Verdon Gorge

Article written by Dan Sansuchat

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As the wind sheer from the cliff’s edge blasted our faces and my instinctive inner voice told me that there was still time to back out, I methodically inched closer to see the multi-pitch adventure that lay beneath us.  I peered down over the limestone top out, looking for bolts to clip, and scanned the panorama of the Verdon Gorge cliffs below attempting to make out landmarks from the guidebook route pictures.  The angle of the topo route map was taken from a wall facing perspective and rendered it almost useless from our vantage point.  Verifying the location once more, as if checking the abseil beta a third time would somehow make me feel more confident for what l was about to launch into, I gathered as much bravery as I could muster and fully committed to lead my team by being the first to descend into the abyss.  

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Although there was the possibility of rescue if we got stranded on a route that proved to be too much, I felt it was my climber’s responsibility and duty to rely on my training and prior experiences to make it through the tough challenges.  So often we take on calculated risks that have a safety net of knowing that we are just a phone call away from a bailout.  But adventure is found both through physical challenges and from the mental journey that we embark upon, with the later being the more daunting beast that we must continually slay.  Not only does the fear of getting injured or even death remain lurking through our sub-conscious mind, but we sometimes find the most intimidating power sink can be our fear of failing and how others will tell our story of defeat.  But as I descended further down the exposed vertical face, the wind speeds calmed to a gentle breeze and with it too faded my apprehension.  Fear had kept me safe but limited my growth as a climber and caused irrational hesitation limiting my power to push forward.  It was the management of irrational fear that allowed me to forge ahead with maximal commitment.  The mental training from Arno Ilgner and Jeremy Kupferman guided me up to this point, but it was now time to put the strategies into practice.

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The Côte d’Azur, a.k.a. the French Riviera, had never been on my radar for top 10 places in the world to climb. Upon first glance of the France climbing guidebooks, I became hesitant to explore the region as it was marked as mostly limestone climbing.  It was my two prior trips to El Potrero Chico, Mexico and getting used climbing on choss and slippery sport multi-pitch there that had given me a prejudice that all limestone was created equal.  I would quickly discover that Europe’s limestone was nothing like what I had touched before and learned to expect unique and challenging variations in rock with an abundance of beautiful lines at each new stop on our tour.  I believe the gem of France sport climbing is in the Verdon Gorge but you are surrounded by world class crags only a short drive away, including Saint Jeannet and Gorges du Loup.  

We had arrived in early June and found the area to be quite empty with the smattering of tourists visiting the gorge pre-peak season.  No doubt we must have missed the memo, but it was totally a multi-pitch sport climber’s dream with sending temps from dawn to dusk.  We could get away with climbing with a single 70m rope but twin ropes 60m were clutch for the long abseils.  The lovely town of La Palud that sits atop of the valley made it easy to grab supplies and the most updated Verdon Gorge guidebook was written in English.  Honestly, I would have been happy to spend two weeks there and climb nowhere else in France, but I am never one to sticking to one place for too long.

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This European adventure started with an absurdly cheap roundtrip ticket to Geneva and an idea of what could be.  I prepared with loads of training in the gym and purchased a few guidebooks written in English.  I am glad that I did not just rely only on the limited beta from mountain project.  France is so much more and nothing like what I had been lead to believe besides the abundance of delicious baguettes and creperies.  The French are generally friendly and generous, of course, just remember to be polite and humble.  What did I learn most from this trip?  Keep it light and always be flexible.  After all, the main objective of this trip was to get beta for future adventures and have fun doing it.  Just remember, don't over prepare and always embrace the true adventure.