After living in the Auvergne region of France for seven years I decided it was time to climb perhaps the most iconic mountain of the region. Standing tall above Clermont-Ferrand, and giving its name to the department that surrounds it, Puy de Dome looks out over the Chaine des Puys and commands all it sees.
The problem of course with an Icon, is status. Everybody wants a bit of it, as a result there is a road, a funicular, and a pretty broad footpath. This means people, lots of them! So if you want this icons’ attention you will be sharing it with a few other sycophants. The day was cold, sharp to cutting point. The snow was crisp and deep and I had coffee and a picnic to make the trip worthwhile, so upwards to the clouds I went.
It’s not a hard climb, the snow and the views as you rise are what you go for, and the pleasant company you pass going up or down. In France they favour snowshoes, racquets as they are called, because the snow is deep and soft and makes that satisfying low growl as you sink your feet into it. It does get slippy as more people tamp it down, just to make it interesting, and the daytime explorers in trainers and shoes soon feel the cold, and the joy of trying to skid down a mountain. I do most of my winter walking in the UK, we have snow, hard thin layers with malice in every last drift, we have ice, frozen springs running down our paths, hidden water waiting to find your boots and throw you back the way you came. As a result we use crampons when we get cold weather, I use ten point flexible crampons, better for walking across mixed rocks, ice and snow. The French find this funny because you still sink into the snow, while they dance across on their racquets, Smiling and skipping over their soft fluffy snow. Not that I am bitter about it. I like going out in the snow, and the cold, and climbing into the claggy fog that clings to the top of mountains. Here at the summit it was quiet, the French can’t be bothered if they can’t see anything from the top. I’ve been to Wales, to The Lake District, cloud, wind, rain, hiding behind rocks to brew up is normal, a view makes you dance and skip with glee. So at the top, I stood with four French walkers and a Dutchman. We stood by the viewpoint which told us what we would see if there was no cloud. We exchanged ideas about the forecast, was it worth waiting, etc. Then we ambled around the snow-covered cloudy top of this Icon, because it is quite big up there, and somewhere underneath all this snow is a Roman temple dedicated to Mercury, the god of travelers, it would have been rude not to have at least tried to nod in his direction, lover of travel that I am. I want the best and any help is always appreciated.
I strolled around the snow crusted buildings, had lunch on a picnic bench that promised mountain vistas and gave greyness with a determined air. I enjoyed watching people trying to take pictures, fingers going numb in the wind, camera struggling with sub-zero, had my hot coffee, and wondered if the French have heard of a thermos flask, before scooting back down to the car, the Bar for another coffee and a short stroll through the woods.
On the drive home I was treated to the magnificent sight of Puy de Sancy, white and clear of any cloud, shining in winter sun and gloating at the fools who chose the other one over her wilder charms, maybe next visit.
There are some who would say that anything with a cafe and a train station on top doesn’t count as a mountain, but hey, If the view is good and the walking is good. Why wouldn’t you want coffee on top? It was closed this day though for some reason, maybe they knew I was coming.
I love this image, the icy veins wrapping the rock, showing the cold world to its fullest extent.
The full set of pictures can be found here:
But the final word to the snow, soon to be trodden.