Archive for holiday

Zipping up the man suit and enjoying some old man shit

Posted in Climbing with tags , , on May 4, 2011 by bridbeast

When I first peered over the edge of the Verdon Gorge I felt sick. I grasped the damp railing of the belvedere tight and leaned over to get a better look at the crag – a soaring buttery yellow buttress drapped in cloud and mist.

The Verdon, looking moody.

Topos and guidebooks can never prepare you for the immensity of a big crag like the Verdon. It’s easy to plan out your dream climbs at home – “a couple of pitches to the rim, 6b+, we can climb that” – but the reality can be sobering. Those 6b+ pitches turn out to be over 200 feet of vertical limestone lost amongst plunging groove lines and fear zones of orange overhanging rock.

Intimidating enough in the sunshine. But the cold driven rain reminded us that the Verdon is a semi-mountain environment, where bad things happen even to well prepared teams.

The first – and only – routes we did were fine, slabby little numbers with belays perched over the drop. Our abseil system provided the excitement, with a tag-line allowing us to climb routes with a single 70m sports rope. Abseiling down on just one rope, a chunky knot jammed into the bolt at the top and the tiny purple cord getting snagged on everything, felt insecure at first, but I think would work as a great system for the big sports routes in the Gorge.

An easy route on a sunny day, but the exposure doesn't go away.

After this we say thunderstorms over the hills around the Gorge every day. Sometimes the days started with blue skies and the promise of routes, but it didn’t take long for the weather to turn. Neither of us were keen to get caught below the rim in a ferocious storm. Even on the lower crags the downpours started lamost without warning, drenching us before we could get off twenty metre sports routes.

I struggled to get my leading head on at first, despite Mark telling me: “Zip up your man suit!” But when it came, it was worth the wait. Stepping out of a rest into the fierce crux of Marco Polo (6c), pulling up on tiny pockets and edges, I forgot about the distance to the next bolt, didn’t let fear of a scary clip paralyse me, and subsumed inner chatter with the moves. The falls, when they came, were casual. Exhaustion and failing skin, not fear, were the limitations.

How would that feel high on the immaculate walls of the Verdon Gorge? Hopefully I’ll find out in the autumn.

Finally, some sun! Sore tips after attempting Marco Polo, F6c, near Toulon.

Finding only bad weather forecasts on Meteo France.

Eating cake in Fontainebleau.