After several weeks of wet weather (rain, then snow, then rain again) the forecast at the start of the week finally predicted one day that had the potential for some outside climbing. Thursday was the magic day, and it coincided with a blank page in the diary. We monitored the weather all week as Thursday approached and sure enough it dawned bright and clear. The regular morning mist was absent and the frost on the ground confirmed a rain free night. We waited until mid-morning for the temperature to rise and then set off for Mont Rome with high expectations.
Mont Rome is a small crag close to our new base in Bourgogne. It is on the top of a hill and at 546m it commands a fantastic view across the countryside. Comprising of a series of limestone buttresses facing in all directions it has surprisingly diverse climbing for such a small area (there are 103 routes from 3a to 8a in the guide book, but more have been added since then). We’d had one short visit previously and realised its potential as a winter climbing crag, it gets lots of sun, the routes are all single pitch around 20m, and the walk in is short.
The crags at Mont Rome bathed in sunshine overlooking the surrounding countryside
So on Thursday we headed out towards the crag, the car thermometer said it was 4 degrees Celsius, but we expected that to rise as the day went on. As we got closer to Mont Rome alarm bells started ringing as we became shrouded in thick fog. We had been gradually climbing higher and I was worried this was low cloud rather than surface mist that would burn off. Would the crag be high enough to be above it? We eventually emerged out of the cloud and saw the hill and the crags bathed in sunshine, protruding above an amorphous opaque layer of weather. We breathed a sigh of relief and headed up to the top of the hill. A quick glance at the dashboard showed the thermometer reading 3 degrees. Oh dear!
The view from the parking spot at the top of the hill was amazing. Thick cloud lay over the countryside in seemingly random lumps, the edges as clearly defined as the top. Above us was clear blue skies but the edge of the fog bank was not far away. We descended down the path to Secteur Plage, a lovely clean buttress standing above the trees on a ledge which meant we would be in the sun when belaying as well as when climbing. We were craving any little bit of sun! The low temperature was enhanced by a slight breeze, which although very light and not constant, was bitterly cold and cut through any exposed skin.
Jon heading towards the crag with the fog bank threatening; descending into the sunshine.
We quickly geared up and Jon headed up our warmup route, it was meant to be a nice easy affair but he missed the turnoff and did the harder direct route through the overhang instead! To be fair, it turned out to be quite straightforward and the overhang had huge holds which was advantageous as I could barely feel my fingers by the time I got there. The neighbouring route was equally pleasant with some committing moves on small holds, but always enough to make it do-able. By this time we were beginning to warm up when we were moving but the sun was regularly disappearing behind high clouds making it hard to stay warm whilst belaying. By the time we got onto our third route, a more challenging line which required good movement on very small foot holds often with only a 2 finger pocket for your hands, we were getting colder rather than warmer. I messed up the crux and ended up resting on the rope with my hands stuffed into my armpits desperately trying to get some feeling back into them. I needed my fingers to work if only to get the rest of the gear back.
Jon heading up Veni Vidi Vite (5c) our warmup route.
By the time I got back down the sun was completely masked by cloud and the cold wind was winning the thermodynamic war. We looked at each other and decided that it was just too cold to be comfortable climbing. If we’d had a little more sun or a little less breeze it would have been fine. But 3 degrees with no sun and a cold wind was not working for us. So after only 90 minutes at the crag feeling slightly dejected, we packed up our stuff and headed back to the warmth of the car. It was frustrating that after weeks of waiting we finally had a chance to climb outside and it still didn’t work. But one of the many things we have to learn about living in France is which crag to go to with any given set of conditions. And on Thursday we made the wrong call. Hopefully we will have better luck next time.
Trying to warm my hands up around a small cup of tea!