Monday, 20 June 2022

Spigolo, Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère

The extreme warm weather of May and June has been relentless, and for Friday, forty degrees was forecasted for Toulouse with even warmer temperatures further west. Thus me and Alex went to the High Pyrenees for some colder temps, even though the meteorologists talked about temperatures of above 30 even above the tree line. 

Approaching in early morning. Already well above 20 degrees at 1800 masl!


Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère. Spigolo is the obvious spur on the left

One of the classics in the Pyrenees that J. has done before we met is Spigolo on the impressive pillar Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère, as such I was happy to find someone else to climb it with.

L2 5c R. Not perfect rock, some funky gear

Spigolo is Italian for ‘spur’, and I guess that the first ascensionist, Raymond Despiau, was inspired by the similarities in look to the spurs of the Dolomites. Something else that he was clearly inspired by was the alpine methods to murder the impossible by bolting aid-ladders whenever the rock got too blank for their free-climbing abilities. Amazingly enough lots of the rivets put in place in 1967 are still there and are still used for direct aid by most parties on the route. Some of the pitons used for protection also likely dates from the late 60s, by the look of them.

L3 6c. Three pitons according to the topo. One of them is still there.

The route was freed by Serge Casteran in 1984, at 7a and 7b for the two hardest pitches. Mr. Casteran was— and still is to this day—a complete master of free climbing, but I strongly suspect that there are more than one hold missing from that ascent thirty years ago. To be fair, it was warm on the wall, with temperatures well above 25 degrees, but neither me nor Alex freed L5 or L6 — neither on lead nor following. I also got really tired from trying to link L6 were I had a hang on the rope somewhere in the middle. Normally, both of us should be OK on vertical 7bs... 

L5, 7a+. Or so. Bolts everywhere for the convenience of the A0 climber

Nowadays there are all type of fixed equipment on the route. Some old rivets from the 60s, 8 mm expansion bolts which look like they are from the early 80s, 10 mm and even 12 mm bolts from more recent times, and lots of pitons of various type and age — there is even an old wooden piton threaded with a fairly new sling!

L9 6a+. The rock starts to be good!

L10 6c. "Wendenstöcke-like quality rock"

Gear: a set of wires from small to medium and a set of cams from micro to camalot #1 (red). The smallest we placed was a black totem (#0.5 11.7 mm at its minimum range). The red camalot was likely superfluous. Twelve draws including five 60 cm draws (perhaps more if you want to link pitches) and a double shoulder length sling, plus something for the belays. We climbed on a single 60m rope and had a haul-rope/zip line.

Hauling is fine. We climbed L1, L2 and L10 with a bag which we hauled on all other pitches; this worked well.  Due to the extremely high temperatures we hauled 7 litres of water!

Approach: Walk in to the cabins of Ansabère from the parking at Pont Lamary(1 hour), then take the path leading up to the Col de Pétragème and scramble up to the base of the spur (about 1 hour more). There is drinking water at the cabins.

L0 2a 10m. Scramble up and right some 10-15m to the top of a small detached pillar and rope up and belay from a single bolt. 

L1 4c 35m. Easy climbing, but pay attention to finding the most solid rock. The first bolt after some 10 m. Do not stop at the first belay (3 old bolts) but keep going another 5 m to a second belay with some slightly newer bolts. Two bolts and a few pieces of gear.

L2 5b R 55m. Hike up ledges up to a steeper pillar and find the first bolt some 5m to the right of the left edge of the pillar. Then some pitons and some questionable gear on decidedly average rock leads to a good belay on new bolts on a comfortable ledge below a short steep dihedral on the left side of the arete.

L3 6c 20m. A steep dihedral. One bolt at the start, then some micro friends and an old piton to easier climbing. Only two pieces on fixed protection on this pitch. Good semi-hanging belay on bolts.

L4 6b 25m. Some fixed protection, but mostly on gear. Belay on bolts.

L5 7a+ 18m. Well hard and bolted as an A0 ladder for aid-climbers so there are bolts everywhere but not always in the best place for a free ascent. No gear needed.

L6 7b? 20m. Very hard, see above for the bolting. Bolts a little bit further apart and there are some obligatory 6c moves if free climbing, so climbers who are in well above their head should probably bring hooks. This is might actually be the reason why this pitch felt so hard, as I can imagine that it is pretty easy to break holds with hooks as the rock is pretty friable. No gear needed.

L7 6a+ 15m. A short traverse leftwards. Three bolts. No need for any gear. Excellent rock.

L8 6b+? 35m. Runout on questionable fixed gear with very few opportunities to supplement with friends/wires. The hardest parts are well protected by brand new bolts, but I doubt the mandatory grade is below 6b+ unless you bring hooks. Excellent rock. We found this very hard for the grade.

L9 6c 30m. The original route goes out left (at 6b), the direct version goes right on really good rock. Brilliant climbing past many bolts to a finish on a traverse out right on pitons. No friends/wires.

L10 5c R 30m. Two bolts and no gear. The first bolt is some 10 m up and slightly to the right of the belay (above the bulge and well above the difficulties of the pitch). Go left around the small corner then back up right to very easy climbing on solid rock. (Note: The route Borrokan Aske comes up from the right, and it is possible to traverse into this (7a+) after the first bolt).

Descent: Rap from the top down  the other side. First rap is 29m, second rap 28m. Then go a few meter straight out from the wall before starting to scramble down and skiers left to the saddle (very airy). Keep traversing past some cairns until you reach a red couloir with loose rock. This is where we went wrong, apparently ‘you arrive at the base of an easy couloir that allows you to return to the plateau behind the Petit Pic d'Ansabère, then descend the grassy slopes of the Petit Pic d'Ansabère towards the south to reach the Col de Pétragème before walking back to the Cabane d'Ansabère’. (Description within quotation marks is translated from here.)

Across the brèche/saddle. So far so good....

Instead of scramble up the couloir for 30 m we scrambled down this for about 250 m with some difficulties using a less than stellar improvised anchor to rappel past a snow field until it was possible to reach the scree-field below the pillar via a traverse diagonally down left on steep and loose terrain.

We walked down the scree forever until it is possible to traverse skiers right back towards the pillar. This took us around 4 hours and felt pretty serious at times.

Sheep herding at altitude with Petit Aiguille d'Ansabère in the background


Wednesday, 18 May 2022

RACS, Ordesa

As it has been quite warm the last week I wanted to escape the heat and head up to the mountains. I already had a date for about doing RACS in the Ordesa valley in late May, but my prospective partner had to bow out because of a family visit and  I was left without a partner. Luckily I randomly ran into a German climber who lives in Norway at the crag who was also keen on doing a longer route. By pooling gear we managed to get a full rack of sorts together and promptly set off for Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park.

RACS starts some 60m to the left of the waterfall

We slept in the car just outside the park and arrived fairly early in the morning. As I have no guidebook for the area we followed the somewhat substandard written approach description on camp-to-camp, and after 2.5 hours of hiking and searching we managed to identify the start of the route with the help of a picture I found online. Our original plan was to start around 8 am, but in the end we did not start until 10 am. Luckily the days are long in mid May and the route is fairly short for being in Ordessa, some 250 m or so.

This must be it!

The fine mist from the waterfall soaked the first few metres of scrambling and left a little bit of moisture in the cracks on the first two pitches. 

