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Flight to Nice

In Freyr we free two direct steep lines:

  • 110m Love Me Tender + the airy Pull Marine;
  • 85m Samarkande that crazy classic + Les Tourtereaux (L3-L4).
A multipitchteam has seen the light. A day later I send my sport climbing project and Ben submits another two groundbreaking (soon acclaimed) research papers. Celebration!

 

A cordée ventures into the last pitch of Al'legne, eponymous multipitch of the rock.
Les Tourtereaux L3.

And what better way than to take a long weekend! We look to where the V-shaped geese squadrons are flapping. South! The great summer in Belgium has become autumn, the recently busy scorched mediterranean has become its own soft self again, so let's go!

 

 

It's late in the evening. The business people would tell you it's thursday. But they better grab their suitcase tight. Lo and behold as an Airbus A320 alights amidst the lights of the French rivièra. Ben and me jump out of the plane and deploy our masterplan that starts at La Côte d'Azur and will bring us to windy canyons of legends.

 

Eperon Sublime (third 'till last are pics from the internet)

The next morning we stand at the edge of the cliffs near Belvédère de la Carelle in the Gorges du Verdon. Below, plumes of mist rise as clouds don't know which way to shoot up in the canyon cauldron. Griffon vultures glide past, a bit later skimming over from behind my back, guarding the wall, not at all bothered or scared by these little slender two-legged creatures.

 

 

I vouch for the abseils down to a hanging forest, inaccessible in any other way. Multipitch number one, Eperon Sublime (Luna Bong), obviously dates from the era (1970) when it was deemed heroic to traverse footless by campusing on slopers and aid gear, with rope drag heavier to pull than your own weight. There's only one way out. You do or you do not, there's no try.

Afterwards we look for a sleeping bag for Ben as he forgot his and it will freeze again at night. The lady of the local climbing shop is surprised to see climbers and doesn't hesitate to help us out, lending us a bunch of blankets.

At Malines the next day we find seldomly seen cliffs, bowing over the Verdon's thundering river for several hundreds of meters. Our sunny side of the hurtling stream is gentler and allows for comfortable climbing in Arête du Belvédère, the climbing being less tricky than the exhilarating approach down, the only way to the Verdon stream. We encounter many cordelettes and maillons in bushes, improvised rappel points, or fool's rappel points as they would have you ending up dangling in the air, out of rope and nerves.

 

 

Day 3 (Sunday) we abseil into the abyss, landing on a balcony jungle. We have several multipitches to choose on the Dalles Grises wall in front of us. We plan to start with four 6a+ pitches in Atout Cœur. The second pitch I lead. Ben takes the belaying role while I get an idea of why Verdon is famous for phantom bolt lines (to understand this, read history below).

Bolts are spacious and incoherent. I consult my partner in crime, way down and around a corner with our bag and topo. I have to go even more right? I unknowingly lead an airy delicate link-up to another line, a 6a that Ben then leads, us thinking it's the 6a+ of the initially started (and intended) line. Then I start in what we think is the fourth 6a+ ("oh I'll keep the backpack with the food, thermoses – and a few bricks I guess – on for this, less hassle")...

 

There were people here before and they were not so fortunate.

..but which is actually a way higher graded "déroutant et obligatoire" (confusing and spatiously bolted rock you can only free climb) "passaggio sconcertante". Via Dingomaniaque I end up in the crux pitch of sandbagged Démon: zeven a obligé. "Your 6a's have big feet while mine... I think this is not my style?!"... I'm dangling off the big rock face with the backpack... "There is climbing between the bolts" camptocamp remarks. You know what they say.. If there are no bolts, you'll have to be bold yourself.

Whether I scream like Deep Purple in Sweet Child In Time, or rather like Jim Morrisson in The End, I can't say, but surely I bite my way through purple lightnings. This lunacy is enough to make Rambo cry like a baby.

Then Ben comes after and narrowly — with two fingers of each hand laybacking on a little sloping dent, with his right foot aiming wide at head's height — sends this pitch which is more demanding than its French grade suggests. We end with Cœur de Verre, that way opening the new multipitchcombi Sac à Cochon (pig bag). Bye Gorges du Verdon. After three days of ultrafocus we prepare to return to our jobs. To Nice-airport.. with a stop in the Gorges du Loup! Not even our fear for French drivers will stop us.

 

We walk up Castellane on the banks of the Verdon river upstream. Painting by Signac (1902).

Wild water surrounds us, thundering down steep overgrown flanks, sculpting out unpredictable paths. We walk halfway the air in this jungle canyon as we follow a piece of abandoned road of which the ruins linger along an overhanging rock for two hundred metres. Rockfall smashed the blacktop and nature has taken over. If they'd drop you here, you'd think apocalypse has happened, the more if you reach the Loup village with its fancy hotel mouldering away, and the lost glory of its decaying candy factory. I wouldn't guess that we're just 30 carminutes away from Nice' airport sticking out of the Côte d'Azur.

Eventually we put our bags on the ground and warm-up in the well-hidden sector of Hermitage, that baffles us with pristine solid limestone which seems unclimbed, and providing logic lines mostly in the sixth grades, and feet to put on the most subtle and surprising features with a friction to rival sandstone. UKClimbing consistently gives its maximum of stars.

 

 

We go to the ultrafamous Mesa Verde sector in the midst of the jungle of waterfalls, though only 15 minutes walking from the Pont Du Loup village. The crag is known for its seventh grades.. Here there's more polish but it doesn't matter thanks to the outspoken features. We will meet the seemingly only climbers of this long weekend, two locals.

Me and Ben both send Hopi Birthday and Pas de bras, pas de chocolat first go. We discover that the Loup's flow also brings to several multipitches. Verdon, I am really curious for a few other grandes voies like La Demande, Tarabiscotage, Massacre, Pincée de Ketchup, Rêve de Fer, Surveiller et Punir, Pichenibule, Tandem pour L'Evidence, Gueule d'Amour, Durandal, L'Ange en Décomposition, l'Encatête, and single pitches Eve Line, Aquarelle, Et le Temps Cessa D'exister and Série limitée, but Gorges Du Loup will deserve a comeback too.

 
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Notes

* This chronological plethora of random events illustrates an evolution towards the first hard sport climbing route equiped rap-down: Dingomaniaque