Friday, May 28, 2010

The French Files, Part 2...the Verdon!

We left the Gorges du Tarn and headed straight for the multi-pitch adventures of the Verdon Gorge. Single pitch sport cragging is great, but the memories really are made on the all day 10 pitch routes for me. Hanging on the walls, vultures circling below, azure blue river pounding away in the gorge 1,000 feet below you - this is what climbing is all about for me! Oh yeah, and did I mention it is a paradise in the south of France? Can you say amazing wine for 4€, great local produce and anamazing gite we were staying in that was only 23€ a night, totally solar powered and beautiful? Life is getting better every day.

I will break down the Verdon trip into a couple of posts, each focusing on the big routes we did. After countless hours of internet research, it seemed as thought there were 3 pretty classic long routes to tackle, at a good spread of grades as well.

Our first day we decided to try our hand at La Demande, 6a+, 400m. This was the original route that climbed the tallest section of cliff at the Verdon Gorge, as was kind of like first ascent of El Cap for the French in 1968. Being the major weakness of the biggest cliff, the climbing felt right at home being from North America and having done my time on the trad classics: chimney's and cracks, BUT with tons of bolts! I love France!

So in classic Verdon style, we drove up to the top of the cliff, walked 2 minutes to the rap station, and abseiled down 400m to the gorge bottom. We then walked 15 minutes to the base of our route and Voila, we were climbing. Being the first long route of the year for us, Jas and I were psyched to start off mellow for us for a route graded 5.10. Pitches went well, the climbing was fun and it was not nearly as polished as I feared it might be.

Good times for us, and we felt warmed up to tackle the next big route in the gorge: Pichenibule...but that is for next week!

For now here are some photos...and if you want any info on the Verdon, check out this GREAT article from UK Climbing:

Jas starts the 'approach'

The first few pitches of leaning cracks.

Jas follows the crux pitch (5 I think?)

Jas in the exit chimneys. 5.8 chimneys forever with bolts!

Back at home in our lovely Gite!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The French Files, Part 1

Winter finally came to end for me kicking and screaming…it held on for dear life as long as I could let it (or as long as my cool work opportunities could let it!). The season came to a close with helping to administer the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Exam. We ran this program in a new venue: Hatcher Pass and Girdwood Alaska. I would show you all the cool places we went, and fun videos of the candidates working hard and skiing really cool things, but 10 days of long hours and hard work led me to be the biggest bumbly ever on the plane flight home. I didn’t realize my pack was open under my seat on my first flight back from AK, but my camera, ipod and altimeter watch all fell out. Ouch, that is a huge loss, can you say take a match to $1000 dollars? Well, you can’t dwell on that stuff to long, its only money and material goods. Lucky for me, I have great jobs and am not in dire straights financially while I live my dreams. Really, LUCKY ME!

So I got ‘home’ to Squamish for about a day, and then had to go to some meetings for the Backcountry Lodge owners of British Columbia in Penticton, so I got to actually rock climb for a day in Skaha! So psyched to be on the rock again, even got to almost onsight an 11d on the first day, except the baby butt smooth and WET rock at the chains sent me for my first big whipper of the season! Good times.

We returned home to Squamish and basically packed for the next adventure. 5 weeks in France! Clipping bolts, drinking red wine, eating soft cheeses. Holiday!

We started our journey in the Gorges Du Tarn, an area in the Midi-Pyrennes in southern France. It seems that the Tarn is not quite on the radar for global/European tourists, but very much so for the French. No one really spoke a lick of English around there, and Jasmin was forced to open up the corners of her mind of grade school French, and did pretty well. We found a ‘gite’ or room for rent adjacent to someone’s house – very common here, and very practical. We had a small two story place, with a kitchenette, couch, bedroom, washroom, walking distance to everything in the small town of La Malene, all for 32€/night! We stayed in the gorges for 10 days getting hopelessly pumped as we opened up our climbing season.

The gorge is filled with small, old style towns, including monestaries and castles up to 1500 years old. Quite scenic with all the old places and architecture and very green. Trails everywhere for walking, and over 2000 climbing routes in the 3 small river valley’s of the region. What more could a climber want? It was also quite wet; we had rain every single day, but luck for us the rock dries fast and most cliffs are steep enough that they stay dry in all but the heaviest downpours. That is what else a climber could want!

The limestone of the gorges is all a bit overhanging and extremely pocketed. It tends to be sharp, so our skin, baby soft from ski gloves, took a beating. But the 25-30m overhanging routes whipped us into shape pretty quick, and by the end of our stay I had already sent a slew of 5.12s, so the head was back in it. Good thing, because the next leg of our journey has taken us to the classic Verdon Gorge, for some committing 1000’ foot long multi pitch old school style routes…but more about that next time. Enjoy some photos from the first part of our trip.

The town of La Malene

Jasmin climbs 'C-100 Francs'