Here is my pic of the first pitch, in hope that it will help someone to identify the start

RACS was first ascended over three days in July 1984 by the legendary team of Jesús Gálvez and Miquel Angel Casals. The wall sports only intermittent lines, and most of the pitches are somewhat overhanging (something that is abundantly clear if hauling a pack). Despite the somewhat blocky and scary appearance of the wall, most of the climbing is on solid rock with good gear. There are however quite a few places where you have to do some athletic climbing between pieces of gear, so I am in full awe of the first ascensionist.

Me starting up pitch one.

The valley of Ordesa is littered with steep crags formed from a peculiar sandy limestone that forms steep walls, often overhanging, of blocks pilled on each other. Thus there are few routes below 5+ or so, and as fixed gear is mostly notable by its absence and there are few obvious lines, the area has somewhat of a reputation for serious trad. 

David follows the first pitch, overprotected by a stressed out leader.
I basically never climb trad any more. The last time I put in some gear was on La Demande in Verdon last year, and I doubt I have lead more than a handful of pitches requiring natural gear in the last decade. The last ten metres of the first pitch required some gear trickery mixed with some to me non-obvious moves through the roofs, and I fear that I overprotected the climbing by quite a bit. 
David sets off for the second pitch. Note the tangled haul-line, not great.

David followed easily and cruised the second pitch, barely placing more than a handful of pieces on the entire pitch. The first pitch was fun but the second pitch was amazing, with a bit of everything: straight in jamming, laybacking and face climbing in a constantly overhanging groove. 

After having lost about half an hour on untangling the haul-line it was my turn again. I placed almost the entire rack on the third pitch  — another fun pitch. I even found the time to fiddle in the offset wires David had insisted we should use in lieu of normal wires. I never did use offsets much before I became a sport climber, but they were absolute bomber in the cracks of RACS. Much recommended. (I am sure that this is not news to anyone.)

David stripping the last wire of pitch 3

The fourth pitch is the money-pitch. After stepping around the corner from the third belay the pitch goes through a steep dihedral and some pretty impressive roofs followed by steep but fairly easy climbing up to a crux on a slightly overhanging finger crack near the next belay. Again, David made short work of the pitch and placed no more gear than absolutely needed. It would have sucked to fall while seconding as the pitch is steep enough that it would have required some rope-ascending shenanigans to get back.

In various topos I found online it is implied that the fourth pitch is quite hard (7a+++ and “para los buenos”). To be honest, we did not find it that bad. The first bit through the impressive roofs has some mandatory 6c moves, I suspect, but the crux should be possible to frig if necessary?

Me seconding the crux pitch

The fifth pitch is supposed to be 6c according to most topos, but I did not find it harder than 6a+. On the other hand, I did not find much gear either; I placed a cam about half a metre above the belay and nothing else before the crux which is a few metres above and to the right, so really rather obligatory (there is a chopped bolt just next to the crux). There is not much gear to be had after the crux either. The rock was fairly solid on the hard bit but the rock quality, which so far on the route had been mostly great, started to deteriorate toward the belay.

The fifth pitch ended on a huge ledge with a belay in three “burils” with no possibility of a back up that I could see. A buril is a type of rivet that can withstand up to about 4 kN of force. Up to this point we had always been able to back up the belays, which consist of pitons or burils, with at least one piece of gear.

Happy customers at the ledge after pitch 5

The following two pitches both consists of huge dihedrals. The first starts with some rather loose and quite adventurous climbing to reach the dihedral proper which had solid rock, good holds and is surely the steepest terrain I have done on trad at the grade (6b). The second dihedral was quite technical and had also fairly solid rock I thought.

After a last pitch of easy ledge shuffling, grass and tree climbing, we reached the plateau above the crag at half past four. A very pleasant hike down along the Cotatuero river with a via ferrata along a waterfall lead down to the forrest path down to the parking. 

The Cotatuero river

Overall, a great route with interesting and physical climbing on high-friction sandy limestone. I have not done any other route in the valley but I would still highly recommend this one to anyone who can. As it is found in Parois de légende (€130 second hand in good nick last I checked!), it is no great surprise that it is a super classic.

Advice for future ascensionist: We hauled a bag, this is fairly painless but it is not at all necessary if you have the chance of climbing this route on a day when it is not too hot: just clip shoes and a bottle to the harness. We had a serious cluster-f*ck with the haul-line and lost about half-an-hour fixing this, and it took us just under 6.5 hours to climb the route without ever rushing. The route would take 5h to climb for a seilschaft of two Davids and at least 7h for two Jonases, so the 5-7 h given in PdL seems fair. 

We had an eclectic collection of obsolete small cams found in the boots of respective car; green alien (or similar size) seems very useful as we placed at least one on every pitch and the blue alien came in well handy to protect a hard move a few times. The offset wires fit well in most cracks. All descriptions I found said to bring micro-wires but for what it is worth we did not place a single brass nut on the route, and nothing smaller than a #2 wallnut, ymmv. See the topo below for detailed gear advice.

Double ropes and plenty of long extenders are absolutely necessary, never hesitate to put a shoulder-length sling or longer on a piece. 

Teams who wants to do this in under 7 hours should probably consist of two climbers who are able to cruise 6c cracks and 7a on jugs. While the first four pitches are the hardest, on the top four pitches it is probably useful to be able to climb somewhat loose 6b-terrain without much gear.

My topo of RACS.  PDF version here
Pitch-by-pitch description

Pitch 1, 7a, 45 m. Climb a grassy ledgy choss up towards the roofs. Gear appear by the time the climbing gets interesting. Climb the roofs and traverse left to a belay in 2 burils (+ small wire in the diagonal crack above).

Pitch 2, 7a, 30 m. Step out right to the steep dihedral with a hand/fist crack in the bottom. Belay in 2 burils (+ one medium friend) a bit after the crack runs out. 

Pitch 3, 6c+ 40 m. A nice steep hand crack to a fixed piton. Pass a big ledge and some loose rock to a thinner crack leading to a belay in a niche (2 pitons + medium/small friend in a roof above).

Pitch 4, 7a+ 35 m. Step out right and climb a series of impressive roofs via a crack. Easier climbing leads past two fixed pitons up to a finger-crack in a small dihedral. Belay in two pitons + some gear.

Pitch 5. 6a+ R/X 30 m. Climb up to and traverse right under a small roof until you gain the two jugs. Pull an unprotected crux (6a+) up to easy terrain, traverse diagonally left above the roof until a series of ledges leads to a big ledge and a belay on 3 burils. (The pitch is given 6c in most other topos)

Pitch 6. 6b+ (6b R) 40 m. Traverse some seven metre left before attacking some loose rock up and pass to two pitons (one stainless and good, one rusty and suspicious looking) then more left up to good rock in the huge overhanging dihedral. Make a belay on the ledge above the dihedral.

Pitch 7, 6c, 40 m. Transfer the belay to the left end of the ledge to two new bolts (new route?) below another big steep dihedral. Climb the  dihedral and then continue up to obvious ledge at the end of the main difficulties.

Pitch 8, 4, 50 m. Climb diagonally up left on grassy ledges. A belay can be arranged on the plateau by slinging some boulders.

PDF topo here

Here is a picture of the wall, reprinted without permission from os2o



Sunday, 17 October 2021

Three more recommended routes in the Verdon

As a companion piece to N routes worth doing in the Verdon Gorge here are three more routes worth doing in Verdon, selected from among those I have done/tried over two short trips this autumn. This text has been added to the original article, in order to make it as complete as possible, but for those who just want to read the new recommendations, here is the update:

Sector ULA

Au-delà du délire 7a/A0 (6c mandatory) 120-200 m Amazing climbing on good pockets. Fairly generously bolted. This ultra-classic route is not done often despite being featured in Parois de Légende. And as it protected by an awkward access it will likely stay free of polish for many years to come. 

