Just about to settle down for the night – but I should emphasise that when I say I’m ‘above’ the lake I mean that quite literally.
I’m perched on a ‘portaledge’, a device used by mountaineers to get a good night’s sleep when ascending huge rock walls; in effect it’s a lightweight canvas and aluminium platform that is suspended from bolts driven into the rock face.
‘Un Nuite Insolite en Paroi’, aka as ‘An Unusual Night on a Wall’ is a night out with a difference that’s offered to adventurous punters by French guiding company Inax Aventure; their guides have spent many a night, unusual or otherwise, on the great rock walls of the world, and for a bit of hard-earned they will readily escort mere ‘flaneurs’ such as me to the best room with a view in France.
To get here has been rather less taxing than scaling a Himalayan wall, and involves a pleasant 30-minute hike through thick forest from the Col de les Contrabandiers (‘Smuggler’s Pass) with my guide, professional mountaineer Philippe Batoux, until we come to a cliff edge rising up from the lake shore; here we don climbing harness and helmet to rappel some 15-metres down the cliff face onto a wide, shrubby ledge.
Off to the side of this natural ledge is our portaledge, hanging serenely above a drop of several hundred metres. The views are sensational. Directly below is the lakeside village of Veyrier-sur-Lac, beyond which the blue-green waters of Lake Annecy glitter in the evening sunlight. On the lake’s far shore sits Annecy, one of the loveliest towns in the French Alps, and beyond range after range of mountains fade into the distance.
“This being France we do things in style.”
First off Philippe fires up a camping stove and prepares fondue; with wine of course (although given the drinking venue this is sensibly limited). While we dine Annecy gradually lights up in a dazzling twinkle as evening slips into night.
When I eventually clamber aboard my portaledge and slip into my sleeping bag I’m surprised at how warm and comfy it is, although I can’t realistically expect to sleep as soundly as a veteran of high mountain adventures like Philippe.
For a start I have to keep my climbing harness on – this secures me to the cliff edge in case I move around too much in my sleep and it’s not exactly designed for featherlike comfort. And with a gentle breeze from the lake way below blowing across my face and the incredible views, especially as the sun comes up, I invariably spend a lot of time staring into space rather than sleeping.
“I’m rather taken by this extreme form of camping”
Indeed, were there any rock walls close to my home, and were I an experienced mountaineer, I’d be tempted to buy my own portaledge for the occasional night out.
But there aren’t, and I’m not, so this will have to do until I sign up for an expedition up K2…
Inax Aventure offer a night on the portaledge with guide, all mountaineering equipment (including sleeping bag) and dinner and breakfast for €290 per person.
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