As I slowly trudge across the glacier, I can’t help imagining I’m climbing one of the world’s epic mountains. I’m attached to a wiry, berry-brown guide in front of me and to a young Irish man called Alan behind me by a rope from my climbing harness. I concentrate hard, following in the guide’s footsteps, while trying to push thoughts of deadly crevasses from my head as the June sun beats down. We’re at the start of the via cordata (a mix of hiking, rock climbing and mountaineering) route up Verbier’s famous Mont Fort, the top of which looms about 500 vertical metres above us, at an impressive 3,329m. Safely across the glacier a few minutes later, we look up at the vertical rockface in front of us.
Apparently we have to scale it! The guide explains some technique and safety pointers and he’s off like a mountain goat. All too soon, I feel a tug on my harness that’s the signal for me to begin my ascent. I’ve climbed before, but mostly indoors and not for 10 years, so I’m not exactly graceful, but I manage reach the guide without too much trouble, clipping the rope in and out of the safety carabiners as I go (the carabiner system is drilled into the rock; and there are also a few permanent thicker ropes at various points on the route to help you up or down particularly tricky sections). ‘Good work, but take your time,’ says the guide, knowing we’re only at the start of a lengthy climb and I’ll need to conserve my energy. Next up is Alan, who has never climbed before but is very fit from playing his national sport, hurling.
Travel to Swiss Alps – Map of Swiss Alps Photo Gallery
He does well and thankfully doesn’t let the sheer drops around us scare him – I’m realising we’re a team here and you can’t quit half way up, so am relieved he’s taking it all in his stride. We continue to work our way up the mountainside, taking it in turns to climb and scramble up, around and over the terrain. I love that feeling of making progress up the mountain in such a physical way – it’s endorphin overload when combined with the spectacular views that I allow myself to take in when there’s a chance to pause. The last section is a (very narrow!) ridge to the summit, which we scramble and walk along. After three hours, and tired but exhilarated, we reach the summit – small fry for serious mountaineers, but a fantastic taster for those with little or no experience.
Having worked up a sizeable appetite and in need of a sit-down, we take the cable car down to Les Gentianes restaurant for a late lunch and enjoy a hearty pasta dish. That afternoon, we head to Wholeycow’s studio for a yoga class (£19; wholeycow.ch) to help stretch out our muscles, before heading to family-run restaurant Au Vieux Verbier that evening. We make plans for a hike the next day while tucking into delicious local speciality Potence flame-grilled meat that comes skewered on what looks like a medieval torture instrument, accompanied by little bowls of rice and flavoursome sauces, before going for a nightcap at Central T Bar (which is not half as crowded out of ski season) to enjoy the live music.
A SCENIC HIKE
The next day, we find ourselves doing a fantastic hike starting from Cabane Brunet at 2,100m altitude and a short drive from Verbier. We’re surrounded by beautiful alpine flowers and pass a herd of cows with bells gently clinking. The walk takes in the Passerelle de Corbassière, a spectacular and recently built 210m long and 70m high walkway above a glaciermeltwater river, and with impressive views up to the Corbassière glacier itself. We arrive in time for lunch at Cabin de Panossière, which sits at 2,600m, in the shadow of the Grand Combin mountain and tuck into an amazingly tasty cheese fondu, before heading back down on the opposite side of the river and ending up at Fionnay (at 1,490m) to complete a very satisfying 15km route, though the legs can most definitely feel it! I do love that intense hunger you get from a properly physical day in the fresh air, and that evening, we treat ourselves to dinner on the terrace of 5* hotel Le Chalet d’Adrien – the views down over the valley are stunning, and the food top-notch.
TWISTS AND TURNS
Despite my aching limbs, I’m determined to try the Verbier Bikepark just above town active travel the next morning. It boasts seven downhill trails from an easier blue to a competition trail, with more than 12km of marked trails in total. In my weary state, the blue Tsopu run is challenging enough for me – I’ve tried downhill mountain biking before, but not for a good few years. A green run, perfect for complete beginners, is in the pipeline. If downhill mountain biking’s not your thing, there’s an impressive 500km of cross-country trails, or road biking’s also big here – check out the website for suggested routes for all abilities. Or hire an E-bike so you can cover more ground and enjoy a bit of help on the steep uphills.
I find time to squeeze in one final little adventure on my short trip – zip-lining at La Madzeria, just outside Verbier. Climbing harness on, I clip onto the wire and whizz down the 120m-long cable, 30m above the river Dranse that lies at the bottom of the ravine below – great fun! Sadly there isn’t time to try the via ferrata route there, with its bridges, ladders and ropeways to help you navigate the rockface by the side of the river. That’s one for next time! In fact, there are so many other things I’m dying to try, including sky diving, paragliding and a five-day hike along the Haute Route to Zermatt to name but three. There’s always next summer…
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