Either access via the route ULA which requires a full rack with a double set of cams or by rapping down Tranxène 5. The rap of Tranxène 5 is found about 50 m downstream from Les Marches du Temp on a small ledge one metre below the rim (Tranxène written on the rock at the rim). The rap of Tranxène is very airy.
The third pitch of Au-delà, counting from the traverse


Au-delà du delire was first ascended ground up and follows an impeccably natural line up a very impressive wall, where you would be hard pressed to guess that there was room for a route of such amiable grade. The price for this is a short section of A0 on bolts (no aid-gear needed) through seven metres of friable rock. On the last pitch there used to be an arrow pointing to the right at the second bolt, now the arrow is gone and you have to figure this out by yourself. (Hint: the grade of the last pitch is likely not correct). 

Au-delà du délire is an album by the progressive rock band Ange (1974)

La demande 6a (6a mandatory) 350 m The first route on L'Escàles is still very much worth climbing. The route requires a small rack (cam 0.4 to 2, a set of medium-large wires and some slings – possible but not at all necessary doubling of the 0.4 and 0.5 cam). Every pitch has a few bolts, usually protecting the hard bits. (As such, they are sometimes placed in “illogical” places. Both me and Johan missed bolts while leading.) The route offers a veritable smorgasbord of cracks from fingers via hands to back-foot chimneys, interspersed with normal face climbing. Do not get discouraged by the enormous amount of polish on the first pitch (with its slightly disgusting layback moves on soapy holds) as seemingly a lot of people have been discouraged enough to rap off after that pitch. The rest is quite polished but never to the extend of the first pitch. In fact, due to the polish the jams are very comfortable, and despite not having climbed a route with sustained sections of jams for six years prior to this route I did not get any abrasions on the back of my hands.

Me exiting the chimneys and nearing the top


The line is impeccable and follows an ever widening crack in the middle of the highest wall. The last two pitches offer full-on chimney climbing for 80 m or so without much respite, so climbers who are not quick up 5.9+ chimneys (if you are not sure you are quick, you aint) should count on 8 hours, or even more if they are not confident putting in gear or at climbing easy but run-out terrain.


As we were stuck behind a cosmically slow team from the dolomites and finally had the chance to pass them at the sixth belay I went off route at pitch seven, despite having read the very same morning the explicit warning on camp to camp to

Ne pas suivre la fissure au-dessus de relais (coin + sangles et piton avec maillon rapide), au contraire traverser à droite (flèche gravée dans le rocher), remonter un dièdre, franchir un surplomb par la gauche et traverser immédiatement à gauche dans la dalle pour arriver au relais

guess who followed the crack above the belay... and did not see the arrow carved into the rock? In this way we got to do a nice bit of off-width followed by 30 m of very-hard-to-protect chimney climbing, completely free of polish! Including this little episode of deviation, and the finger crack version Johan did on the previous pitch to by-pass the second of the team ahead of us, we did the route in about five hours, having a lot of grade in hand on all styles the route has to offer.

Johan Hasslow leading the second to last pitch, stemming above the void
After having returned to Marseille, having done the first ascent of the wall of L'Escàles, one of the members of the team proposed to his beloved, hence La Demande

Baume aux Pigeons

A very impressive wall with some aid routes and lots of free climbing potential. Not futuristic, because the future is now. 

Dame Cookie 8a+ (6c mandatory) 120 m + 60 m scrambling  Very modern route up the middle of the imposing Baume aux Pigeons. Makes up in the quality of climbing for what it perhaps lacks in line.

Neither I nor my climbing partner were in sufficiently good shape to have a chance to redpoint in a week-end trip from Toulouse, so we hung like dogs whenever we felt a bit tired. In this style, it is definitely a less challenging proposal than one might think even if it is quite difficult to link the pitches.

The first pitch is OK, and the long easy dihedral that follows is sub-par for the area, but what follows is truly great modern climbing on positive holds. Especially the third pitch (8a) and the fifth pitch (8a+) has some really high quality climbing on it. For teams punching above their weight class, I think that it would be a good idea to break the fifth pitch in two as the leader is out-of-sight and out-of-hearing on the crux bulge. At leat that is what I plan to do if I am going up this with plans of working it with for a future  complete red-point ascent.
Alex follows the third pitch of Dame Cookie

The last pitch has one move (protected by a bolt) just above the belay followed by 55 m of steep bush-whacking through a near vertical forest making it complicated to access the route from above. As the route has a gazzilion bolts it is very easy to work for someone who finds a motivated belayer. But I do think that the route should be possible to onsight or do very quickly from the ground for anyone capable of onsighting 8a on the single pitch crags, as this route was put up with a very modern sensibility towards grades. In fact, I would be more impressed by teams onsighting the neighbouring Les Naufragés (a route with a hard to read crux with less modern style of climbing and way less modern application of free climbing grades).

Monday, 7 September 2020

Twenty-eight routes worth doing in the Verdon Gorge

« Il n'est pas nécessaire de faire beaucoup de courses, mais il est indispensable de parler beaucoup de celles que l’on fait » – Georges Livanos, as quoted by the excellent book Les Fous du Verdon. Guilty as charged.

Verdon

Generally speaking multi pitch climbing on vertical limestone. Probably the best crag in the world™. Very short approaches as well. You park the car, walk a few meters to the precipice, throw down the ropes and rap in to the start of the route. The routes start either at a hanging belay or a so called garden, i.e. a ledge with trees, large enough to walk around without being tied in. Then you climb back up to the top, take the car down to La Palud and reward yourself with a pizza.
Alex Blaza just past the crux of Kallistée

Overall, the climbing demands good technique on vertical terrain, which is especially difficult for those of us who mostly do steep sport climbing. Nine out of ten cruxes are about putting the feet in the right place to reach the next position. And having strong enough fingers, sadly. 

When you have rappelled down to the start and pulled down the ropes, there is quite often just one way back up. Verify and verify again that you are rappelling down to the route that you actually plan to climb.

From many of the gardens there are lots of routes, making it possible to rap down and change to an easier route if you do not get up. From some of the gardens it is possible to keep rappelling down to the bottom of the canyon, walking down to the river and taking the Sentier-Martel hiking trail upriver to the parking at Colouir Samson. It would be a cool adventure to do this without headlamps for the access tunnel! Hitch hike back, as it is about 13 km from the Samson parking up to where you parked at the rim.

As you can stop rappelling at any point and climb back to the rim, the last pitches are always more polished than the first. This is especially true when the last pitch can easily be toproped, witness the state of the last pitch of Ticket Danger for instance, or that of Fête des Nerfs.

Season: April—November. In theory, it is possible to climb year round for local climbers and connoisseurs. During December to March it is bitingly cold except for a few hours around noon, and in July and August it is fairly warm even on overcast days unless the Mistral is blowing. I like to go to the Verdon in May and June as many of the good sectors are south-east facing, so we usually rap in in the afternoon, start climbing after 2pm and climb until sunset. In the afternoon there are often thermal winds cooling down the rock. However, there will also be afternoon thunderstorms at least one or two days per week. Do not get caught in one! The best conditions are generally found from mid September to mid November when the dry north wind is blowing. (Committed francophiles know to avoid the humid south wind at all cost.)

