For me, the first three months of May were spent in the South of France- the main aim of this trip was to check out some multi-pitches in the Gorges du Verdon. Verdon came about as I was keen to test myself in a different way on a trip - redpointing a challenging multi-pitch would be a new experience and after a bit of research the steep striking tufa system of 'Une Jolie Fleur dans une Peau de Vache' seemed an ambitious yet obvious goal. This is a 300m, 7 pitch, 8b with 3 long endurance pitches in the 8th grade as well as some mid-grade pitches to fill the gaps between. Climbing this bottom to top in a day was the primary goal for the trip in May.
Grade breakdown: 6c, 8b, 7b, 8a, 5b, 8a, 6b!
To be honest, this goal seemed daunting at first, this would be my first experience on a multi-pitch and after a damp spring in the UK, I would have nothing of this intensity or this length to train on. Despite this, I thought it would be a great challenge and was hoping my fitness from years of sport climbing would help me get up this thing!
We set off from Sheffield on the 18 hour drive south to Verdon. The drive felt long, but as soon as we got to the Gorge and saw ‘The Duc’ the impressive cliff that the route ‘Une Jolie Fleur’ scales, I was filled with psyche for the next day when we would get to try this route.
The Duc comes into the sun in the early afternoon, which meant an early 6am start (or early for me). Our aim for day #1 was just to work the second pitch, which at 8b, would likely be the one to give us the most trouble.
So, this is a little painful to write… Having reached the base of the route, we quickly realised:
- WOW, that is long!
- WOW, that route looks amazing!
- WOW, there are two routes branching off the same belay… And we have forgotten the guidebook!
We tried to compare images online to what we could see from the ground, but could not quite figure it out. So, we concluded we had a 50/50 chance of getting the right one, and decided to go with the right-hand line… This was NOT the right choice! Later, after a few tie-ins and shredding a tip or two, we were handed a guidebook, only to see that the left line was actually the correct 8b pitch, the route we were on was 8b+. Though this was disheartening to have put time and effort into something, I was actually quite relieved as I had found the 8b+ pitch quite hard!
After a quick dip in the river (can confirm this was cold) and a quick trip to the boulangerie for a commissary pastry (would be rude not to), we decided to rest, re-grow skin and re-group on the correct line the next day!
Top tip for multi-pitching #1:
- Always take a guide book or a picture of one: the lines are really hard to tell from the ground!
This day started a lot more successfully, with us actually getting on the right route! The 8b pitch has a ledge that you can scramble up, to get to the base of the route, this was really handy as it was large enough to belay on and also leave enough bags to set up camp. After a few tie-ins on this route, Tom and I had figured out all the sections.The route starts up with these amazing two tufa pipes, which you rely on pinching and using knee-bars, it then continues with a really steep, pumpy traverse on crozzly slopers for another 20m, to the crux section on another thin tufa which spits you out on some small crimps to finish.
This tufa style of climbing was still quite new to me and so it took me a few attempts to find the best knee bars, trust the knee bars and climb efficiently on the powerful pinches- we don’t have tufa’s like this at the Tor! After a few tie-ins, the route began to come together, with Tom and I linking this in two long sections, it was going to be a pumpy affair - but doable!
Top tip for multi-pitching #2:
- Be confident in your own abilities: don’t let routes like this intimidate you!
- Take two knee pads and gaffa tape
After a rest day, we decided to check out the higher pitches and see what else was in store for us! This included a bit more logistical planning as we wanted to be travelling as light as possiblel- to save energy hauling a big pack- but have enough food and water to keep us going throughout the whole day… We decided to pack a small bag of energy drinks, bananas, nuts and pastries for the person seconding the pitches to carry up.
We were very fortunate that a French team were trying the route at the same time as us, and had been up the top pitches the day before, doing a considerable amount of cleaning, leaving tick marks to hidden holds and also stashing some water, making the process a lot easier for us.
After the 8b pitch was a very pleasant 7b tufa pitch which was a little pumpy, but nothing to worry about. Followed by the first 8a. Another amazing 30m tufa line, these pitches were spectacular 3* classic at any sport crag! The 8a had a hard-ish crux low down, followed by pure endurance climbing. I figured this was promising as if you fell off the low crux, then you could easily lower to the belay ledge, have a short rest and pull on for another go without wasting too much time or energy. Unfortunately, it also had a sting in the tail by the final bolt, a real test of nerves. I worked this pitch and then completed it on second to ensure I had the beta dialled in, this felt steady once I had an efficient sequence. From here we had a 5c traverse pitch before starting up what we thought would be our final test of the day- a monster pitch- a 55m 8a.
Thankfully between all these pitches we were greeted by goodledges, not hanging belays, making resting, eating and chilling out a lot easier. Our French friends even brought up cheese and bread, providing us with a very continental lunch on the wall!
