Katherine @lovetoclimb facebook page

Verdon

17 Sep 2009

Never having been to the Verdon is like never having visited Yosemite, Fontainebleau or Arapiles, they are all climbing meccas. And seeing it for the first time is a truly Yosemite moment. Glimpsing the astounding vertical space simply takes your breath away. I’ve wanted to go for so long and yet somehow I forgot. Like everyone else.

Verdon

Considering just how incredible it is, you wonder why so few climbers visit nowadays. Once a ‘must go to’ place like Buoux, it’s taken a bizarre second place behind ‘modern’ crags like Rodellar, Gorge du Tarn or Kalymnos, as steeper climbing is more favoured. To be honest I wonder if one reason is simply because it’s so out there. Normally, with 99.9% of crags you start at the bottom and climb up. Here you abseil in and the exposure whacks you instantly in the face. I’m not sure I ever quite got on top of it.

For the full on experience you need to be on the open walls, where you can’t hide. Belays are hanging and there are no escape routes either side. For once climbing really does appear totally extreme to the onlookers daring to look down over the edge to the cliffs and river 700m below.

Verdon Wide is Love not Nic enjoying himself on the wrong belay

I wanted this experience on my first route ‘Wide is Love’, a highly recommended single pitch 6a. Aside from the sheer act of abseiling down into the void, there is the problem of finding the right route. The new guidebook is utter rubbish and got us into bother more than a couple of times. As I lowered down to meet Nic on the belay, who was relishing every second and grinning from ear to ear, I felt my heart pound hard. “This doesn’t look like 6a”. As I started climbing my mouth went dry and after 3 clips had to reverse. It wasn’t 6a, it was 6c and when you get on 6cs at the Verdon you know about it.

Getting used to the area was especially hard as my fitness seemed to be at an all time low. Strong yes, fit absolutely not. The day before leaving for France I managed to fall high off the 6c part of ‘In Brine’ 8a at Raven Tor, past all the difficulties. This had barely made sense to me at the time, but soon enough on the multi pitch routes, I acknowledged the problem.

Verdon A Tout Coeur  6b+ pitch on A tout coeur

We were pounding through the quality, but my arms and head were taking a bashing. Taking it slowly didn’t seem slow enough. We climbed ‘A tout coeur’ a super seven pitch 6b+.as well as other easier classics. I started to get a feel for the harder grades on a beautiful single pitch 6c called ‘Un petit coin de paradis’ and a steep 7a called ‘Dimension Cachèe’ next to it. Things seemed ok, until I got on a string of similarly graded routes which led me to question route grading the world over. On the classic Debilof (6c+) I simply couldn’t reach a hold, neither on lead or top rope.

Verdon Marches du Temps  Ulli and Toni warming up on the top 6a+ pitch of Les Marches du Temps

Camping next to us at La Palud, were soon to be our friends ‘The Germans’, Ulli and Toni. They had just put up a new multi pitch 8b and slowly we cottoned onto the fact that they were in fact superstar wads. Climbing with them one day I just felt like a total beginner again. Hanging out on these kind of walls seemed like having a cup of tea and they always finished in the dark, settling once for a ‘liquid’ dinner when the pizza van had closed.

We discovered the Surveiller et Pounir wall about half way through the holiday. Wow – it led us to doing most of the stuff on this wall, including one of the best routes we did – a 6b/+ called Sidermek. I led the two pitches as one 50 metre pitch and wondered if it was the best 6b+ I had ever done. It was not easy of course, as none of the routes here seem to be, but incredible.

Verdon Guere Epais 7c  Nic leading Guere Epais 7c (we are very small - and this is just a one pitch route!)

Along the way we met up with Natalie and Paul from Sheffield and Mike and Linda from Dorset. After the Germans left (who had spent a whopping 5 weeks there), there seemed to be few climbers around and it was nice to have others watching out for you. When it rains there, you are potentially stuffed, unless you’ve been careful to leave your abseil line in place. Whilst the weather was spectacular for the most part, there were a few showers towards the end.

Verdon Katherine  The gorge from another angle

Disappointingly for me it wasn’t until the final day when my arms actually kicked into action. That’s a summer of climbing at Rubicon for you. This day I managed four spectacular 7as - you might think that doesn't sound up to much, but with Verdon grading I was perfectly contented.  I can see myself now scaling up, what for me was my best experience – L’Incal: 40 metres of joy. Unfortunately this was the kind of form I was hoping for earlier in the trip in order to sample the long climbs of this level like Marches du Temps and Fête des Nerfs. Oh well, I bought a beautiful black and white poster marking all the routes to stick up on my wall, to once again remind me to go back, hopefully soon.

Anyway, no rest for me, tomorrow I'm off to Denmark to do some coaching at 'Dolls on Walls' (maybe something got lost in translation)! This is an all female climbing weekend! So I'll have to put my fitness to good use next week, not this one!