A much greater adventure than imagined……Verdon (Part2)

We woke in the morning with a definite plan. Our plan was to conquer “Une Valse pour Manon” 6b+ (20) in the Paroi du Duc Sector of the gorge. 6 pitches of beautiful limestone all the way to the top of the wall. It was going to be a real adventure with long walk-ins, a tyrollean river crossing, one hundred and eighty odd metres of climbing and then four long abseils back to the base of the route.

After a brief breakfast of croissants and coffee we headed into the gorge and parked the car in the same place as the day before. Its good to have rituals. It keeps you focussed and creates a good level of comfort. Maurice, Karine and I discussed safety procedures and non-verbal communications for our pending escapade.

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The red line is our route…..the yellow line….the abseil.

We racked up, I grabbed the rope and walked ahead on the approach to the tyrollean. Our host Olivier had told us to be aware that if they open the flood gates, the river could be raging…….It was moving a lot faster then the day before and it was higher. I clipped in and zipped across the river in about six movements. Karine and Maurice followed quickly and we were off up to the base of the route.

Once we located the base of the route we chatted briefly about the day ahead and finalised any issues or doubts in our minds about what we were embarking on. It all sounds a little serious and to be honest it is, but its also a lot of fun to. Helmets on, knots tied and checked and on belay. I was off leading the first pitch. It was not hard at all but, I was climbing in the Verdon Gorge and this is a place of legend.

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Karine gettin’ it done across the Verdon River.
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Maus on the final approach to the route…..and the river was high.

I clipped the first anchors and my partners followed on easily. We were using a one hundred metre rope and Maus and K were simul-climbing. It was a first for me, however I understood the process well enough. They reached the anchor and we were all “in hard” (sort of safe). We continued up the second pitch. The climbing on this pitch was sensational at the grade. It was technical, runout and a little heady to say the least.

Maus took the next two pitches, the first short and technical with a serious “heel hook and mantle” to the anchor. The next was a long technical 6b+ pitch. Maus climbed it well considering the sun was beginning to make the climbing very sweaty and a little desperate. Karine followed and met Maus at the anchors. I began to climb with the rock in full sun. It was 33 degrees in the shade and I was baking…..so were my buddies thirty metres above me at the anchor.

As I approached the anchors Maus confirmed there was an abseil anchor there. We all agreed we should get out of the sun and not risk serious sunburn and possibly heatstroke. There was one pitch to complete but the heat was unbearable and we had to make a decision. Thus began the rappelling section of our day.

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Over the edge and down the mountain side……..

Two hundred and fifty metres above the river stood three people looking down and all thinking…..Jesus thats a long way to the bottom! I put my hand up and took first abseil duties. We sorted out the rope and I was off, heading down, not knowing where the next rap rings were and feeling a little anxious. I reached the anchors rather quickly. I settled “in hard” and the others followed. We laughed a little when we were standing on the “ledge”.

Off I went again, this time fifty metres to the next anchors. I tell you there wasn’t much rope left when I go there either. We were glad our safety protocols were all solid and the knots in the end of the rope weren’t required, but I was happy to see them when I got there. That was the biggest single abseil I had ever done.

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Snagged rope on the last ledge of the great wall.

Karine and Maus joined me and we were off to the bottom of the route. I happily touched down and was really stoked with what I had done. Karine joined me a few minutes later and was absolutely exhausted. It was an epic experience for her. She sat in the shade while Maus began his ascent to join us. Glad to be out of the sun Maus took his shoes off and I began to pull the rope through. The wind was a little up and I carefully pulled the rope. As it fell over the second last ledge, I thought we’re good……Oh god was I so wrong!!

The rope was stuck on something we couldn’t see, nor could we release it with some solid jiggling and throwing from below. I tied in and headed up the first pitch to the fourth bolt and traversed through the shrubs to the ledge. Sitting there beautifully wrapped around an old piton was our rope. I quickly released it and headed back across and down to the team. What a fantastic day out with two much loved and very “good humans”.

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First route in the gorge……DONE!

We finished our day with a well deserved swim, a great meal and some beer and wine. Life doesn’t get much better and we all really enjoyed the experience. Tired and well fed, we headed back to our accommodation and settled in for the night.

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Happy days and looking forward to a beer……..