The final 8a was another tufa line- this one was the steepest of the two and a lot longer, with a crimpy crux at the bottom AND the top, though thankfully there was a knee-bar rest every few bolts to recover from the pump! Tom and I both had two goes at this, really working the beta, so we could hopefully have a fighting chance if we made it here on redpoint! Safe to say, after two tie-ins we were both pretty tired and also incredibly psyched to have figured out the meat of the route.
It’s worth mentioning that the final 6b pitch is such a classic Verdon sandbag: you have to squirm up a flared offwidth, clipping run out, old bolts, not enjoyable when you are tired! After this a ‘quick’ 300m ab to get back to base camp!
Top tip for multi-pitching #3:
- Always take more water than you think for long days on the wall (and pastries)
- Leave any leftover water at the belay’s for future attempts
We treated ourselves to a lie-in (7:30am), I decided I wanted to work the 8b again as I hadn't got the beta as dialled in quite as much as I would like. After a few goes and making some big links, I was more confident on the sequences and could feel myself getting more back in the rests! This felt hard but I was hoping this was due to having a big effort on the wall the previous day. Tom rested…
Top tip for multi-pitching #4:
- Train the knee bar rests on working links, to get fitter and stronger legs
As Tom rested yesterday, he decided to give the route a big effort today as he was feeling fresh! We concluded it would be hard for us both to do a push on the same day, as one of us would either need to haul or carry a bag with food and water while seconding. So Day #5 for me was belaying and hauling- probably harder than climbing!! Tom managed to redpoint all the pitches, only falling once- on pitch #2, the 8b, due to being flashed pumped… Tom’s send was really impressive to watch and got me psyched for an attempt after a well-earned rest day! This also taught me a few things: warm-up well, the first pitch (6c) isn't good enough. Try to climb quickly to the final 8a, to have a big rest before attempting this pitch.
Top tip for multi-pitching #5:
- Don’t try to climb an 8b with a bag on
- Invest in a tag-line/ hauling rope to make this a more lightweight operation
After a rest day, I was feeling quite recovered and ready to give the route a burn… However, the weather had other ideas… Unfortunately, the two previous days had a lot of heavy rain both evenings, meaning that the tufa lines had started seeping… We had seen this weather on the forecast, but the predicted <1mm turned out to be >10mm, meaning the route was a lot wetter than anticipated and now unclimbable.
From there on the weather got worse and worse and the route wetter and wetter, until it was one big seepage line! With the forecast showing seven more days of rain, we made the heartbreaking decision to leave Verdon in search of dry routes, keeping an eye on the forecast to see if a weather window hit in Verdon.
This seemed like a good plan, though we had unfortunately left our draws in the two 8a pitches - ready for my attempt on the route, to save energy putting the draws in. This meant a very long day rescuing the draws. We had to climb multiple wet 6b’s and shuffle along some very slippery ledges to abb down to get these- definitely type two fun!
Top tip for rescuing draws #1:
- Take a clip-stick to minimise wet rock climbing
Even though I did not succeed on this trip in redpointing I am very keen to get back to Verdon to attempt this route again. It was such a great way to experience multi-pitch climbing and challenge myself in new ways!
Ceuse is only two hours from Verdon, so we decided to head here for some onsighting to keep the fitness up incase Verdon dried! For anyone who hasn’t visited Ceuse, this is likely one of the best crags in the world… I hadn’t been for 5 years, and had forgotten the beauty of the lines and the beauty of the crag!
Tom and I had three wonderful days onsighting as many routes as we could. Here are some route recommendations from this trip and our previous trips for anyone visiting in the future:
Zagreb, Berlin sector
Bonnye and Clyde, Demi Lune
Médecine Douce, Cascade
La Reine des Pommes, Un pont sur L’infini
Saint George’s Picos, Biographie
La Petit Illusion, Berlin
Melody Nelson and Angel Dust, Demi Lune (techy)
Lapinerie, Demi Lune
Super Mickey, Cascade
Blocage Violent, Berline
Bibendum, Les Maîtres du Monde
7c/+ (possibly the best grade in Ceuse)
Vagabond d’occident, Cascade
Makach Walou, Berlin
Le Privilège du Serpent, Cascade
La Femme Noire, Demi Lune
Petit Tom, Berlin
Les Colonnettes, Biographie
Face de Rat, Face de Rat
L’ami de tout de Monde, Les Maîtres du Monde
Violent Illusion, Cascade
Photo Credit - Elis Rees
To break the drive up home we stopped in Font for the day and decided to try and complete a circuit. I had never done one before and thought it would be a good way to get a lot of problems done in one day! We decided on the red circuit at Bois Rond: 40 problems from 5b to 7a! What a great day, it was quite warm, making the slabby 6a’s quite challenging (or we blamed the heat anyway)!
Top tip for Font #1:
- Take a Moon Cirrus pad, this was so easy to carry around the forest and was large enough to cover the landings on all these problems