Summer Activities in the Mountains
Not one to do things correctly, out regular Alpine Action Blogger Jim went to the Alps at the end of the summer to experience a few things.
Not only did I wait until the summer was over and autumn was kicking in, I even decided to try the Italian Mountains. What is a La Tania and Meribel evangelist doing heading to Milan then making their way north east, you may wonder? Well, to be honest I am not so sure but that is beside the point. What I do know is that the Alps in the summer look magnificent.
Ok, so I was there for a reason. I wanted to find out a bit more about the popular adventure that people are calling Canyoning. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the activity if canyoning I shall explain. First you need a canyon, you also need an experienced guide, some safety equipment and the desire to abseil, jump and swim down the river that has helped create the canyon you are in.
The group I was going Canyoning with was made up of a varied pool of experience. There were the outdoor types, the lapsed outdoor types, the triathletes, the London bound office worker, the rugby players and the intellectuals. To some, this was going to be the ultimate test of nerve, danger and bravery. To others this was going to be a walk down a river.
Our Guides were what you would expect from a weathered ski instructor. A leathery tan, knowing eyes, the talent to smoke in any situation and the ability to make you feel slightly inferior. I expect these mountain guides are actually ski instructors in the winter months. They kitted us out in wetsuits and issued us safety equipment.
Unlike skiing there are no lifts of us to use. This meant a thirty minute hike up the mountain to the start point. For some of the team this was the hardest part. The climb turned into a traverse with a daunting view. It felt as though one mistake could lead to a slide over a hidden cliff. It wasn’t a gentle climb either. The optimist pointed out that the higher and steeper we go the more fun/extreme the descent would be and to the pessimists it was just another step up to a longer fall.
Unsurprisingly the whole group made it to the start of the canyon. As it was the end of summer the water levels in the river were low. You could clearly see the height that water would reach in the spring when the winter snow is melting at a rapid rate. We weren’t going to get soaked but we weren’t going to be able to avoid the chilly mountain waters.
Many in the group had never put any trust in a rope at all, so being told to lean back and walk down a waterfall, while a complete stranger is entrusted with your life, was a tough thing to do. The nerves were obvious as the shaky leg symptoms were showing. For those of us experienced in abseiling, nerves were also high, as the guide, not happy that the activity was deemed so dangerous that most insurers won’t cover it, was insistent on lowering us using his hands alone despite having the correct equipment dangling from his harness.
For an hour we made our way down a river. We were lowered down a few waterfalls, dunked in several pools, slid down a rock or two, and navigated a log. The experience was tamer than I had hoped, and for many the challenge was the hike up. But for some it was a true face your fear adventure, spurred on by nothing other than peer pressure and the knowledge that there is no other option to get out of the situation.
I don’t think the activity of Canyoning will become a sport that many people fall in love with, but it is a great team building exercise.