Day two in Gorge de Verdon proved to be a much greater adventure than imagined, with a far greater reward.

You’ll never never know, if you never never go. 🙂

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No place for the faint-hearted…………Welcome to Gorge du Verdon.

My jaw dropped and my eyes widened as the car veered around yet another tight corner on an ever increasingly narrowing road. The guide rail appeared to be getting closer and closer with each turn and then it all went black…………………………..we were in a bloody tunnel and the there was the faint glow of light at the end of it. As we emerged from the tiny black hole that had seemingly eaten us whole, my eyes widened even further, my jaw dropped again and tears filled my eyes. I was staring at Gorge du Verdon!!!

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Welcome to Verdon………..

Oh my GOD!!!!! It is spectacular, that’s the word that came to mind….SPECTACULAR!!! I was in Alpes du Haute Provence looking at one of the most majestic sights I have ever seen. I have been emotionally moved by a few of the places I have seen, but this was at least equal to standing on top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park in Utah U.S.A. The Verdon is so incredibly picturesque.  No matter where you stand you are looking at pure beauty.

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If a picture paints a thousand words……..

The canyon is so shear and the walls are so incredibly tall. They look blank and intimidating and they also look absolutely stunning. Staring at the place was bringing up huge excitement and a serious amount of nervousness as we had come here to climb. I had seen the photos, I had read and heard a little about peoples experiences here and I knew the climbing was technical too. It is no place for the faint-hearted or the unmotivated.

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The beach was just awesome……

We had arrived early and decided to do a 4 pitch route called “Que Justice Soit Fête” 6b (19/20) that required a little bit of adventuring. We racked up and started down into the gorge to the river or so we thought. We followed the instruction diligently. We had to walk through a 200 metre mine tunnel to a view point called Baume aux Pigeons, climb over the guard rail and on to the cliff edge. Locating the fixed rope and hidden Via Ferrata we clipped in and made our way down to the rivers edge.

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The smile hides a deeper emotional state……..

Here we were…….Maurice, Karine and I standing on the edge of a fast flowing river looking up at this enormous buttress. I was thinking “holy shit this is so out of my depth and I am scared as hell”, but fortune favours the brave and it was time to suck it up as the next step was the tyrollean line across the river to a huge boulder and then jumping across to another boulder and on to the far bank of the Verdon.

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Just keep pulling………
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And pulling…….

We all did this with relative ease, however it was a first for Karine and I. Karine found pulling her body weight across a river a little taxing and still feels it in her biceps now. I on the other hand loved it! We headed up the right hand trail for about the next ten minutes slowly but surely making our way up higher and higher. We reached the end of the trail and started looking for indication of our route. We found nothing…..absolutely no bolts, no name on the rock, no belay area or station…..nothing.

We headed backdown and crossed the river a little disappointed and dejected but, in all seriousness it was a good little insight into the difficulty that may lay ahead when climbing here on a regular basis. Maurice and I talked about where the route might start and we walked around a little to get a different view of the landscape. I finally found where the photo of the route was taken. I shouted out to Maus and K and pointed up. We had come across the river at the wrong spot. The guide was in fact incorrect and we had followed it perfectly.

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The reason we found nothing is because we were so far below the the start we needed a helicopter to get to it………..

Maus and I decided to have a swim and freshen up a little as it was a scorching hot day and it was hot even in the gorge. We stripped down and wandered tentatively into the flowing water. As soon as the water hit my body I knew it was now and never and I dived in………I had to fight to breath. Oh my God it was cold…..but so so good. This was part of the fun of adventuring in places. Whilst being a “cool” tourist spot, it is also a very adventure orientated place.

 

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Refreshing to say the least…………..
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I always did go against the flow………

We identified where we needed to be to access the route but decided to call it a day. After drying off we decided to call it a day and head out of the gorge. We were hungry and in need of a place to stay for the next few days. So we headed up to the car all sweaty and horrible. We packed the car again and headed to La Palud, found some food and a gite (B&B) for the next couple of nights. Maurice kindly took us out for a fabulous dinner in the incredibly beautiful village of Moustiers near Lake Sainte Croix.