Many routes do not have cracks or tufas, and as such they generally dry out in an hour or two if there is some wind. Some deep solution pockets formed by dripping water (goutte d'eau) can be wet for longer after rain.

Training before going: Make sure that you are good at putting the hands and feet at the same hold. Pied-main, comrades, pied-main! Make sure that you are strong on small positive two-finger pockets. Do circuits or easy problems on vertical ground on the climbing wall but use only the three two-finger pairs (front, mid, and back two). Take the holds actively, i.e. in a crimped or half crimped position without using the thumb of course. Stretch like Edlinger.

Going there: Nice or Marseilles airport. Rent a car and drive to La Palud-sur-Verdon. ‘Palud’ is marsh in old French, thus malaria is called paludism in French. Public transport take you as far as Castellane from where it should be possible to hitch-hike to La Palud. One of the campsites in La Palud, Camping Municipal -- Grand Canyon, is within easy walking distance from the town and I guess it should be possible to arrange a lift to the climbing most of the days if you are socially talented.

Staying there: There are a number of campsites around the Palud, I have only stayed at the municipal campsite which is all right. There are a number of apartments and houses on airbnb and gites-de-france, but they are all fairly expensive unless you are at least four people to split the rent. Renting is substantially cheaper in Castellane (upstream) compared to the Palud but even more expensive towards Moustiers (downstream).

Service: In La Palud there is a bakery, two bars, a couple of restaurants, one pizza van, one climbing shop, a couple souvenir shops and one small grocery. Some transactions are cash only, but there is no cash machine in the town, the closest are found in Castellane or Moustiers where you can find super markets as well.

On the other side of the river: La Ramirole (3 km for the griphon vulture but an hour in car from La Palud) is currently the most well-known crag on the left bank, mostly because it is such an impressive piece of rock and because Antonin Rhodes and Seb Bouin has put up a number of very hard routes there.  Ramirole is steep, huge, north facing and full of tufas. Thus it is wet for most parts of the year. The summer and early autumn is the only part of the year when it is possible to climb there during a normal year. There are a number of worthwhile easier routes there but most of the obvious lines are around 8a/+ or (much) harder. Gratis topo on greenspits.com.

Bauchet is a few kilometre west of Ramirole and offers harshly graded and sometimes very sparsly bolted single pitch routes. A part of the sector is always dry as it is protected by large roofs capping the wall. For some mysterious reason the crag is not very popular these days. In the shade in the afternoon. The route names are written at the base of the routes so a list of route names and grades from left to right is sufficient. We used the info on ukclimbing which was sufficient.

In the Samson corridor, twenty minutes upriver from La Palud, you will find the sector Hulk just to the right of the impressive Duc. Hulk is like a mini-Ramirole, but with easier routes: from 7b to 8b or so. Hulk is also north facing, overhanging, full of tufas and often wet—but can offer somewhat cool conditions in the summer. 

The Tyrolean across the river on the approach to Hulk and Duc

Other important climbing areas close to La Palud: Gorges du Loup (sport, 90 min), Aiglun (multipitch, 90 min), Céüse (sport + multipitch, 2.5 h), Châteauvert (sport, 90 minuter), Annot (bouldering + trad 65 min), Orpierre (sport, 2 h), Buoux (sport, 2 h). The times given are for driving at what I judge to be a normal speed on very winding roads.

Equipment

At least 100 m rope in total for rappelling, see below for details. About a dozen quick draws will see you up most routes as they made the pitches short in the 80s (well you try to climb with 11 mm doubles... ). Some new routes require up to eighteen draws. Bring a few shoulder length slings for tie offs and threads and to extend a sling or two. Bring something for the belays (two shoulder length slings per team,  and one Petzl adjustable cow's tail and one extra biner imho), a belay device with a guide mode, one extra locking crab, a few extra loose crabs for the belays and for clipping in a water bottle and wind jacket to the harness. Bring a helmet.

For easier pitches it is nice to have “hiking shoes”, i.e. climbing shoes half a size bigger than usual, but they should be brand new if possible. On harder pitches ultra-precise shoes are necessary. The climbing is a lot about putting the feet high on really pathetic footholds.

For teams pushing the grade it is quite common to bring a skyhook or two and an extra sling to stand in for aiding mandatory cruxes that cannot be done in free. For some classic routes a few pieces of protection is often nice to have. A small set of wires and some friends (camalot #0.3 to #1) will be enough for almost all routes. A few classic routes like ULA (which has had all bolts not on belays chopped off) and Estampore require a full rack. None of the routes I recommend requires any removable protection.

For short routes (up to 200 m) half ropes or twins. Most pitches are short and 50 m rope is much better than 60 m as you have less rope to deal with on the belays, and 100 m of rope is enough for the raps. Clip a water bottle and an ultra light wind jacket to the harness. Verdon is in the mountains and it can start to rain at any moment. A Provençal thunderstorm is no joke. Climbers have died in thunderstorms, indirectly from hypothermia, as well as from direct hits.


For longer routes: a skinny single rope (50 m is perfect in Verdon) plus a thin dynamic (twin or half) for rappels and to haul a small bag. Doing lots of rappels on a thin static is inadvisable as they have a tendency to get twisted. A directional pulley (Petzl Micro traxion or Edelrid spoc) to haul a small bag (20 l. is more than sufficient for water, food, shoes and an extra jumper). Belay the leader on a grigri and the second on a belay plate in guide mode. You do not really need a specialised haul bag in Verdon as the routes are steep and the rock not too abrasive. Any old small rucksack is good. The drawback with hauling on dynamic ropes is that it is physically harder and murder on the rope if the sac is heavy. So do not put a lot of stupid shit in the haulbag.

Guidebook: Verdon 2017. 52 years and 520 routes in the Verdon is not a complete guide book, but it has everything you need unless you are planning to do one of the aid routes or some of the mystery quests.  It is also the only guidebook I've seen that doesn't regularly mix up grades and pitches, draw them on unclimbed rock or are just generally bad. The history section in the book is good, but it should be complemented by Bernard Vaucher's Les Fous du Verdon if you have more than a passing interest. 

Twenty-eight recommended routes in order countercurrent to the Verdon river 

For every route we give the guidebook grade, approximate length and the so called mandatory grade. The mandatory grade is indicating how difficult it is to climb between the points/pieces of protection. Most of the time assuming no direct aid in hooks or standing in ladders. Sometimes the mandatory grade is given in a combination of free and aid grades like 6c/A1, in which case it is assumed that the leader is standing in a sling clipped to a hook or to natural gear between doing free moves. A0 indicating that the leader is not just pulling on draws but is standing in slings clipped to fixed protection to reach higher.

The mandatory grade is often difficult to estimate when onsighting a pitch, but when it is correctly given it is the most important factor when deciding if you have the capabilities to do a route. As a rule of thumb, take the level you can redpoint in a day on a sport climbing crag and remove two letter grades. If the mandatory grade is at this level or lower you will be fine. E.g., say that you do 7c in a day, then you should be able to get up routes that are 7a mandatory.

The free climbing grades in Verdon are a bit uneven. Partly because the development of sport climbing happened very fast during the heydays of Verdon in the late 70s and early 80s. (Berhault got so good so fast!) And partly because certain pitches have become polished, especially where people are aiding past short hard cruxes. When feet are sliding around in ladders the rock gets incredibly polished. I am loath to give my own grade suggestions but I am trying to indicate where I found the grades particularly harsh for me.

