rock and trying not to think about the extreme amount of exposure beneath me. When I pulled over the top of the gorge wall, elated and exhausted, I took a moment to take it all in. This place completely exceeded my imagination. The climbing was spectacular, yet Verdon is pretty remote and not very well known by the average climber. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. I truly felt far removed from civilization, something I greatly value about climbing. 

That evening, after desperately trying to retain consciousness on the ride back to Alan’s village, we filled our worked bodies (perhaps mine a little more worked) with Alan’s most delicious homemade pizza and a bottle of French wine and philosophized about free-soloing. He told me about all the famous climbers he has known and climbed with, and all the great climbs he has done around the world. We discussed climbing literature and future climbing goals, and despite my exhaustion and the relaxing warmth of the fireplace, I was fully immersed in his stories. I thought about how very special it was to have gotten to meet and climb with Alan. How unique it is to meet a stranger and feel immediately at ease, relating to the each other on something that makes us feel so alive, that teaches us more about who we are. Climbing with Alan was an introduction not just to one of the world great wildernesses, and climbing areas, but also to the magical region of Provence, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. And I know there are many more Verdon climbs in my future.

Brittany Myers (New York.  March 2010)

If you have climbed with Alan or have climbed in the Verdon then we would like to hear about your experience.
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