Tomorrow is another day and the adventure will continue. 🙂

You can’t do it all in a day………Gorge du Blavet………

Maurice and I relaxed into the morning with a tasty simple breakfast and a few coffee’s to kick start the heart. Our lovely ladies were in the process of getting ready for two hours of yoga and we were preparing our minds for a day of vertical enthusiasm. I was excited about climbing today although my head was a little pre-occupied and I was feeling anxious and tentative about a few things outside of the sport. This did not deter us from our goal and its important even when feeling pangs of fear….“Do It Anyway”!

We quickly packed and headed out into the unusual June heat. It was ridiculously warm for this time of the year but we were going and thats all that mattered. We loved climbing together and Maurice was keen to show me one of the more unique local crags. Actually it was his “local crag”. A short forty minute drive away.

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I would love to get on this line……..would need a month or more I think LOL……..7c (27)……just awe-inspiring.

We arrived at about midday and the sun was belting out its intense rays as we walked into the crag. It was truly beautiful and when I stopped long enough to look, I was staring at the most stunning pink and orange rock I had seen since being in Enchanted Rock in Texas. The geologic was type: Ignatius……It is volcanic and created with rapid cooling of molten magma.

I was now really excited to have the opportunity to climb on yet another rock type. This is the stuff that improves you and humbles you all at once. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be out of your comfort zone…….On a regular basis I have become quite used to experiencing life this way. I hope I continue to grow and learn like this…….It’s tiring but totally worth it!

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Maus……happy in his local forest.

We warmed up on a simple link-up that traversed the majority of the first cliff and rather than have a bad time cleaning the route I seconded it to make it easier for all involved. Then we launched up a 6a+ (18/19) that had a bouldery start and was stunning to the anchors. The rock felt like granite, but not quite. I was feeling a little heady and knew I needed to take a whipper but that was not going to happen right now.

Maurice suggested we do this 6c+ (22) he had tried a few times and I said “Sure…..Why not!” So off we walked up into the forest a little further. Maurice pointed at the wall and I looked up and what I saw was a stunning line. Diverse in style, technical in nature and truly aesthetic. I was excited and nervous all at once. As I said previously my head was not good and clear. However I go on anyway.

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The beautiful and unique geology of Gorge du Blavet…

Maurice put the draws on and got ridiculously pumped on the way through the first section and then proceeded to finish the route. I tied in and started to climb up through the dihedral section and found it really out of style for me. I got nervous and sat on the rope to get my head calm. I continued on up to just below the crux and sat again. I tried the crux and BOOM!!! Off I came, squealing as I fell. I was scared for the first time in a long time and Maurice said he heard fear in my voice that he had never previously encountered.

I got back on and completed the route. I was pleased that I fell, pleased that I got back on and really pleased I pulled the crux and finished the route easily. My head felt clear and my body was more relaxed. Before lowering off I took some time to breath and took a photo of the Gorge du Blavet. Oh yeah, thats where we are climbing by the way…….Gorge du Blavet.

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Sitting atop the 6c+ breathing and taking in the vista…..stunning.

Maurice tied back in and executed the route flawlessly, finally ticking off his project and being very happy about it “indeed”! I was very happy for him as he is really motivated and loves our sport with great passion. I decided not to get back on as I was feeling very fatigued and wanted to just chill. We didn’t really climb a lot, but we had a great day hanging out in the gorge and catching up on a lot of the “going’s on” of life. I do enjoy Maus’s company greatly………”Good Human”.

I will return to this place very soon with some good friends from “the land downunder” and try more of the routes here. They are vertical, technical and require a little “cha cha cha” to execute them well. About this…………I am truly excited.

They’ll just smile and give me a Vegemite sandwich.

Dining in France…………..Everything I had heard and more……..”Les Sens” est superb!

Anyway after a couple of days in Nice, Maurice and Ingrid have arrived to pick us up and return to their place……and they have also sorted out where we are having dinner with them tonight. Apparently Ingrid’s friend Gauvin owns and runs a nice little restaurant in downtown Nice that we are dining at. We arrived early and were welcomed with open arms. Talk about great “southern hospitality” in France.

“Les Sens” is a stylish place with elegant uplighting creating just the right ambience in the entire dining area without being over bearing. The staff were attentive and seemingly quite happy in general and they do know their product line indeed. They are social and very funny in a good way to deal with. It makes the dining experience so much more entertaining when you have great people looking after you.

