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.

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