I lost the argument, we went to France.
We flew to Montpellier in the South of France, picked up the hire car and drove north for two hours until we arrived in an area near Buis Les Barronnies. It was 3pm, the days are short in October so I insisted we went out and climbed. We managed one route before dark enveloped us.
We’d seen on the French news that a bad storm was heading our way and was due to hit us sometime the next night so off we went the next morning and found ourselves some nice limestone to play on. We started gently on a few easy routes with the aim of getting on something harder by the end of the day.
Well I’m not one to say “I told you so” but about 12 noon I was heard to say “I told you so” as the heavens opened on us and we got soaked running back to the car.
Back in our rented house we learned from the French TV station that not only had the rain come early but it was here to stay for a few days. There was much debating about what should be done. One guy wanted to stay, sit out the rain and read his book. We’d come on a climbing trip so I made a suggestion which was ignored so I tried again and was ignored again. I’d noticed on the weather report that the French Alps (Chamonix) was dry and forecast to be sunny for two days. I tried again and this time Paul, one of my buddies started to warm to the idea. “Where will you climb, you don’t know where you’re going” came one response from Pete. “We’ll find a climbing shop, buy a guide book and go climbing” was my response. “That’ll take an hour to find one” was the rather negative come back. “OK we’ll set off an hour earlier then”.
Eventually only me and Paul decided to go for the 550 mile round trip so at 4am the next morning off we set. “Why are you bringing the duvets off the bed?” Paul asked me. “If you think I’m driving all the way there and back in a day you’re wrong. I’m sleeping in the car tonight, here have a duvet, you'll need it.”
By 9am we were in a shop in Chamonix buying a guide book and by 9.30am we were at the crag.
The sun was just coming up over the Aiguille du Midi and casting its rays over the fine road side crag we’d found. We climbed there all day until we decided it was time to eat.
Then we struck on a problem. We knew the distance we had to drive so we had some spare money for diesel/gas. We also had money for food but what we hadn’t banked on was how much the toll roads would cost us just to get here. With very little funds left we decided we could only afford a 5 litre box of red wine and some bread as our evening meal. We figured if we drank lots of wine a) we wouldn’t notice we were hungry and b) the night would go quicker.
The night past quickly (the red wine trick worked!!) and in the morning we again woke to blue sky and the sun slowly creeping over the high aiguilles and glaciers that surrounded us.
Breakfast was bread and jam. By 8am we were driving up the Chamonix valley as far as we could before walking up to the Aiguillette d’Argentiere.
This turned out to be a magnificent days climbing. We had the crag to ourselves save for the odd hiker that stopped to take photos of us messing around on the two pinnacles. The views were fantastic, the company brilliant.
By late afternoon we realised that if we were going to drive back tonight we had to head off before dark. So off we set but with virtually no cash between us we had to set the sat nav to avoid all toll roads. The 4 ½ hour drive we’d had the day before was now showing 7 hours on all the back roads. We didn’t care, we were high on the fact we’d had two great days climbing in a beautiful place. The sat nav played up a few times directing us down roads we found were closed or blocked. The 7 hours turned into 9 hours eventually arriving back at the house at 2am.
Ideally we could have done with the next day off but we felt guilty at leaving Pete for two days when we’d told him we’d only be gone for one day. So we dutifully went climbing and we climbed again the next day but it felt slightly anticlimactic clipping bolts on endless bits of limestone.
Chamonix was a trip to remember. Thank God it rained in the whole of France except Chamonix and thanks to Paul for letting me drag you all the way there and (slowly) back. Memories are made of trips like this. Here’s to the next one mate.