Sector Grand Eycharme

Not a part of les Escales proper, this escarpment is found upriver just across from Ramirole on the other side of the river.  Estampore and Les Caquous are the most well-know routes.
The second rappel is a lot less airy than the first... Really!

Monstrous rappel! The first rap diagonally on climbers left and not quite 50m. Use a prussic and consider tying knots in the end of the rope even if you are a jackass. Alternatively, the brave/idiotic climber rappels straight down with 2x60 m rope and start the pendeldum motion before loosing contact with the rock so that they can swing in under the overlap, put a toehook around the juniper and clip in to the rappel on the plumb line 59.5 m below the first chain. This is what I did the first time down this rap and would have had what de guide book describes as a “great moment of solitude with the prussic” if not some Italian climbers below had yelled “la ballant! LA BALLANT!” from the top of their voices.

Les Caquous, 6c (6b mandatory) 200 m Steep and athletic climbing following a dihedral formation. The first ascent was done ground up over forty five years ago and was protected by pitons, tie-offs and a lot of bravery. When climbing this route note that the fifth pitch, which leaves the dihedral (where Surface is now going) and follows a line of nice pockets on the left wall, was done in free onsight except for a few rest points in pitons hammered in to pockets. Wild! A few climbers have talked quite a lot about chopping this route that now has bolts that one of the first ascensionist has put in all the way. 

Most people wisely skip the two first pitches, we started by the second pitch that is mostly aid climbing in a roof, so complicated and not fun for the second. If 6c is at the onsight limit of the team, it could be a good idea to bring a set of large wires or two-three friends (camalot #0.4 to #0.75). All hard parts are close to bolts.

In the vernacular of Marseille, a caquou (spelling varies) is a young delinquent or sometimes a show off.

Climber in green helmet on Les Caquous. The team on r. on Surface's first pitch

Surface, 7b (6b+ mandatory) 200 m Even steeper and more athletic than Les Caquous. Varied climbing with a little bit of everything. The first 7b pitch is the key to the route but is not tricky, just a short bit of yarding on pockets. The second 7b pitch is well height dependent: let the taller climber lead. Climbers shorter than 170 cm better be good to do this easily, while the really tall can skip any difficulties.
Erik Nordfeldt on the 2nd 7b-pitch of Surface

Sector Gueule d'Amour

Rap in via Bottes (written near the chains). Two very comfortable steep raps (45 m + 50 m) down to the garden. This sector is overhanging with some large capping roofs and it is possible to climb here during rain as all pitches except the last ones will stay dry. On the other side the routes suffer from seepage after sustained rain.

On this sector you will probably not see a lot of other climbers, as the easiest route is 6c and quite particular in style. The modern climber should probably be able to climb 6c mandatory to get up the easiest routes.

Double Fond 7a+ (6c mandatory) 100 m Steep climbing on flowstone, tufas and in cracks with a spectacular caving expedition near the top. I've seen a lot of different grade suggestions on the pitches but here is what we thought (for what it is worth): 7a, 7a+, 6b, 2c, 5c.

Sector Frimes & Bananes

I prefer to rap in via Mort à Venice. The first rappel is 55 m down to a small garden. Pull down the ropes and scramble down the ledge to find the chain above the chimney Heavy Metal. The last bit down to the chain is a bit exposed/dangerous, so take care! A single 50 m rappel down to the base. Alternatively do three raps on the descent that crosses Mandarin Merveilleux. (Two raps if you start with a 60 m rappel and a prayer to the Virgin Mary that the rope will not get stuck on the bushes below the second chain: it worked for me once 🤷).

Frimes et Châtiments (Lit. “Swagger & punishment”—Frimes rhymes with Crime so it is an allusion to Dostoevsky's novel), the eponymous route of the sector is a fine route, I'm sure, but I have only climbed the pitches it shares with Il giochio de prestigio (see below). Those pitches are very good.


Me on Frimes et Châtiments/Sidermek. The only moderate route on the sector.

Surveiller et Punir 7a+ (6c mandatory) 110 m. Four sustained pitches. The first of which is mostly just awkward, the second is demanding with quite spaced bolts, the third has ha hard crux, and the last pitch is steep but very easy compared to the pitches below for the present-day climber. The second and the last pitch are particularly good.

“Surveiller et Punir” is a book by Michel Focault. The English translation is titled “Discipline and punish”. <Nice video of the crux pitch here>.


Il Giochi de Prestigio 7b (6c+ mandatory) 120 m. About has hard as Surveiller... The second pitch is often wet. That is unfortunate as it offers good steep climbing on open pockets. The third pitch is a nice slab. Finish up Frimes et Chatiments where the pitch grades are much lower, but is the climbing really that much easier?
Erik Nordfeldt på Il Giochio

Il giochi de prestigio is Italian for “a game of prestige”, i.e. stage magic. (In English as well as in French prestige has lost its original sense of ‘conjuring tricks’, if I am not mistaken).

Phœbus 7a (6b+ mandatory) 130 m. Friendly and good warm-up route. Recently and well rebolted. Neither sustained nor airy. Phœbus is an epithet for the god Apollon.

Hellfest 7a+ (6c mandatory) 260 m is a popular new route and a pleasant long day on the rock, without offering that memorable climbing which can be nice sometimes. Walk by Phœbus and make two more rappels down to the base of La voie de 50 cm (OK route with fun and varied climbing—50 cm refers to the width of the band of solid rock—but not an ultra classic). Hellfest starts just to the right of the 50 cm route. Start by climbing the tree and do not let the shame trick you into transfer over to the rock too early.

Hellfest is a well-known French heavy metal music festival.
Julia på Hellfest

Pilier Gousseault

On the Gousseualt pillar, named in honor of Serge Gousseault, there are two imposing and popular free routes.

If the guides/rock-climbing schools have installed fixed ropes down Sordidon use those by all means, otherwise I would avoid this rappel route like the plague. Instead, three very comfortable raps down Heure Zero leads to the Banana-garden. Trainers nice but not necessary to walk down the garden to the start of the routes.

Pilier Gousseault is completely south facing so the following two routes should be attempted during overcast days in the spring or fall.
Pilier Gousseault in all its glory. Johan Hasslow on the penultimate pitch with me hiding among the trees.
Note all the highlines!

Via Mathis upper part 7a+ (6c mandatory) 200 m I have it on good authority that the lower part has an absolutely amazing finger-sized crack (7c) but I have only climbed the upper part, which offers good and airy climbing on somewhat worse rock than its famous neighbour. The second pitch is a bit tricky without any real warm-up since the first pitch is not very physical. After that it proceeds nicely up the pillar with an excellent pitch up to the old juniper tree visible in the photo above, about 60-70 m below the top where a twenty metre long tunnel (headlamp redundant) leads to a paradise ledge, a short easy pitch and a magnificent last pitch.

Strong frenchies on La fête des nerfs

La Fête des Nerfs 7a+ (6c+ mandatory) 260 m. Legendary mid-size wall with unbelievably good rock quality all the way. Fixed ropes leads to an anchor a final rap down to the bottom of the wall, and a technical and time-consuming 50 m slab, which cannot be skipped if you want to claim to have done the route, leads back to the belay. Everything that follows is demanding on the fingers and harder than you might think looking at the topo. The mandatory grade (6c+) is probably only reached on the second to last pitch in a small dihedral with a thin crack. Not so bad if you are good at crack climbing! The last pitch (7a+) could maybe have one more bolt, otherwise the route is very well bolted. What make the route difficult/legendary is the sustained character of the climbing. I know of a 9a-climber (who will remain nameless) who simply did not manage to get up the last pitch and had to be rescued by their mate who send down a rope with a jumar attached... (This is very unlikely to happen to anyone used to multipitch climbing, I should add.)