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Gauvin made us feel so welcome and at home…….

We started with a beautiful and very delicate “amuse-bouche” of ginger infused carrot puree. I thought if this is the appetiser then the meal will be incredible. I followed with a “duck foie gras” with “green beans” and a main of “cod fish with roasted capsicum, vegetables and lemon mousse.” Dessert was “deconstructed black forest cake.” Karine ordered a very nice local bottle of “Bandol Rouge” which complimented the entire meal.

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Duck foie gras with green beans and lemon infused cream……
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Cod fish with roasted capsicum, vegetables and lemon mousse……….
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Black Forest Cake……….deconstructed.

To be honest I don’t remember the names of each dish as it has been over a week since we dined there, but I will say quite honestly that it was one of my top 5 dining experiences ever. The atmosphere, the company, the staff and their knowledge made this a truly wonderful experience.

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The beef was apparently superb…….
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How do you describe this??………..Perfect!

I must without hesitation, say the food was truly incredible. This is five star dining in Southern France. It is everything that I have heard about amazing food in France and more. The place deserves a Michelin Star and if you are ever in Nice be sure to make time and a booking to dine in this purely boutique eatery.

To Gauvin and the staff who looked after us “Merci beaucoup “Good Humans” et bonne chance avec votre restaurant”…………………..

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside………in Nice.

A couple of days ago became a landmark day for me, on my journey around the globe. I was heading to the south of France with Karine and we were heading for Nice! This incredibly famous French Riviera City I had heard so much about. I had seen it in movies and heard about it from friends who had been there. It was going to become a reality for me. I was pretty excited about it too I must say.

Visions of blue and white striped umbrella’s along the pebbled coastline filled my head. A plethora of European super cars lining the streets, incredible fashion and beautiful people everywhere. Well, that was what I thought.

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Boy, did I get a surprise. It was only a little bit of this and a lot of very very “normal”. The surprising and very comforting thing about Nice is that it is not to dissimilar to many other coastal cities I have been to. It’s a little like Sydney’s Bondi Beach on steroids and no where near the amount of blondes.

The food here is a fusion of both cultures and the alfresco dining is just simply incredible. We stopped in for breakfast at “Pain et Cie!” (Bread and Co.). It’s a really stylish cafe right near the Cours Saleya Markets (the town square flower market) and the brunch was great. Coffee is definitely Italian inspired, aromatic and strong. It was a great start to the day and we knew we would be wandering the streets for a while so it also helped our energy levels.

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Strolling through “Old Town” Nice was an experience second to none. Narrow alleyways barely separating the small outlets and eateries on the street. Washing hanging above your head on makeshift clothes lines strung up against mustard and euchre coloured buildings that date back a few centuries or more. It is truly beautiful and inspiring.

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Passing a small plaza we decided to stop in at the very famous Fenocchio. This master ice creamery has been operating here since 1966 and I have to say the flavours are incredible. I tried a scoop each of fig and chilli chocolate. Oh……My……..God…..You cannot not go to this bastion of chilled delights. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

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We then walked down the “Promenade des Anglais”  where the beach is a field of beautiful polished and rounded pebbles with turquoise water lapping at the shores. There really are blue and white striped umbrellas in partitioned bars and restaurants along the waterfront. The architecture is a fusion of Italian and French. There are impressive villa’s in the affluent areas and then you have typically simple houses across the suburbs. Apartments are definitely the most affordable and abundant form of dwelling in the city.

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Be assured this place is divine! Finally making it down to the Balearic Sea on the southern coast is a bucket lister for me. This was a wonderful first day in Nice and one I will remember for a very long time.

We all need a little routine and an occasional project to be content………

While settling back into “normal” life for a while and organising our next little jaunt down to the south of France, I have also resumed my french studies and am re-acclimatising myself to the way of life here on a day to day basis. Like the beautiful fresh veggies from the garden and the walks in the forest after dinner at night. Its daylight here until 10pm at the moment……….its wonderful!

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Organic fruit and vegetables…….fresh from the field.

There are so many things that I have taken for granted previously that I now need to go and purchase so I can get some sort of simple routine going. I need electric hair trimmers, running shoes, casual clothes that aren’t used for climbing and I am even considering buying a cheap bicycle, so I have some mode of transport and a way to keep my cardio fitness up.

