Gorges du Verdon

Verdon is one of those places where climbing history was written 40 years ago: in the 1980s the Gorge du Verdon was the place to be and the worlds best climbers pushed the limits of climbing further establishing some of the hardest and most visionary multi-pitch routes of the world. Photos of the steep walls and fantastic tufa lines exposed hundreds of meters above the torrential river on the valley ground were printed in all climbing magazines. Seeing those iconic photos, you will never get this spot out of your mind …

To be honest, I loved to see all those photos and I had heard a lot of stunning stories from Verdon. So I was quite happy when we decided that our upcoming climbing trip with the DAV Felskader BW would lead us to this spot.

Climbing ‚Les marches du temps‘ …

The Verdon Gorge is a 25km long river canyon in south-eastern France. The impressive walls which reach up to 700m and the turquoise Verdon river made canyon well known and it is considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful and may the second biggest after the US‘ Grand Canyon. Verdon is not only popular for hiking and kayaking, but especially for climbing and provides a variety of 1,500 routes including cracks, pillars, and seemingly countless walls, and range in distance from 20m to over 400m.

Standing on top of the steep walls looking down hundreds of meters on the turquoise river on the valley ground is breathtaking. What makes climbing in Verdon quite stunning, is that you have to rappel down the wall first before you begin to climb from the bottom. You have to choose your route very wisely: if are not able to climb up to the top out again, you are forced to take a very long hike out of the canyon again. As some routes begin in the middle of the wall, this escape is not always possible. In this case, the guide book recommends considering a base jump. In other words, you should be sure that you are up to the route you are trying …

Checking the guidebook together …

We picked some easier routes around 7a for the first days, so we were quite confident to climb our selected routes. Looking at the lines and grades, we spent fewer thoughts about the right location of our routes. And it is super hard to see into the wall from above and to pick the right anchor chain for rappelling. There are so many bolts at the top and the cliff looks confusing similar at multiple spots. Missing your line you can easily end up trapped in the middle of the wall – and we rappeled several times within the first days. Afterward, we became more careful about the right location of our routes …

It is hard to describe the character of Verdon because the routes are so different from well-protected wall climbing to super scary chimney climbing. On the other hand side, I am sure everyone can find a route that fits his style. We mostly avoided the scary chimneys and searched for exposed lines through the compact walls like ‚Les marches du temps‘ [7a+].

Most of the routes had around four to eight pitches which were good to handle. And what surprised me most that these routes were bolted very well. I had read some stories about up to six meters between the bolts and except in a few routes, the protection is quite good. It is recommended to study the (often tongue-in-cheek) comments in the guide book carefully and may avoid the routes which are hard to protect even with friends and cams or offer no backup retreat.

Ole on the top-out slab …

During our time in Verdon, we stayed at the camping municipal near La Palud-sur-Verdon which was quite cheap and near the cliff. If you are more interested in climbing this is a good choice otherwise you may want to camp on the other side of the canyon near the big lake. On rest days you can explore the canyon with the turquoise river and take a bath at some scenic spots far away from the other tourists.

This was not completely successful in our case although we went to a remote spot at the river. But after some hours two French Instagram guys hiked along the river filming their dangerous adventures with their new smartphones. They looked as if they came right out of the gym wearing no shirts posing all the time … They used some ropes attached over the rapids on this spot to get over the river. As they were not as sporty as they looked like and the ropes were only for hands, we already were seriously afraid that they would fall into the rapids. One guy made it back safely, but the other one was trapped on the other side. So he decided to cross the torrential river swimming: first, he threw his shoes irretrievably into the river and then he had to be rescued out of the rapids. Quietly, barefoot and without taking pictures of their heroic adventures anymore, they walked back again …

Team flash of ‚Rattlesnake‘ [7b] …

Even though Verdon is more known for multi-pitch climbing, there are also some sectors with sport routes. Especially the Hulk cave is a nice spot to climb with stunning lines. As Verdon was rediscovered in the last years for sport climbing, some more sectors were bolted in the last months …

All in all, I enjoyed the days in Verdon with stunning multi-pitch climbing in those huge exposed walls. The lines there are breathtaking and there are especially two of them that I want to try next time: ‚Tom et je ris‘ and ‚Hulkosaure‘. So I am already looking forward to returning to Verdon for another time …

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