Rivière d'Argent-sektorn

Rêves de Fer 6b+ (6b mandatory) 100 m A good and fairly sustained three pitch route. As for most routes on this sector you will from time to time have quite a lot of air beneath you. A not too difficult introduction to the more airy routes. Approach by rappelling down the route while counting to three. If you loose count and rappel past the lowest chain you will be able to practice ascending a free hanging rope.
Fredrik Nyberg on the last pitch of Rivière d'Argent 

Rêves de Fer (The Iron Dream) is a science-fiction novel by Norman Spinrad.

L'Ange en Décomposition 7a (6c mandatory) 100 m  Another legendary and excellent route where the second pitch, which goes up a slightly overhanging pillar, offers excellent climbing as soon as you are past a polished slab off the belay. Approach by rappelling down the route.

The last pitch is easy, which is reassuring as it does not have that many bolts, something that gave rise to some complications for me and another senior climber who with more than fifty years of climbing between us rapped in three pitches one hour before sunset without bringing headlamps. Fortunately, the oldtimer who wasn't me is actually a good climber and could do a no-sight ascent of the last pitch.

“Jonas, I cannot see any bolts. Do you remember vaguely where the route goes?”
“Bah, we didn't see many bolts when we did it in broad daylight either. Upwards and onwards!”

L'Ange en Décomposition (The Decay of an Angel) is a novel by Mishima. Patrick Edlinger takes a long fall for camera on the easy part of pitch two in Opera Vertical. There is a nice clip on youtube of Alain Robert climbing solo from above the crux to the top.

Rivière d'Argent 6b+ (6b mandatory) 120 m is a good introduction to this section of Escales. Not that hard, not that airy, but with excellent climbing on superb rock. Approach by descending the route on rappel. The top chain has the name written next to it. There are also indications how to find the rap on the approach path. I am not sure why this route is called Rivière d'Argent (River of Silver/Money).

Barbapoupon 6b+ (6b+ mandatory) 150 m is worse as an introduction, but surely even better as a route than Rivière d'argent! Approach by rappelling down Rivière but don't stop at its first belay, instead keep going another twenty meter over a big overhang and down to a slab where you can pull yourself into the first belay of Barbapoupon. In total fifty meter. After a first traversing pitch follows a pitch with a difficult and mandatory crux. The third pitch has very sustained and rather mandatory climbing that might be technically a bit easier than the second. These 6b+ pitches are a lot harder than the 6b+ on Rivière d'Argent, in my humble opinion. The third to the seventh pitch are all magnificent. Not only one of the oldest but also surely one of the best routes in the Verdon! Quite a few old 8 mm bolts, but they still look good (June 2020) and the belays are bomber with at least one new 12 mm on each belay.
Julia on the 3rd pitch of Barbapoupon

A poupoun is a tiny baby, and the route is named to taunt the bearded artist/antagonist who derisively painted a parrot at the top of Dingomaniaque, the first ascent of which was immortalised in the first French film to showcase free climbing: Verdon, la porte des cieux (<-- click for an extract from the film)

Sector Ticket Danger

Approach down the route Ticket danger. Fairly easy and painless. To the delight and disgust of the sightseers at the Carelle belvedere: climb over the fence and scramble down to the chain marked “Ticket danger”. All rappels are on the plumb line, except the fourth rappel where you have to go diagonally climbers right/skiers left to a chain just to the right of a small pillar.

Ticket Danger 6a+ (5c mandatory) 140 m or 7a+ (6c mandatory) 200 m  If you stop the decent  before the last (fifth) 50 m rappel down to the garden you can climb a good five pitch route where all pitches are 6a or 6a+. The two last pitches are fantastically good, even if the last pitch is polished by top ropers and a bit runout. The 6a climber can have a more comfortable experience by finishing in Clic-clac (5c), apparently (I have not tried this). Climbers who are confident that they can get up 6c mandatory terrain should most definitely rappel all the way down to the garden (an escape up another route in case of failure is improbable).The second pitch (6c+ > 6c) is good and sustained. The “first” pitch is 7a+ and a boulder problem on rather sharp crimps, but bolted so that it can easily be climbed as A0 then 6c. To reach the belay for the “first” pitch you have to traverse a ledge with four bolts at a low grade—curiously enough this is not described in the guidebook.
Me seconding the second pitch of Ticket Danger

Sector Pichenibule

Rap Ticket danger as described above and walk (shoes nice but not necessary) skiers left down the garden to a rappel station/first anchor on Rideaux de Gwendal, and descend to the bottom of the wall.

Les rideaux de Gwendal 7b+ (6c+/A1 or 7a+ mandatory) 250 m. An ultra classic and historically important route. The first pitch (7a) which leads back directly to the garden is probably avoided by a lot of climbers as it shows few signs of traffic. Sustained climbing around 6b till 6c+ with a key pitch that is quite a bit more difficult. The hard pitch (7b+?) has a really difficult crux (which felt about 7a+ mandatory without nuts or skyhooks), but with a wallnut #7 or a skyhook and a foot sling you can apparently quite easily aid this section: which of course has lead to this section being polished like a mirror.
Julia on the belay where Pichenibule and Gwendal intersect. Me on 2nd. Photo © Tatu Autio

Higher up you have to navigate the excellent and infamous 6c+ pitch which also has fairly hard mandatory climbing (6c+? could be!). Excellent climbing nonetheless. A number of teams have, due to exhaustion I'm sure, not been able to get up this, and had to escape left via Pichenibul to the top (Four pitches: 7a (6b mandatory), 5c, A0/6a or 7c, 6a). Why the route is called “Gwendal's curtains” escapes me.

A classic link-up is to climb
Rideaux-Pichenibul-Cthuluh 7b+ 270 m Like those who cannot get up the seventh pitch of  Rideaux (6c+) take the great traversing pitch of Pichenibule out left (7a) and then join Cthuluh (6c+, 6a) to the top. Cthuluhs first pitch is absolutely wild, and for those who have used aid on the crux of the 7b-pitch below this is without doubt the crux of the route. Tiny wires, lots of patience or good route reading skills can all be helpful to get between the bolts on the crux. Cthuluh is a fictional monster in the literary works of H. P. Lovecraft.

Sector Dalle grises

A comfortable descent that is not at all steep with lots of options for the rappels leads down to the so-called “Squirrel garden”. On this sector there are no worries about not getting up the routes as you can always abort, rap down to the garden and climb Dalle Gris (Grey slab) 5c+ 130 m.

Afin Que Nul ne Meure 6a+ (5c mandatory) 150m A five-pitch route, well worth doing. Not very steep. Only the last pitch is in the 6th grade, the rest is easier. The name (“So that no one dies”) is alluding to the bolting which was viewed as very generous at the time.

Démon 7a+ (7a mandatory) 160m Amazing climbing. Amazing rock. Pockets. A bit polished with a mandatory grade around 7a. The forth pitch is not to be under estimated.
Fourth pitch of Démon

Mangoustine Scatophage 6c+ (6c mandatory) 150m. Classic route, the three first pitches has nice climbing with a difficult to find but still logical itinerary, where in particular the difficult slab climbing on the first pitch wakes you up. Finishes with a few fifth grade pitches who are quite memorable. A scatophage is a shit-eater, but I do not understand what mangoustine refers to, so it is probably a word play well above my pay grade.

