The Verdon Gorge or Gorges du Verdon in southern France is simply one of the world's great rock climbing areas. The Verdon has long been a mythical climbing arena with stunning scenery, towering walls composed of immaculate limestone, hundreds of great routes, and pure free climbing. The Verdon Gorge doesn't offer the hardest free climbs in Europe but it does have some of the best climbing routes on some of the best limestone on the planet.
Verdon Gorge Offers Pure Climbing Movement
While the Verdon Gorge was one of the first areas where sport climbs protected by bolts were established, it is no longer the playground of the elite hardcore climbers who now prefer the overhanging limestone at areas like Ceuse in France and Siurana in Spain. Now the Verdon attracts rock climbers from everywhere, who come to find the beauty of climbing movement on beautiful gray stone. The gorge yields many routes of surprisingly moderate grades up exposed vertical faces.
Verdon Offers Safe but Committing Climbing
The Verdon Gorge climbing experience is all about moving on safe but committing rock terrain. Almost all the routes are adequately protected with bolts and all the belay and rappel stations are fixed with big beefy bolts so all you need for a day's vertical adventure is a climbing rope and a rack of quickdraws.
Verdon Gorge Face Climbing
Most of Verdon's routes are face climbs, with perfect pockets, laybacks off fluted edges and sharp flakes, and using the occasional jam in a crack or pod. Most routes are either vertical or slightly slabby, making good footwork paramount for success. Sometimes the best foothold is the toe box of your rock shoe crammed in a pocket, a smear on a scooped dimple, or edging on small sharp edges. Be aware though that the popular routes are polished so both footholds and handholds are often slick and might feel greasy on hot days.
Verdon Gorge Geology
The Verdon Gorge, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of France, is composed a deep canyon along a fault line that slices through a rampart composed of a thick layer of Jurassic-age limestone. This uplift forms the border between the higher mountains in the Haute-Alpes to the north and the picturesque wooded hills and valleys of the Provence region to the south. The gorge, carved by the swift Verdon River, is 13 miles (21 kilometers) long and reaches a depth of 2,200 feet from river to rim. The limestone cliffs rise as much as 1,500 feet. Most routes at Verdon Gorge are located on the upper half of the cliffs on the north side of the canyon because the upper limestone layer is harder, has more pockets, and is more solid than the lower section of limestone.
Verdon's Wealth of Pockets
The limestone at Verdon Gorge is renowned for its wealth of solution pockets or gouttes d'eau that offer numerous handholds from mono-doight or single-finger pockets to suit-case handles and full hand jug pockets. On many moderate routes, every handhold that you grab is ideal. The harder routes tend to have fewer pockets, making the climbing moves thought-provoking and sequential.
Start with Single-Pitch Top-Rope Routes
Climbing at the Verdon is not only about fun moves but also about commitment and exposure. It is the exposure on the canyon's big walls that is intimidating, especially since most of the routes are approached by rappelling from the rim downward to large terraces, ledges, or hanging belays from bolts in the middle of a blank face. Most visiting climbers usually top-rope single-pitch routes below the rim, simply rappelling or lowering down a rope-length and then climbing back up. This is a great idea to get used to the limestone as well as the ever-present exposure below your feet.
Climbing Multi-Pitch Classics
After spending a day of top-rope climbing along the canyon rim, you'll be ready to head down and crank one of the classic multi-pitch routes back to the rim. It's a big commitment to rappel down a 1,000-foot face to a small stance and then brachiate back to the rim, but it's super fun and part of the Verdon's magic. Once you have strung together a bunch of pitches, you will be addicted and want to polish off all the canyon classics, routes like L'Arabe Dement (6a+/5.10c), La Demande (6a/5.10a), L'Ange en Decomposition (7a/5.11d), and Dingomaniaque (6a+/5.10b).
BUY a Climbing Guide to Verdon
Buy Rock Climbing Europe from FalconGuides at a discounted price of $13.50. The book offers lots of beta on climbing at the Verdon as well as route descriptions and photo topos.
Plan Your Verdon Gorge Trip
For more information and to plan your climbing vacation to the Verdon Gorge, read the article Rock Climbing at the Verdon Gorge in France: Verdon Gorge Trip Planning Information.