Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

A week of Classic 1970s Verdon

Posted on 2013-05-19 - filed under news

Hanging belay below the hand traverse of L'Eperon Sublime

ULA, L'Eperon Sublime, Tuyau d'Orgue, Echo-Logique, and Afin que nul ne Meure. A harvest of 1970s classic crack climbs from the first wave of Verdon development.

After a superb 5 day trip with me last year culminating in an ascent of La Demande, Robin was returning (unfortunately without Paula this time) to recharge his batteries on the high walls of the Verdon. Within 5 hours of leaving London we were meeting up again at the Perroquet Vert Gite and gearing up for an afternoon warm up on Echo-Logique(6a+,6b,6a+). 3 pitches of 3 dimensional climbing, stemming, turning, and laybacking up a line of flake cracks with the odd chimmney move. Enclosed in a dark and shady bay, voices echo against the surrounding walls. Its a great warm up and with enough atmosphere to acclimatize to the Verdon grandeur.
The new guidebook has just come out and many routes including this one have been refurbished with new bolts and anchors.
Robin was climbing well on this route, moving creatively and precisely and breathing well. He had certainly matured as a climber in skill and temperament since last year's visit and was certainly capable of something more challening. I suggested ULA for the following day and he was keen to try.

ULA is a kind of difficult sister route to La Demande. Separated by the huge shield of El Topo it covers the full height of L'Escales in 10 big pitches of bridging and jamming with 7 of those taking the magnificent upper crack system. It is very sustained at an 'old school' trad 6a/6b grade and definitely a notch up from La Demande.

First climbed in 1972 it was unfortunately retro-bolted during the 80s, but then recently and controversially de-bolted and returned to its original state. Quite a blessing in my opinion.
Many parties choose to climb only the upper 7 pitches in the crack system, traversing in along the catwalk from the Jardin des Ecureuils, and although this constitutes the essence of the climb, the rarely done lower pitches demand some routefinding and add to the completeness of the adventure with more of that 'big wall' atmosphere as the route finds the best way through
the surrounding overhangs and nearby loose rock. 

Racking up Camalots 1-5 and a set of nuts we descended 200m to the jardin, continuing with 3 more freehanging rappels to the base of the cliff. 15 minutes walk led to the start of the route which we climbed in 8 hours at a leisurely pace stopping to take photos and soak up the grandeur of the Gorge and the spectacular rock scenery under the blue sky of Provence. A memorable day that I feel was  pitched at just the right level for Robin who finished tired but not
completely destroyed!

After an easier morning on Afin que nul ne Meure Robin spent the following day resting up and preparing for the next big objective, 'L'Eperon Sublime', 8 pitches ranging from 5+ to 7a.

I first did this climb as an 18 year old on my first visit to the Verdon in 1979, and hold dearly the memory of all the climbs and people I climbed with in the Gorge that summer.
It was my first road trip away from the gritstone of my local crags and I remember sharply the thrill of the wild rappel approach down Luna Bong to the 'lost world' of the Terrace Mediane. I managed to jam the rappel on the way down but felt safe in the company of master alpinist Phil Burke who prussiked confidently back up 50m to free them. Then the spectacular hanging belays high on the pillar and that particular curve in the turquoise river hundreds of vertical meters below. Following the famous 6b hand traverse and feeling fragile at the start as I unclipped the carabiner protecting me from a scary pendulum swing if I fell.

I never tire of these great classic routes.
They are less popular these days but there is a sensation of timelessness in these now lesser travelled parts of the Gorge that is quite Zen. The small mediterranean Oak at the base of the route is still there, 34 years older and a little knarlier, the belays are in the same place with the same views and even some of the original pegs remain, unrusted in the dry air. This is a special part of the Gorge for me and I can remember all the occaisions and the partners I've
climbed this route with over the years.

I'll also remember this one - thanks for a great day Robin.

Storms threatened our last day so looking for a climb that would be sheltered from the rain, I went back to the '70s again and that first trip in 1979. 'Tuyau d'Orgue'(6c,6a,5+) is a short route that leaves from the little visited 'Terrace de l'Ascension' visible from the 2nd belvedere. I first climbed it in the company of the great british legend Ron Fawcett and remember being in awe as I watched him float skillfully
around the initial 6c roof pitch then on up the following wide 6a crack placing only the occasional piece of protection. At that time I remember finding it very hard, remarking as I arrived at the belay that Ron did not have a single mark on his suntan, whereas I was covered in scratches after thrashing my way up the wide crack!

From our belay stances Robin and I had great views of 'Diedre des Rappels' the aesthetic corner line to
the right but this would have to wait till next time as the weather had really started to close in. It
was time to go and drink coffee at the Perroquet Vert, talk more Verdon history and discuss the week's adventures.

Until next time Robin,'au revoir' and thanks for great week.






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