The first ascent was done ground up and the first ascensionist used two bolts on the first pitch. Something to reflect on when leading this.

Me on Mangoustine... Photo: © Tatu Autio


Prise de Cent, the upper part 7a+ (6b+ mandatory) 150 m A few really good but also some average pitches, reasonably graded in comparison to a lot of other stuff, so you will be happy feeling strong. I have not climbed the lower part up to the garden.

Prise de cent was the hundredth first ascent by the famous Remy-brothers, thus the name

Prise de cent. Erik Nordfeldt on the penultimate pitch.

Sector Mégafoot

On this sector you will probably be by yourself even the most crowded days. A large slab of very high quality Verdon grey. The reason to the lacking popularity is probably that it is a bad idea to rap in to the garden at the base of the routes if you are not absolutely sure that you will get up an old school bolted 6c+ or an even older school 6c chimney on gear. (An escape down to the Squirrel Garden is likely possible if you sacrifice some gear.) Rap in from the chain marked  Les Barjots, and absolutely not along Pique Assaut as the guidebook text claims! This is one of the very few errors I have found in Verdon 52 years. The first rap is only 15–20 meter, but do not try to do the first two rappels in one. The rope could well get stuck which would lead to some fairly serious troubles.

The Mégafoot Triology 7b (6c+ mandatory) 310 m (Mégafoot 7a+, Pierre de Lune 7b, Pique Assaut 6c+). A classic afternoon in the shade for the strong team.

First pitch of Mégafoot

Start with Mégafoot, 7a+ 110 m, which is a demanding route. All pitches felt hard, put we were perhaps soft. The first pitch is brilliant and a bit sparsely bolted toward the top, the second pitch crosses some absolutely improbable terrain for the grade, the third pitch is aggressive on the fingers on a technically difficult slab and the fourth pitch is almost peerless in its magnificence. That was as far as we got before got lazy. Pierre de Lune is said to be significantly more difficult and Pique assaut (Pike attack/Picasso) is supposedly not to be underestimated. Let me get back to you later ...

Alex Blaza sketching above the last bolt on the last pitch of Mégafoot

Sector ULA

Au-delà du délire 7a/A0 (6c mandatory) 150-200 m Amazing climbing on good pockets. Fairly generously bolted. This ultra-classic route is not done often despite being featured in Parois de Légende. And as it protected by an awkward access it will likely stay free of polish for many years to come. 

Either access via the route ULA which requires a full rack with a double set of cams (which I have not yet climbed) or by rapping down Tranxène 5. The rap of Tranxène 5 is found about 50 m downstream from Les Marches du Temp on a small ledge one metre below the rim (Tranxene written on the rock at the rim). The rap of Tranxène is very airy.
Julia on the third pitch of Au-delà, counting from the traverse


Au-delà du delire was first ascended ground up and follows an impeccably natural line up a very impressive wall, where you would be hard pressed to guess that there was a route of such amiable grade. The price for this is a short section of A0 on bolts (no aid-gear needed). On the last pitch there used to be an arrow pointing to the right at the second bolt, now the arrow is gone and you have to figure out this by yourself. (Hint: the grade of the last pitch is likely not correct). 

Au-delà du délire is an album by the progressive rock band Ange (1974)

Les Marches du Temps 7a/A0 (6c mandatory) 200 m Amazing climbing on good pockets. Very generously bolted. Rap in along the route (airy) and leave long slings on the first two bolts on the aid pitch lest you are 190 cm tall. If there is some chalk on the holds the route is very accessible for its grade.
Erik N. and Julia on Marches du temps.

La demande 6a (6a mandatory) 350 m The first route on L'Escàles is still very much worth climbing. The route requires a small rack (cam 0.4 to 2, a set of medium-large wires and some slings – possible but not at all necessary doubling of the 0.4 and 0.5 cam). Every pitch has a few bolts, usually protecting the hard bits. The route offers a veritable smorgasbord of cracks from fingers via hands to back-foot chimneys, interspersed with normal face climbing. Do not get discouraged by the enormous amount of polish on the first pitch (with it's slightly disgusting layback move on soapy holds) as seemingly a lot of people have been discouraged enough to rap off after that pitch. The rest is quite polished but never to the extend of the first pitch.


The line is impeccable and follows an ever widening crack in the middle of the highest wall. The last two pitches offer full-on chimney climbing for 80 m or so without much respite, so climbers who are not quick up 5.9+ chimneys (if you are not sure you are, you aint) should count on 8 hours, or more if they are not confident putting in gear or good at climbing run-out terrain.


As we were stuck behind a cosmically slow team from the dolomites and finally had the chance to pass them I went off route at pitch seven, despite having read the very explicit description on camp to camp to

Ne pas suivre la fissure au-dessus de relais (coin + sangles et piton avec maillon rapide), au contraire traverser à droite (flèche gravée dans le rocher), remonter un dièdre, franchir un surplomb par la gauche et traverser immédiatement à gauche dans la dalle pour arriver au relais

guess who followed the crack above the belay... and did not see the arrow painted on the rock. In this way we got to do a nice off-width crux followed by 30 m of very hard to protect chimney climbing, totally free of polish! Including this little episode of faffing about we did the route in about five hours, having a lot of grade in hand on all styles the route has to offer.

Johan Hasslow leading the second to last pitch, stemming above the void


After having done the first ascent of the wall of L'Escàles, one of the first ascensionist proposed to his beloved, hence the name of the route.

Sector Luna Bong

Airy rap along Luna Bong. Apart from the old classic Luna Bong the most legendary route is probably the disgustingly named Caca Boudin. Even if Caca Boudin is said to be one of the very best routes in Verdon I have so far refused to climb it because of its name. Luna bong has suffered a lot from being used as one of the most popular raps in the canyon.

Les Extraterrestress 7a (6b+ mandatory) 160 m

The first two pitches have a bit crappy rock and could have a few more bolts. The third pitch also has average rock but has good and well-bolted climbing. From this point on the route has athletic climbing on impeccable rock all the way to the rim. With the exception of the second 7a pitch which is shared with, and usually aided by the ascensionist of,  L'Éperon Sublime (The Golden Spur) the route is completely free of polished rock. A forgotten classic!
Julia follows the first 7a-pitch on Les Extraterrestress

Sector Parois Rouge

The first half is really steep and almost always dry. Walk in along the access tunnels starting at the Samson colouir and arrange a lift back from the top, or leave a second car. It is also possible to descend by a combination of scrambling and rappelling. If so: park at the first Belvédère on the Route des Crêtes and walk upstream following a wide but rapidly thinning path along the crest. Follow cairns in a big loop down and left to a beautiful grove of old pine trees. Walk down along the small sportclimbing sector Valaute in an ever steeper a gully until you find a rap station at the base of the huge prow of the route Les Naufragés. Two raps (45 m and 30 m) lead to the base of the sector. Walk downstream the beach until you can take a small via ferrata up to a window in the tunnels, then walk the tunnels to the sector.

Kallistée 7b/A0 (6b+ morpho mandatory) 250 m One of the better routes on the right bank? The first part is like climbing a few warm-ups on a random steep choss-pile of a sport climbing crag somewhere in Europe. A relaxed jaunt up juggy terrain, with some sika to boot. What follows is one pitch of aid on bolts through kitty litter and then four pitches of 7a+/7b on the best Verdon grey imaginable. Really sustained both in difficulty and in quality. The tenth pitch can be the best I have climbed in Verdon. Densely bolted with a solid glue-in every other meter. Short climbers can bring a skyhook to lower the mandatory grade to 6b+

Me on the seventh pitch of Kallistée

Kallistée (Καλλίστη) means “the most beautiful” and is an old Greek name for Corsica.


