Sunday, May 3, 2015

The pilgrimage to Verdon

It all began a few weeks ago with a familiar popping sound, one that's never indicated any good. We were in Kotečnik and I was trying Botulin, rocking high up on a heelhook when suddenly it happened in my right knee. Burning pain and a sketchy feeling in the knee put me out of climbing for a while. I was feeling a bit lost. I was feeling in a great shape to climb on whatever and now any twisting of my right knee hurt bad. Maybe thirty years ago dropping knees was really considered a girl thing, but it's not so anymore (not that I'm a climber that would really excel at it - so I didn't lose all hope, I thought maybe just campus with one foot). A friend of mine had this happen some time ago and claimed climbing without dropknees was not possible. Anyway I was a bit gutted.
Two weeks later, the holiday was coming up and word on everyone's lips was where to go climbing. Weather looked bad all over Europe, our long-planned Verdon trip had failed and my leg still hurt anyway.
In a desperate wish to not stay at home, go somewhere new and still get some climbing done, I'd come upon this idealistic sounding idea.

all time inspiration: Patrick Edlinger on 'Take it or leave it'
Deep down inside my climbers soul I am a fan of the old-school: the golden age of French limestone, the birth of modern sport climbing. The time when overhanging roofs still looked futuristic and climbers wore lycra, all skinny and sleek like their guru Patrick Edlinger.  Old climbing mags make my imagination run wild and I've studied Jerry Moffat's 'Revelations' down to the very last detail. Let's hitchhike to Verdon!
Eva was the perfect partner in crime for this. 24 hours later we stood at the end of Tržaška beginning our pilgrimage. I wanted it to feel like back then, when there was no internet, information on climbing spots was scarce and only spread through the mags and word of mouth. Besides, I've always liked travelling via hitchhiking for I deeply believe in solidarity between people and how we need to work on keeping this spirit alive. So here's how we did it. 900 kilometres, plenty of un-planned detours and plan-B's but always with one goal in mind. I'd packed my climbing and camping equipment and I felt care-free, as long as I end up seeing that magnificent sight of the gorge opening up in front of you as you walk up 'La belvedere de La Carelle'.
the mission. Bologna was a bit of a detour, but we got to meet the horse dentist guy this way

The hitch there was happening steadily but at no significant speed. We had to change many rides as most people could only take us maybe a 100 kilometres. The language barrier is a real problem for me in Italy, even though I've now improved a 1000% since the last time hitching through Italy, I mostly rely on mimics and giving some French or English words an Italian-sounding accent and hoping it will work. Speaking the language is the key, this way the ride can be an experience instead of just travel. Usually though, you will get rides with people more interesting in particular and they will speak another language. We got one with a French guy living in Italy working as a dentist for horses (!) and had an intense debate on politics, economy and life in general. While this is generally a topic reserved for evening beers when everyone feels a little smarter than usual, it's just exciting to hear different opinions from different people. And he even changed his course so he could take us further down our path! Legend.
one of the most random meetings ever. Big ups you!

It was getting late though and we weren't advancing as we hoped for. In essence hitching is a game of lucky coincidences, while the hiker tries to increase the chance of it happening. Well, we could have expected this or something similar given the amount of Slovenian people heading to climb in Oltre Finale (Albenga). Somewhere around Alessandria in a petrol station, a car pulled over with the best crew of friends. A few hitches later and we ourselves made it to Albenga and thus ended up in an unexpectedly cosy night for a hitchhiker.
we are not wet, smelly and dirty! something wrong?

This then turned into a few days since the climbing here was that good. However, Tuesday afternoon we paced ourselves up again. After getting benighted and forced to camp somewhere in the French hillsides, only kilometres away from Verdon, we reached our destination on Wednesday morning and finally got to feel all that glorious air beneath!
the French countryside north of Nice

the 'falaise de l'Escales' - dreamt of seeing this for long enough

What we climbed, how I got scared while dangling above the void with vultures looking upon and how the infamous 'Verdon manouever' and prussik-climbing came in handy is another story. I also got to satisfy my 'climbing history-geek' side with trying one of the J-B Tribout classic from year 87' and I am so psyched on this. More on that some other time.

Finally, the trip back was memorable in its own right, too. We escaped the rain in Verdon and were travelling fast, until it all came to a stop in Antibes. One more benightment and our morale was low. Next morning we were saved by a Serbian truck driver who was going all the way to Sežana. It was a pleasant, whole day ride and we experienced that true Serbian hospitaility even despite being crammed with all our stuff into a cabin of a truck. Chit-chatting on everything from world war 2 history to Novak Đokovič and vegan diets the day melted into a swirl of passing cars and smelly, tourist filled Autogrills as we travelled along with 25 tons of other lemons. We made it back home! I ticked one of my climber's life goals: the pilgrimage to Verdon :)
life gave us lemons

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! I hope you squeezed some delicious lemonade out of lemons ;). Your blog is such an inspiration, keep up!