Editor's Note: When Americans tell stories about climbing in France, their tales usually include a mention of the food, the wine, or an encounter with a crazy Frenchman. Patagonia Climbing Ambassador Jasmin Caton recently returned from a climbing trip to France's Verdon Gorge, where, it seems, she enjoyed close encounters with all three.
Prior to coming to France on a climbing trip, the Verdon Gorge held mythical status in my climbing imagination. Friends who had climbed there spoke of long, rad, sparsely-bolted or mixed routes that could only be accessed by long, steep, intimidating rappels. If you weren't able to get yourself back up and out via your chosen route, you could expect an all-night hike in your rock shoes just to exit the gaping maw of the gorge.
The good thing about having the Verdon Gorge built up to mythical proportions by these stories was that when I finally got a chance to climb here it wasn't nearly as intimidating as I expected. Don't get me wrong, the week I just spent climbing in the Verdon Gorge was anything but mellow; as different from last year's Kalymnos club-med bolt clipping vacation as an Indian Creek offwidth is from a Ceuse pocket ladder.
We started off the trip on La Demande, the popular moderate classic of the area, featuring 10-11 pitches up to 6a (5.10b). Really fun climbing, but I wouldn't recommend it if 5.10 is your limit, some of the pitches only have one or two bolts in 50m. I appreciated my trad background on the final several pitches which are full on back-and-foot chimneys. Don't forget to dangle your pack and move your gear to the front gear loops; my lucky leaver biner with my Houdini, knife and prussik loop did the old magical unclip as I writhed my way up. The saddest part was Evan actually caught it while belaying but then fumbled it as he tried to clip it to his harness and it did the full 400m plummet into the scrubby bushes at the base of the route. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only item we sent into the abyss....