La Palud Sur VerdonWe encountered rain on the drive and more rain. This actually seems to be the theme so far on the trip. Cruising into the canyon we were blown away by the grandeur and beauty this rural French town possessed. Tenderly cared for fields of lavender, small gardens, neatly kept stone and stucco two-story homes with healthy free roaming animals… Brian, Whitney, Keith and I all reveled at the thought of the time we would spend in this beautiful location and the climbing that we would do.
The sheer space between the valley floor and the summit left me to believe that there wasn’t a place on earth comparable in quality and exposure as the Verdon Gorge. The experience I would have dropping in on my first climb was sought after, but much patience would be put to a test as we waited for the rain to stop. We were tormented for two full days of ominously dark skies and monsoon rains. We all were subject to the dark-side of things; however, the skies parted and on the third day the sun blessed us with an afternoon of climbing.
Keith of course was shooting photos, so Whitney, Brian and I were limited to climbing the top pitches in a party of three. It was going to test our ability to deal with the exposure straight out of the gates. We scoured the guide for a reasonable warm up and settled on a 6c (5.11b). I didn’t care about the grade so much, I just wanted to feel some French limestone and start stretching my travel-worn muscles.
Finding your correct line on the drop in is eminent unless you can climb at a high level, and I don’t mean strength. Strength doesn’t seem to benefit you much here. In my exuberance I dropped us down a 7b+ or 5.12c for our first climb. The faces are minimally featured and as I lowered, "I think this is going to be one hell of a 5.11." Whitney and Brian found the name of the climb painted above my rappel and dropped in bringing the news, that the climb we were on was a number and letter grade harder. It didn’t matter and we roshamboed to see who would get to take the first lead out.
Generally, I'm a real champion at this game, but I lost miserably and resolved to top-rope out. After hanging for what seemed like forever I decided that I would like to lead my first climb in the gorge, this meant that someone was going to have to drop back in. The rock was pristine and the climb was full value. It was technical, thin, reachy, and extremely challenging, just what I look for in a good climb. Before entering the crux I pulled from a jug crimp to a dual pocket feature with neither pocket being bigger or deeper than the top of a #2 pencil with polished non-existent feet. I knew immediately this place would take a little getting used to, and some climbs might be limit me with a height handicap.
Our first day was short but we made the most out of the climbing. We weren’t able to get an early start the next day and the afternoon storm was looking more imposing by the minute. We dropped in and top-roped four pitches before the rain moved in. Whitney had arrangements to pick Beck, Sam and Roman up from the Marseille airport in the afternoon the following day. Sharing one car between seven was going to be a challenge. Our quaint living quarters at L’Escales geit would get interesting. Most of us were experiencing cabin fever… Our days of rain consisted of one café to the next in many of the towns surrounding La Palud. Running our errands and trying to make the most of our time in France.
We came to the resolve that we should get another car to accommodate the size of our group better. The forecasts for clear skies and sunshine were sorrowfully met with big wet clouds of grey… Whitney and Brian took off for the Marseille airport to pick up another car and our friends arriving. Keith and I helplessly waited at the mercy of the weather… By mid-day the sun broke through and we headed to the flowering meadows where we could enjoy the sun. Expecting B to return early we had turned on one of our radios and waited for his arrival. Not long, Brian’s voice statically came across our two-way radio to let us know that he was pulling back into La Palud. We quickly made arrangements to get into the canyon. The day would be a salvageable climbing day.