15 Sept 2022, Into The Verdon Gorge, ‘Or Sujet’

Yes, it was raining hard in the northern Alps…but no excuse is required to visit the remarkable Verdon where the fragrant magic of Provence meets the wild & inspiring limestone walls of this famous gorge…

Having said that neither of us had been for the last 20 or 30 years, and the last time Tony was there, in the early 90s, he was climbing with Steve Mcclure.  Britain’s best sport climber…

Tony on the last rapp of the Falaise du Belvédère des Malines approach…an abseil or two (or 3 or 4!) too many perhaps as there probably exists an easier route by keeping harder left in descent during, or after, the section of scrambling with lots of metal rods sticking out.  We continued down via 4 short rapps from in-situ anchors…small trees!

We didn’t have any big rope guns like that in the team this time!  In addition there was a major storm over the gorge and our La Palud campsite during the night, so we headed in to the somewhat less committing Falaise du Belvédère des Malines at the western end of the gorge and accessed via a descent path rather than one of the famously intimidating abseils approaches!

Approaching the first belay – having located the wet base of the route and negotiated some good climbing above to reach this fine exposed traverse, and base of the chimney…!

However the descent took a bit longer than expected, and the base of the route was black with wetness and looked pretty slimy and with only one old bolt visible on this lower section, it all looked pretty old school!  Still, worth a look, so we saddled up the pig and went for a look…Whilst the rock was indeed wet, it was neither greasy nor polished and happily not very hard either on pleasantly spiky rock.  This section was fine in the wet and soon led up in to a fine steep but dry groove which ended abruptly on a smooth slab.  The next bolts were not visible and as the topo, and holds, indicated a left-ward traverse, a look that way revealed a bolt and some fun exposed moves round to the anchor below a smooth looking chimney…

The shady chimney at the start of the 2nd pitch. This starts easily enough with some back and footing but the bolt indicated a rightwards traverse out on to the (very smooth) arete. There is a good hold – but it’s a long way off – and facing the wrong way too!

Whilst this 2nd pitch is given 6b+ it felt as hard as the 6c pitches and some folk describe it as the key passage of the route.  The back and footing starts off well but it gets smoother and the bolt which leads you round on the right arête takes you in to even smoother ground.  There is a really big hold but it’s both too far away and facing the wrong way!

Easing climbing in a brilliant position after the technical and steep crux of the 3rd pitch (6c) with the Arête du Belvedere on the right

There is some really pleasant easier climbing on the start of the 3rd pitch and it’s too tempting to enjoy this too much and find yourself on the neighbouring classic ‘Arête du Belvédère’ (6a+).  Moral fortitude is required to abandon the lovely juggy grooved arête and quest off on to the wall on its left, which gives steep, technical and very good climbing!  Like many of the cruxes of the 5-6 6c pitches on the route, there is both strenuous and technical, but not very sustained, climbing to be done.

Very good steep and pretty juggy climbing on the 5c 4th pitch.

The next pitch takes a welcome diversion on to the shady side of the Arête, (assuming you are climbing it in the morning!) and gives fun jug pulling through some steep and improbably looking ground, but the holds are all there and even the pig managed to avoid getting stuck in bushes, trees and overhanging cracks on this pitch!

What has it got in it’s pocketsies? Gollum’s question is answered by climbing this fine pocketed wall at the start of the 5th pitch, and another one above, both with short 6b+ / 6c sections.

From the fine col belay and pic-nick site at the top of that pitch there is a beautiful smooth pocketed wall above and, with the exception of the easy mini last pitch, the quality and 6c difficulty is sustained now to the top but good belay ledges after each pitch give the feeling more of a series of a single pitch routes than climbing the big wall style outings further up the gorge.   And whilst descent down the route would not be appealing, climbing the nearby easier classic Arête du Belvédère certainly is appealing and a viable alternative through to the traverse right below the penultimate 6c pitch at least.

The penultimate pitch is short but one of the most fierce. This wall overhangs at the top and can be climbed on pumpy laybacks or baggy jams!

But a great journey it is and a fine adventure it feels with lots of varied technical climbing on these upper pocketed walls and crux sections.  As the leader had a big rack and the pig was carrying the other gear, the 2nd could also enjoy the climbing and often unlocked an easier sequence on the techy cruxes unseen by the leader.  The harder sections of the route are well protected with bolts and we just placed a few cams on the easier sections which had bigger gaps between the bolts.

Tony, Rob…and the pig! Happy topping out after 9 pitches on ‘Or Sujet’, Verdon gorge. The smell of herbes de Provence thick in the air, and the bus right there!

The flat table plinth of limestone top out after the 9th pitch provides a great place to enjoy the post route ambiance of the gorge.  A 2 minute scramble from here takes you through fragrant Provence herb smells and right back to the parking we’d left in the steamy early hours that warm morning after a night of rain.  We only saw vultures and swifts in our time in the gorge and after the question of which cold beer in La Palud the only other question that remained was, which route would take us back in to the Verdon Gorge…

Fine 6b route on the super sunny morning wall on the Chateau crag at Orpierre

A good question, with lots of inspiring answers, but they will have to wait for the next visits as we were northward bound via a few sunny pitches in the famous lovely little French sport climbing village of Orpierre.

If you’d like to rock climb in the Verdon, Orpierre or Chamonix, please get in touch to discuss and we also have the following course places available for the remainder of summer and autumn 2022:

La Palud sur Verdon. Le Spot right on the edge of the Verdon Gorge country…