I just spent a week with my family in the French Alps, next to the sources of Verdon which has one of the greatest canyons in Europe.
It’s been a dream for both my wife and me to spend some time at a remote location and just hike a lot. Finally we did it - with an 18 months old girl - and it was great. But even such an idyll has its ups and downs.
Arriving at La Foux d’Allos we realized that our network operator has no signal. Beforehand we were not sure if there will be internet connection available at our accommodation, but we’re confident that we’ll have mobile net. We couldn’t have even made a phone call for a couple of days. I think there was a technical outage because in the middle of the week 4G signal appeared. Was that a relief? Not sure. It was actually great to more or less disconnect from the world for a couple days.
This was the first time that I was walking with my daughter on my back. Not long before this trip we bought a baby carrier backpack. So when I planned our daily activities I played safe, I did not want to overcommit. I really didn’t know what to expect, how would Dalma behave in that backpack. I tried to look for easier hikes and not more than 10 kilometers a day. In the end we did much more every day we hiked.
On our first full day we headed to Lac d’Allos. When we put Dalma in the carrier and I got her on my back, she started to cry. But in a few minutes her sadness disappeared and she started to enjoy being in an elevated position from where she could see a lot. And she had a lot new to see.
We were on our way back to the parking and it was still less than 2 PM when we arrived at a crossroads. The sign said that the parking is 30 minutes away, Colmars-les-Alpes is 6 hours away and Col de l’Encombrette is 1 hour 15 minutes away. We felt the force within us so we took the upper road. The view on Lac d’Allos and on the Lacs de l’Encombrette was definitely worth it and we saw a lot of sheep - my daughter loved them - and some marmots too - my wife loved them.
Honestly, it was difficult. We climbed up from 2100 meters to a bit higher than 2500 meters after having hiked up to and around Lac d’Allos. Some parts were quite steep, it was hot, and I did not choose my shoes for such a hike either. Those are physical elements, for me relatively easy to get over them. But the narrow paths on steep slopes are more problematic for me. I still fight against fear of heights. This time when I felt really bad, I kept saying to myself like a mantra “you are strong, you can do it”. I did it, I was proud of myself and of all of us!
I use to say that surrender is no longer an option, I repeat, it is not an option, we must not quit, we can do it, etc. But there was a point where I couldn’t do it and I did quit in the end. I am not proud of it, but I have to face it. Another day we finished our hike from Col d’Allos to Rochegrand - again with some scary parts to me even though this hike physically is not at all challenging - and we decided to make another one from Col d’Allos to Col de Sestrière. We made it through some really steep, but wide paths, some more narrow ones in the hill-sides, but there was one peak in our way what we could see from far away. It scared me. I had no idea how I could pass it, especially with the baby on my back - going up on your knees and coming down on your bottom is not a viable option.
I tried to tell myself that it’s still far away, first we have to get there, then we can think about the next steps. I was trying to put myself in a positive, can-do-it mood. But I felt inside that it’s not really working. Maybe I already exhausted my pool of mental strength for the day. Worse, we also met two couples who were on their way back and speaking about the difficulties of this hike. When you need support, it’s really bad to run into negativity instead. The final approach to this mountain-in-the-middle was also filled with fear of heights passing on a ridge between Val d’Allos and Val d’Ubaye and I couldn’t get over it. I was standing in front of that peak with my daughter on my back, I saw how I could climb that giant rock, but I didn’t see how to come back. I was full of fear, my limbs barely moved. I gave up.
Is there a moral here?
If you don’t believe in giving up and you still give up and fail, you’ll feel dissonance between what you say, what you think and what you do. It’s tough. You have get over it. You’ll fail again and again in life it is such a cliché. I think it was still better failing just in front of that peak than not even going there.
I didn’t have the chance to go back as the weather changed afterwards and there were other hikes to complete which were on our original schedule. The last day we would have had the time, but after the huge amount of rain poured down the day before we thought it was better not to go back. Instead we chose three smaller hikes summing up to 700 meters of elevation and we finished them successfully. That was the toughest day in terms of elevation. Plus I managed to complete some parts which were scary to me and I climbed down to the bottom of a waterfall which was really deliberating. As Pete Carroll Seahawks coach said, you must finish strong. We did.
Next time we come back to the Valley of Allos, I’ll conquer the Sestrière.