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…
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!
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…
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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:
- 1 place on our Becoming An Alpinist course, 19-23 September in Chamonix
- 1 place – Climb Gran Paradiso 🇮🇹 Late September 2022
- 2 places – Climb Gran Paradiso 🇮🇹 Early October 2022
- 2 places – Climb Mont Blanc 🇫🇷 Early October 2022