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Lauren Lee high on Eve Line, an ultra classic 7b in the Verdon Gorge, France
Photo by Keith Ladzinski
The Gorges du Verdon
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Surveiller et Punir 7a+, Verdon Gorge
Photo by Francesco Piardi

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Verdon Gorge rock climbing in France

06.11.2009 by Nicholas Hobley

A selection of rock climbs in the fantastic Verdon Gorge, France, an area which witnessed the entire evolution of sport climbing.

The striking Verdon Gorge in France's Haute-Provence is the epitome of multi-pitch rock climbing. The sheer blue-grey, orange and yellow walls host some of the finest routes in the world and the climbs here are an exciting mix of immense exposure and refined technique on immaculate pocketed limestone.

The steep walls of the Gorges du Verdon witnessed the entire evolution of this sport: the long classics established ground-up in the '70's such as La Demande, Ula and Luna Bong are all world-class, but the trad, ground-up approach gave way to the to the introduction and systematic use of bolts in the 1980's and ‘90’s. Single pitch routes became the norm, as did top roping, invented here they say, and bolting from above. For obvious reasons. The Verdon remains unique perhaps also because of this: to reach the routes, you need to abseil down into a truly impressive void.

A frightening drop, above routes that have made their way into the history books; classics such as those mention above stand along side the likes of Pichenibule, Ctuluh, Gwendal, Debiloff Proffondicum, l’Ange en Decomposition, Surveiller et Punir, Papy on sight, Les Specialistes… the list is endless. As is the list of main activists: Jaques Perrier, Jean Marc Troussier, the Remy brothers, Jean Baptist Tribout, Patrick Edlinger, Bruno Clément… all attracted to this incredible limestone which, for its quality, has become world reference point. In truth no article can do justice to Verdon Gorge. To understand why it's climbing's equivalent of a UNESCO World heritage site, you simply have to pay it a visit. You won't be disappointed.


Route Grade Beauty
Adieu Zidane 6a+
Pleasant 100m climb located in the Zidane sector on the final outcrop of the Verdon Gorge, with great view onto Lac de Sainte-Croix. The route weaves its way past a series of overhangs in search of the weakest line up the face. Equipped in 2002 by Bruno Clement, Adieu Zidane is highly recommended for anyone new to multi-pitches and the Verdon.

El Gringo Loco 6a
Nice little three-pitch route up excellent rock, easy to get to as it is located close to the Belvedere Dent d'Aire shortly after La Carel. El Gringo Loco is a good introduction to the longer more exposed climbs in the Verdon.

L'Ange en Décomposition 7a
Another masterpiece by Philippe Maclé, "Ange" is one of the routes in the gorge. The rock quality is outstanding and the climb takes an extremely exposed line up the Fenrir prow with the entire Verdon void beneath your feet. Soloed by Alain Robert, this climb is simply unmissable.

Mangoustine Scatophage 6c+
Beautiful route up superb slabs, not polished in the slightest. The first pitch is fairly run-out at times and climbs up a series of small pockets and 'gouttes d'eau', this is then followed by an exposed 5+/6a second pitch traverse. The third pitch climbs a smooth yellow slab and contains the crux but this can be aided (AO). Belay on the magnificent Coriolis tree, which seems like a true work of art! The difficulties ease off on the final two pitches but the climbing remains first-class.


Pichenibule 6c+/AO, 7b+
A truly classic outing, a step into climbing history and a masterpiece of route finding by Jacques "Pschitt" Perrier in the Escales sector. The route climbs diagonally rightwards and finishes up the ultra-smooth and exposed slabs next to Belevedere de la Carelle, via the infamous Bombè overhang which was finally freed by none other than Patrick Berhault in 1980. Hailed as one of the hardest free-climbs at the time, the route has lost none of its reputation though the powerful 7b+ crux can be aided at A0, bringing the entire outing down to a more moderate 6c+.

