Three top trips for mountain walkers
Wendy Golledge finds action and adventure in the French Alps
When my friend suggested we head to a ski resort in June, I was dubious. Summer is for beaches and sipping cocktails by the pool; winter is for bombing down mountains and lingering over mugs of glühwein, surely? But lured by mountain biking and glacial hikes, I agreed to give it a go. I'm immediately impressed by the Hotel le Labrador in Chamonix, with its giant open fires and distinctly log-cabin look, but it does seem odd to be trying to work out how the air con works. Still, I'm soon sipping a glass of wine on the balcony, absorbing the majestic silence as Mont Blanc towers outside my window. For our first adventure - ice climbing - we'll be heading for the Mer de Glace glacier, which, at 7km long and 200m deep, is the biggest in France. Despite it being a sunny day back at base, we wrap up warm and are soon out on the ice. The terrain is quite fl at, but the glacier is dotted with deep cracks, which we have to step over. It's a nerve-jangling experience to hop over what looks like a bottomless crevasse, with only crampons to secure our grip. We hike to an ice wall, armed with an ice hook, and attempt to scale it. It's kind of like rock climbing, but without the need to be so strategic about where you put your hands and feet - mostly it's a matter of sheer brute force. You have to be really strong, both physically and mentally, and my upper body gets a hardcore workout. That evening, as we tuck into buttery scallops and lobster at Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bistro, I conclude that this is the big advantage of ditching the beach. Instead of feeling guilty after too many cocktails, I'm clearing my plate with gusto, in the knowledge that if trekking on a glacier didn't allow for the extra calories, what's in store tomorrow will. If you're the type who's gripped by the need to speed the moment you glimpse a snowy peak, then you should, at least once, swap your skis for a mountain bike. It's more hair-raising than even the toughest black run and, despite being on two wheels, I'm tackling slopes I'd never dare to ski. Riding a bike fast downhill really tests your reactions and strength, but it's such an adrenaline high, I don't want it to end. Later that day, we get kitted out in wetsuits for our final adventure - white-water rafting. The glacial water is so cold it takes my breath away, but I acclimatise quickly, and before long I'm shrieking, paddling for dear life and merrily hurling myself out of the raft at every opportunity. By the time we heave our raft onto the bank after covering 8km in grade-II rapids, my arms are so heavy that I feel like I've spent the past hour in a boxing ring. Warming up with a café au lait, I soak up Chamonix's relaxed summery vibe. OK, so the alpine chalets do look a bit odd without their customary dusting of snow. But the mountain air and blue skies pump you full of life's energy. I saw more of Chamonix than I ever would have on a pair of skis; I've pushed myself to the limit, and I will definitely be doing it again.
British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair fl y to Geneva, a 60-minute drive from Chamonix. Rooms at Hotel le Labrador www.hotel-labrador.com start from €103 (about £90) a night for a standard double. For activity information, visit www.heliski-russia.com or www.compagniedumontblanc.com. This year's Mont Blanc marathon takes place on 27 June 2010. For more details, visit www.montblancmarathon.fr.
Posted: 18/03/2013 at 02:37
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