Baume aux Pigeons

A very impressive wall with some aid routes and lots of free climbing potential. Not futuristic, because the future is now. For the approach: either the tunnel at colouir Samson then out via the last window (sign posted) and down the ferrata to the beach which is followed upstreams to the route or down from the first Belvédère as described above for Parois Rouge.
Alex on pitch 4 of Les Naufragés

Dame Cookie 8a+ (6c mandatory) 120 m + 60 m scrambling  Very modern route up the middle of the imposing Baume aux Pigeons. Makes up in the quality of climbing for what it perhaps lacks in line. The first pitch is OK I guess, and the long easy dihedral that follows is sub-par, but what follows is amazing modern climbing on positive holds. Especially the third pitch (8a) and the fifth pitch (8a+) has some really high quality climbing on it. For teams punching above their level, I think that it would be a good idea to break the fifth pitch in two as the leader is out-of-sight and out-of-hearing on the crux bulge.
Alex follows the third pitch of Dame Cookie


The last pitch has one move (protected by a bolt) just above the belay followed by 55 m of steep bush-whacking through a near vertical dense forest making it complicated to access the route from above. As the route has a gazzilion bolts it is very easy to work for someone who finds a motivated belayer. But I do think that the route should be possible to onsight or do very quickly from the ground for anyone capable of onsighting 8a on the single pitch crags, as this route was put up with a very modern sensibility towards grades. In fact, I would be more impressed by teams onsighting the neighbouring Les Naufragés (a route with a hard to read crux with less modern style of climbing and way less modern application of free climbing grades).

Les Naufragés 7c (7a mandatory) 200 m  Another route I heartily recommend without having actually climbed it. I have only done the last three pitches (6b, 7b+, 7c) on a “half restday”, electing to skip the first two somewhat runout pitches to save energy for a bigger objective the following day. Anyway. The route is called “The Shipwrecked”, presumably because it goes up this enormous prow starting from a small “beach”. The 7b+ was well tricky and the 7c pitch that follows is likely to be very difficult for its grade. Neither me nor Alex did all the moves. Be aware that the line in the guidebook does not correspond to the actual route for the first two pitches: the first pitch starts on the same boulder as Dame Cookie and what is indicated as the second belay does not exist, rather belay from the chain of the first rappel anchor.
That is us on Les Naufragés. Photo taken by Manu from the top of Ayahuasca



Le Duc

On the left bank of the Verdon river.

Overall a sector with more generous grades in a style of climbing more familiar to the contemporary sport climber. Plenty of tufas, good holds and steep sections and often good for the morale after having struggled on the vertical walls of the right bank. Le Duc is north facing and often wet and most routes can only be done after a period of dry weather. The top part of the wall is in the sun in the afternoon, so start early or climb fast if you climb in the summer.


Park at the tunnels (Tunnel du Baou at Colouir Samson) walk to the entrance to the tunnels and take the fixed Tyrolean traverse across the river as for sector Hulk. The best descent from the top is the rappel route on climber's right of Série Limitée. On the first rap: do not rap all the way to the dead tree with the slings (58m) but stop at the chains in the cave (45 m), as one day the tree will go and also it increase the risk of getting stuck ropes. The second rap is to the next set of chains from which you can skip the next set of chains if you have 2x60 m rope. I hate this rap as it is not steep but full of trees and bushes. In strong wind: consider walking down on the back (look up the approach to Tom et Je Ris)


Série Limitée 6c+ (6b mandatory) 300 m  Modern classic and when it is dry it is perhaps the most popular route in Verdon. At least, it is the only route I have ever waited in line to do. Gets into the sun at 2PM or so, so it is not optimal to be stuck behind a slow team. Get up early. It is the right route starting on the right side of the gigantic dihedral, and gets better and better the higher up you get. The top pitches are very good indeed.
The second to last pitch of Serié Limitée

Ayahuasca 7c (7a/+ mandatory?) 300 m Amazing combination of contemporary tufa climbing and old school crimping on goutte-d'eaus. Start four meter to the left of Série Limitée. A great alternative to Alix if you think 7b is a bit on the easy side. The first pitch is a bit meh, and the eight is a filthy boulder problem (7a+ mandatory?) but the rest is out of this world: two great 7c pitches on tufas, three amazing vertical crimping pitches (2nd, 4th and 9th) and one cool steep pitch. This route was bolted ground up and follows an impeccably logical line. The bolting is great if a touch run out on the easy parts. If the next bolt is very far, rest assure that the climbing is easy.
Alex on pitch 2 of Ayahuasca

I feel that it is not out of place to warn about the eight pitch. My climbing partner had onsighted all pitches up to this point, and I had freed everything (I redpointed the 3rd pitch after a fall at the fourth bolt), but neither of us could even do the crux move. I chatted a bit with a strong french team that did it the day before and they also did everything onsight and had to pull on draws for the 8th. In fact, even Bruno Clement had to give it a few goes before figuring it out! You get the point. If you are at your limit at 7b+ after having five pitches of 7a-7c climbing, you might consider bringing a skyhook?

We stuffed two kneepads in the haulbag for the leader for the tufa pitches. On pitch 3 they were of no use, but on the sixth pitch they were very useful. If you are not an absolute monster you haul a bag anyway.
Alex on pitch 3 of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is a psychotropic used largely to aid spiritual practice

Alix, Punk de Vergons 7b (6c mandatory) 300 m Every pitch except the first 5c pitch (which can be avoided by walking up the slabs on the left to the belay below the second pitch) would be a three star route on any sport climbing crag. Steep and athletic climbing on mostly good holds. Top ten of all bolted multipitch routes I've done and surely a world heritage route.

Vergons is a small village between Verdon and Annot.
Me pretty pumped on the second 7b pitch of Alix... Photo: Erik Massih.

All routes in approximate order of difficulty
The max grade or the mandatory grade is not everything. Here is a list of all routes recommended above in an approximative order of difficulty. The ‘difficulty’ I am referring to is how difficult it is to get to the top with a bunch of quickdraws, good spirits and a willingness to take a couple of falls or rest points (no tricks with skyhooks or wires).

Afin que Nul ne Meure
Ticket Danger last 5 pitches
Rivière d'Argent
Réves de Fer
l'Ange en Décomposition
Phœbus
Série Limitée
Barbapoupon
Double Fond
Les Caquous
La demande* 
Ticket Danger including first two pitches
Hellfest
Prise de Cent
Les Marches du Temps
Extraterrestress
Au-delà du délire
Rideaux de Gwendal 
Surveiller et Punir
Il Giocchi di Prestigio
Rideaux-Pichenibul-Ctuluh
Démon
Alix, Punk de Vergons
Kallistée
Dame Cookie†
La Fête des Nerfs
Les Naufragés
The Mégafoot triology
Ayahuesca

Keep in mind that I have climbed these over a period of seven years, in variable shape, so do not take my graded list as the gospel.


Depending on how good you are on chimneys this could go up or down the list quite a bit.
† I am very unsure where to put this. Even if this is objectively speaking a lot harder than Fete des nerfs, it may not be so for most. Just please, for the love of God, do not go up this with a sky-hook.