Rêve de Fer 6b+
Hailed as one of the best multi-pitches in the Verdon, Rêve de Fer is quite simply a must. The rock quality and ambience render this 4 pitch climb a truly unforgettable outing.

Surveiller et Punir 7a+
Fabulous 7a+ multi-pitch, one of the best and most photographed in the Verdon Gorge, first ascended in 1981 by Jean Marc Troussier. After a gentle first two pitches the route kicks in with a technical 7a+ crux, to finish in style with a sustained and not to be understimated 7a final pitch.

Trous Secs 6c
Trous Secs is a pleasant route up pockets and "gouttes d'eau". The 6c crux pitch is technical and ascends a series of small holds with poor footholds. The final pitch is somewhat polished.


Location: La Palud sur Verdon, France
Best time of year: Spring and autumn. The Gorges du Verdon are situated on a plateau at almost 1000m: summer can often be too hot, while from October onwards it may be too cold to climb.
Gear: For the multi-pitch sports routes two 60/70m ropes are indespensable. Bring 2 prussik loops for the abseils and 12 quickdraws. The Verdon requires perfect abseiling technique. Never forget to tie a knot in the end of the ropes, and tie into prussik loops, prior to abseiling.
Beauty: *****
Height: 400m
Grade: 4a ? 8c
Number of routes: 800
Bibliography: "Escalade au Verdon" by P. Légier, F. Ristori and A. Jamin
Links: www.leilagramusas.fr - official website of the local climbing association, with guidebook index of all routes

Getting there
From the north: take the A6 motoway to Avignon and take the N100 for Apt, then Manosque and Riez. From here take the D56 to Moustiers, and continue along the D952 to La Palud.
From the south: from Nice take the N85 to Castellane, and continue along the D952 for La Palud. Turn left shortly before entering the village along the D23, the panoramic Route des Cretes, which leads to the Belvedere de la Carelle lookout at Escales and the routes.

The climbing
Highly technical slab climbing on steep compact limestone.

Food and Accommodation
La Palud is the base camp for climbers, offering numerous campgrounds. The international dialing code for France is +33
Camping
Camping Municipal**, route de Castellane, 04-92-77-38-13.
Bourbon*, route de Moustiers Sainte Marie, 04-92-77-38-17.
Boulogne (à la ferme), route de la Maline, 04-92-77-30-27.
Bourras (à la ferme), route de Castellane, 04-92-77-33-54.
Julliard (à la ferme), route de la Maline, 04-92-77-38-18.
La Graou (à la ferme), route de Moustiers Sainte Marie (6 kms), 04-92-77-38-22.

Gîtes & Refuges:
Le Chalet Le Refuge, les bondils (8 kms), 04-92-83-68-45.
Le Chalet De La Maline, route de la Maline (8 kms), 04-92-77-38-05.
Le Wapiti, le village, 04-92-77-30-02.
L'arc En Ciel, place de l'église, 04-92-77-32-28
L'étable, route des Crêtes, 04-92-77-30-63.
Gite Rural Du Serre, les Michels, 04-92-83-61-90

Hotels:
Le Panoramic**, route de Moustiers Sainte Marie, 04-92-77-35-07.
Le Provence**, route de la Maline, 04-92-77-38-88.
Les Gorges Du Verdon***, route de la Maline, 04-92-77-38-26.
L'auberge Des Crêtes**, route de Castellane, 04-92-77-38-47.

Rooms:
Le Perroquet Vert, le village, 04-92-77-33-39.
La Valdenay, hameau de Chaumas, 04-92-77-37-92.
Les Michels, Châteauneuf les Moustiers (5 kms), 04-92-83-61-45.
L'enchâstre, Châteauneuf les Moustiers (10 kms), 04-92-83-76-12.
Maison D'adele, route des crêtes, 04-92-77-30-34

Other:
Le Bureau Des Guides (mountain guides), le village, 04-92-77-30-50.
Le Perroquet Vert (climbing shop), le village, 04-92-77-33-39.
Bureau du tourisme, tel.fax 04-92-77-32-02


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