Monday, September 29, 2014

Gorges du Verdon: The l’Imbut and Vidal trails.

This must be the most beautiful hike in the Verdon Canyon, but it is rated as one of the most difficult and the hike with most technical challenges. A normal fit walker will, however, manage the challenges well because of the many support chains and ladders along the way. However, I have suggestions below how to make this walk easier by giving alternative trails if needs be. So for those of you who want to see the Verdon Canyon without major problems, see the 3 options described in the 5th paragraph below. To get a better idea of what sort of trails we are talking about, do a straight seach on Google (or other web browser) for “Sentier l’Imbut”  and/or  “Sentier Vidal”. Both trails are well documented on the Internet in French, but you have a lot of photos and a few videos also.


It is not advisable to do the walk alone and do not use walking sticks. You will need both your hands free for support and avoid rainy days or days just after rain because the stone paths get very slippery when wet. But in any case use good footwear. Persons who suffers from vertigo are advised to stay away. The hike should be taken in the direction shown on the map because the Vidal path will be a lot more difficult going downhill. You will also see many signs along the path, warning you against doing this walk because of the dangers involved, and a sign that says swimming is forbidden in the Verdon river. What is important, however, is that the river can rise rapidly and rocks can fall from the steep sides on each side. So you walk on your own risk like in most places.


Sentier l'Imbut
From Moustiers-Ste-Marie or from Aups you follow for the village of Aiguines on the D19 or D71 roads on the south side of the Canyon. Here you continue the D71 road up to the canyon edge and follow the edge for about 20 minutes after Aiguines. You will see a large sign for the Hotel/Auberge/Restaurant des Cavaliers. Here you can park just below the buildings or on the other side of the road.


Walk back along the road you came for a few minutes, and you see a large wooden board on the right side of the road giving details of hikes. You want the GR99 (signposted also Estellier – 40 minutes) down into the Canyon. It takes 35-45 minutes down to the high tech bridge made across the river Verdon at Estellier in 2004, depending on your technique in steep downhill walking. Some fantastic views of the Canyon on the way down.


There are several options for those of you who do not want to do the difficult part of this walk (the gigantic stone landscape and the Vidal exit path up from the Canyon), but who would like to enjoy this fantastic Canyon. The most obvious choice would be to walk for l’Imbut as described below, but to simply return the same way wherever you like. The other would be to walk across the bridge, follow the GR99 up where it joins the GR4, and follow the GR4 upstream as long as you like. One natural point of return would be to walk as far as where the small river “la Mescla” comes into “le Verdon”. Here you could leave the GR trail and take right along a small trail the 500 meters until opposite where “la Mescla” enters Verdon. A very nice spot. You will also have passed many nice spots along the river already, and there are several places you could go for a swim if the river flows slowly. Finally, another option would be to stay on the south side of the bridge and follow the small trail going upstream. You will quickly discover many nice places for picnics and swimming. For good sun light down in the Canyon, the best period will be June to August.


Natural pool
At the Estellier bridge, you take the trail to the left just at the start of the bridge (do not cross the bridge) and follow this path downstream. You are now on the l’Imbut trail and it goes in places near the river and other places needs to go a bit higher to pass a difficult spot. Some of the high “passes” are quite spectacular; made like a narrow path (70-100 cm wide) cut out into the mountainside, but high enough for a person to walk normally. You are supported most of the way by means of cables mounted along the path.


Gravel beach
On the way down to l’Imbut, you could swim 3-4 places along the river, including the one at l’Imbut. (The “beaches” just after the bridge upstream offers perhaps the best conditions of them all, including good sunshine.) You also pass a small forest and some gigantic trees. After almost 1,5 hours walk from the bridge, the path starts uphill and you soon get to the signpost on the Vidal trail. If you are short of time and want to do the Vidal trail up and out of the Canyon, it’s straight in front of you here (small yellow and red markings). Otherwise, you take right here (signposted for l’Imbut – 30 minutes).


Sentier l'Imbut
The 20 minutes down towards l’Imbut goes nicely and you have a small beach there down on the right. The next little beaches, however, is more beautiful, but requires you to continue through the landscape of gigantic stones you saw on your left just before descending to the beach at l’Imbut. Here you see no path, but make sure you follow the white markings on the rocks. Things get a bit difficult here. It helps a lot if you help each other in places along these giant rocks. (Make sure you don’t fall down in between rocks and get stuck down there.) Another 10-15 minutes and you see down on your right a small beach just before the river disappears into the rock face.  You could walk down onto the beach here to see better, or walk another 70 meters along the trail across to the other side, down to the next beach which is bigger and nicer.


The return from l’Imbut starts with the 30 minutes back up to the signpost on the Vidal trail. Here you could take the same route back again (about 2 hours) or start uphill the challenging Vidal trail (about 1h 30min) straight on. The Vidal trail is apparently made for workers as an emergency exit from the Canyon some time back. It certainly is spectacular going almost vertically uphill like a winding stairways cut out into the rock face with good metal wires along most of the way. It will take about 45 minutes uphill before you can relax on a nice green opening at the top, just before reaching the D71 road.


Sentier Vidal
The 3 km. on the road back to the parking will take you about ¾ hour and will offer many spectacular views of the Canyon along the way. Not a very nice walk, however, in heavy traffic. Alternative rout could be to follow the yellow marked Vidal trail straight across the road up to the 832-meter point on the GR99 and follow this back to the parking without any views of the Canyon. This route is not longer, but would probably take you 15 minutes longer.



Basic information:

Duration:       6h (including 1h for lunch)
Distance:       8 km.
Ascent:          500 m (accumulated)
Difficulty:       Difficult, but good support with wires and ladders
Start/finish:    Parking by Auberge de Cavaliers on D71 (south side)

Map:              IGN 3442 OT Gorges du Verdun (1cm=150 m)


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