These small things cost a little but they are things that make life a little happier for me. Oh…don’t for one minute think I am not happy with my life……I love my life incredibly and I am happy.

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Our lovely little home for a while………..

I also thought it would be a good idea to have little projects that I can do to keep myself occupied during the day. So K and I recently cleaned out the attic in the garage. As soon as I saw it I thought…..hmmmm I could build a climbing training wall in here!

I wonder how that would go down? Well, it went down rather well and now I am designing and building a little training area for Karine and I to play on.

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This is the very clean garage attic that will become our little training area……

We recently caught up with Karine’s niece Marie-Lou, who told us about her French language tutor. Marie-Lou’s tutor also teaches French as a foreign language (C’est tres importante), so K called her and I now have a language tutor that is not far from home. I am very excited about this as I do want to speak French well. Who would have thought I would learn a new language at 50?!

So, to be honest life is now about settling for a while and finding goodness in the simple things. I know what its like to be stressed out and to be seemingly fighting for every inch of my being, but now its about simplicity. Doing the simplest things that help me remain intact and happy throughout the days, months and years ahead. It’s not planning for some traditional version of the future, it’s living and learning daily and being grateful for what I have.

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Simple pleasures……….

These little projects allow me to learn new life skills. They also allow me to work on my weaknesses. To problem solve more efficiently and importantly how to communicate more clearly. These are my goals for the coming period of time. How long that will be…..Who knows?!?!

Kalymnos Kalimbing…….Tired and Tested, Relaxed and Rested!

So, a little time has passed since my last burbling’s and a lot has occurred here on our tiny island home. We have had friends come and go in the last couple of weeks. We have climbed a lot and tried to rest a lot as well. Climbing continually does take a serious toll of the body at times and the walk-in’s we have been doing have zapped some power as well. Some of them have been up to 50 minutes and mostly up hill. Tiring stuff indeed.

One exciting thing has been the very big release of a lot of backed up emotional stuff that has been inhibiting me for the last couple of weeks. As much as I hate to say it, its better to process these feelings than not at all, as the blockage can create other limitations and health issues that I don’t really want or need. Karine took me on a beautiful long walk on the island of Telendos to clear my head and regain a little positive flow.

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Saint Constantine’s Chapel……….

We walked up to Saint Constantine’s Chapel on the North ridge of the island and just enjoyed the walk and the vista looking back over Kalymnos. It is a beautiful spot and the ruins of the Byzantine settlement literally eighty vertical metres below it, are truly amazing. The chapel is the smallest I have seen here and the frescoed dome is almost unrecognisable. I am not sure of the age, but I will go with ancient.

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The smallest chapel I have seen yet!….YEP! Thats It!

Our friends Nic and Dave turned up from the UK and we had a great time seeing them although they were a little disappointed with the weather as it was a little shit for the two weeks they were with us. Nic and Dave’s lovely daughter came out as well and unfortunately did her shoulder a few days before leaving which put a real dampener on the trip for them.

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Miss K relaxing and recovering after the crux on “Spice” 6b+ (19/20)……..

While all this could sound a little negative, I have to say a lot of positive things are occurring in general on this trip. Growth is never a negative thing and progress is always a good thing. While I did get a little down about things recently, I have gained a lot and had a major breakthrough in my motivation and attitude. I am grateful and excited for this.

Arriving here a little unfit and after not climbing for a month, it took some time to get back on board as such. Now our fitness is great and we are both climbing well and sending projects quickly. Karine is cruising the majority of the 6b’s (19/20’s) she is climbing and sent her first solid 6b+ (20).

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Success is a true definer of achievement……well done lovely.

I have on-sighted my first 7a for the trip and ticked another very quickly. Yesterday I sent my 100th pitch for the trip and was surprised to find this out when I logged my routes for the day.

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Pulling into the steepness of “Arion” 6c+ (22)….it was harder than the 7a (23) at the same sector……LOL!!

All in all it has been a good trip and the conditions have allowed us a little time for other things too. We really do have a “second” home here, although we really don’t have a first home at the moment……Right now I am smiling to myself and laughing a little. All of this will come in good time and when it does we will be happy with our decision, but right now we must enjoy our time and continue our journey. 🙂