Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

Thanks Steffen and well done!

Posted on 2012-10-05 - filed under verdon

Following the 7a+ on L'Eperon Sublime

Balmy days, chill nights, and a little rain. Perfect conditions for long days on L’Escales in sun or shade and for the formation of those magnificent cloud inversions typical of the time of year. It was exactly this for a fantastic 5 days with Steffen from Liepzig in Germany, clocking up an impressive total of 38 pitches and 1200m of climbing. Afin que nul ne Meure (6a+), L’Eperon Sublime(6b), ULA (6b), A Tout Coeur (6b+), and La Demande(6a) - a monster  week by most people’s standards.

Especially memorable for me was re- climbing ULA, recently re-born as a trad route for the 1st time since the 1980s. Over the years more and more bolts had gradually appeared on this magnificent crack line, detracting and obscuring in my opinion its detail and the beauty of the climbing. Then last year an anonymous person removed these (with the exception of the belay anchors) and we now have a superb and sustained 250m trad route.  A double set of camalots from 0.75 to 4, (a size 5 could be useful though not essential), a set of nuts, and slings will protect it sufficiently.  I was particularly struck with how much more creative the climbing felt. Being now obliged to look for natural protection placements my eye was drawn to the detail of the crack system, the work of nature, and the surrounding rock architecture instead of running quickly between quickdraws clipped into bolts.

Wanting to demonstrate and evaluate with Steffen  the different protection possibilities offered by the rock, I took a wide range of different camming devices, -  old style hexentrics, nuts, camalots, rigid and technical ‘Friends’, and state of the art ‘Aliens’.  In the ‘organic’, smooth and irregular cracks and holes found in limestone much more care was necessary to place gear in such a way that it didn’t ‘walk’ or move due to rope movement.  The rigid forged ‘Friends’ came out badly as even the slightest tension due to rope movement could cause them to shift in their placements  and it was clear that the flexible stems and tape of the camalots, Aliens, and hexes gave more confidence inspiring and stable placements.  Although not always necessary, I laced up each pitch with as much gear as possible. Cams, hexes, nuts, threads in pockets, and slings on trees, some good and some bad, demonstrating the richness of available natural protection. This of course probably made following and cleaning more hard work for Steffen who nevertheless superbly climbed the whole route without any falls whilst also critiquing my gear placements.

After our crack fest on ULA,  a more ‘Verdonesque’ face climbing day was in order before more cracks on ‘La Demande’ so I figured ‘A Tout Coeur’, a 180m high wall of perfectly sculpted limestone would be the perfect canvas on which to practice my oft repeated mantra of ‘let the feet lead’.  This wall is a ’Swiss Cheese’ of countless irregular slopey pockets and holes, and any attempt to lead with the arms and ‘grab that next jug’ is totally unforgiving and quickly results in flamed out forearms.  In anticipation of this I had been coaching Steffen in the art of ‘rear wheel drive’ – predicting sequences of footholds ahead of handholds and allowing balance and fingers to adapt to available rock features. Steffen’s friend and regular climbing partner Martin also joined us for this sustained face climb with pitches of 6a+, 6b, and 6b+.  Both climbed superbly, and Steffen put up an awesome combat to flash the crux, all the time repeating ‘let the feet lead!’

‘La Demande’ was of course a great finish to an intense  5 days of Verdon classics, and Steffen lapped up what he called his favourite style of 3 dimensional crack and chimney climbing with one particular 5c crack reminding him of an Elbsandstein grade 3 offwidth!!  Although technically easier than what we had done on previous days it is a fair bit longer especially as the approach now involves abseiling the full height of the Gorge, the quicker access via the ’ Martel’ trail being currently closed for renovation work.

Taking the summit photo opposite the huge cairns I was aware that although having climbed this great route countless times over the years it is always memorable  to repeat it and even more so with a partner 100% absorbed in the climbing and by that special Verdon  presence.

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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