Drive-by cragging en route to the Durance

After a year when RockAroundTheWorld morphed into RockAroundTheUK (much of it very enjoyable, it has to be said!) we’re finally back on the road! A quick Eurotunnel dash (very quiet and zero hassle from either covid or Brexit bureaucracy) and an overnight in Troyes had us wondering where to break the journey. The forecast for The Durance valley (south of Briancon) was Grand Beau Temps by the time we were scheduled to get there, but the intervening couple of days were Beaucoup de Pluie.

We took turns to juxtapose data from weather apps, climbing guides and France cragging websites (our new favourite is as the other one drove, trying to find a window of potentially dry rock, and the algorithm finally spat out “Rochefort sur Nenon”, a roadside offering near Dole. With torrential rain and barely a hint of brightness on the horizon, this looked a long shot, but only 15mins out of our route south it seemed at least worth reccying for a future visit.

No complaints about the walk-in or the ambiance

Fortune favours the brave (bordering on delusional) and we were rewarded with a 45mins gap in the rain – just enough time to baggsy the driest looking line we could find.

Tais-Rame is a classic corner – it’d get HVS at Wildcat or Ravensdale and 3*
… and be even more polished.

Another rainy stopover near Grenoble, with more precipitation forecasted, and we resigned ourselves to a day’s driving, but things perked up as we approached The Oisans. Leaving Bourg d’Oisans on the road to Briancon (which ultimately crosses Col du Lautaret for you cycling buffs) we were intrigued by a carved wooden sign: “Escalade” and pulled a few hundred metres down a narrow gravel road. Sure enough, we’d stumbled across Le Vernis, a modest but very handy Gneiss (and quite nice) crag. Definitely not “Destination” quality, but the sun was shining by now and it was feeling pleasantly warm despite the altitude. The “stick or twist” debate was short-lived as Helen pointed out the advantages of a bird in the hand (or perhaps un Oiseaux dans L’Oisins).

The rock is pretty polished and consequently the grades are absolute sandbags (I have NEVER had to try so hard on a 6a as Latry’s) but if you can ignore that it’s a pleasant journey-breaker.

Helen on Grand Mere
… and the excellent Sortie a Droit

Continuing the journey through the Ecrins we had stunning views of The Meije…

… and the Barres des Ecrins

Glorious the next day at one of our favourite French campsites: Le Verger at Roche de Rame

After a slow start, we decided to play it safe with the roadside suntrap of Le Pouit – here’s the write up from our previous visit:

Suffice to say it’s a belting crag, and we truly felt back into RockAroundTheWorld mode for the first time in a year – you just don’t get 40m sunny bolted 6s in this kind of setting back in Blighty.

Posing for this photo on Asses Cause, a local enquired: “You work for Rockfax?” It turned out that he was one of the equippeurs and somewhat protective – he became much friendlier when we assured him we weren’t!

Route of the day, for me, was Bob et les Ferrailleurs, a 6b+/c running the full height of the crag with a desperate sting in the tail.

Having roasted all day, things cooled down pretty quickly as the sun dipped behind Le Ponteil, prompting an early beer o’clock.

Great to be back on the road!

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