Guided Adventure in the Verdon Gorge

Patrick Edlinger 1960 - 2012

Posted on 2012-11-16 - filed under verdon

The iconic figure of Verdon climbing in the 1980s passed away today.
Although less visible on the climbing circuit in recent years, the legacy of his films "Opera Vertical" and "La Vie au Bout des Doigts" really immortalised the beauty and artistry of pure rock climbing movement and inspired a whole generation including myself to aspire to his mastery of vertical balance.

The following extract from "Opera Vertical" speaks more than words, confirming the feeling that I have never seen anyone move with such grace and control on these high technical walls.

Going out to climb something now in tribute to this great man.


"The Climb is not a Frog..."

Posted on 2012-11-05 - filed under verdon

A nice relaxing week with my old friend, musician and top level road tripping professional climber Said Belhaj. We first met 10 years ago in Australia's Arapiles at a time when he was just starting his professional career. Since then he has amassed a huge experience travelling to some of the world's most exotic locations, climbing the best and with some of the best. See his blog here at:

This week his objectives were to repeat a recent 9A in the huge Galetas cave and the famous 8b+ tufa 'Tom et Je Ris' as well as get some decent photo sessions with a professional photographer behind the lens. Unfortunately mediterranean storms were forcast for the whole week followed by violent 'mistral' winds in the aftermath, so only the 9A was sent on this occaision. Though only a partial success by Said's standards, for myself this would have been a lifelong personal best!

In between the torrential rain we managed some nice photo sessions with the  cloudy skies really bringing out the beautiful autumn colours in the Gorge, but 'Tom et Je Ris' was looking doubtful. Then on the last morning waking to perfect clear skies but strong north wind down here in the village we decided to give it a try. At least it would dry the rock out quickly. We hadn't counted on the effect of 800m of height gain, and arriving on the crest of the south rim of the Canyon after a 1 1/2 walk the wind was blowing directly at us at a near Patagonian intensity! Abseiling 60m to the hanging belay and attempting to climb 8b+ in these conditions would be poor judgement and verging on reckless. We made the agonising descision that it would have to wait for another day, perhaps in spring. Walking away from the crest and into the lee of the wind, the sense of disappointment was tangible but to quote Said:

"The climb is not a frog, it will not jump away"


Here's a shot showing the beautiful autumn at the moment contrasted against the legendary blue limestone.


Thanks Steffen and well done!

Posted on 2012-10-05 - filed under verdon

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.

Going Solo!

Posted on 2012-09-23 - filed under verdon

Been gradually getting my systems dialled and head in gear for going lead roped solo in the Gorge. Its hard work, leading and cleaning every pitch, but very fulfilling in a creative sort of way and gives an extra adventurous dimension that is not really satisfied by pure sport climbing. Today I was on the spectacular 3 pitch 7a 'L'Ange en Decomposition' - not a soul in sight anywhere, save for the Vultures circling below on the thermals.

I also made a short video showing the wonderful panorama I had from the hanging belay on pitch 2. You can see it here...