I jump, I land, I slide into what I now call Murphy’s Gap. The gap is a 10-15 meter deep crevasse on the Les Deux Alpes glacier and suddenly I’m in it. I’m not exactly Joe Simpson touching the void – the bobble of my woolen hat is visible above the ledge – but still, when I turn my eyes down, I stare into the abyss.
I’m in Les Deux Alpes in the Isère region of the southern French Alps to discover the place from all angles during the summer – on snow and ice, on land, from the air and in the water. The resort calls itself “Home of Ride” and refers to its ski area in winter. For now, it’s home to Slide for me.
A group of six of us donned crampons and roped up for an ice walk at 10,000 feet. We’re never more than a few hundred yards from a drag lift that takes summer skiers onto the slopes, or from the lift station. It’s a walk that families with young children can do and it’s really easy until it’s not.
Our guide makes us jump a 2ft wide section of the crevasse. Maybe I’m not jumping far enough, not putting my crampons on when I land, or maybe the snow has been weakened by the people who jumped before me. Either way, my surprising backwards slide begins.
I hurl a single expletive into the column, then another as I slide a little farther. This is potentially a moment of danger for the rest of the group, not just me. The rope stops my slide. The system works.
“That’s why you should never enter the glacier without a rope,” says my guide. His expression never changes as he prepares to help me. His calm keeps me calm.
My right crampon is stuck behind me in the wall of snow and ice. The one on the left barely keeps the ice wall in front of me. I’m not sure how long I can hold the position and don’t relish the prospect of being stuck in the gap. I’m later told that I didn’t panic, but I can hear myself begging the guide to get me out.
The whole thing lasts 10 minutes and involves a mix of me climbing the wall of snow and ice with my crampons, using my measly upper body strength to get over the ledge, and the guide pulling me out.
On the plus side, I accidentally completed an important ski mountaineering safety training exercise that I never got around to during my ski touring days. I shake my ruffled feathers and continue walking.
A second drama unfolds when a massive blizzard hits with thunder and lightning. As we jog down the slope to quickly reach the lift station, a cart-driving hero emerges from the snowy fog. We jump on the back of the ski patroleur’s snowmobile and get safely to the lift station.
I’m secretly pleased that this new drama has defused my crevasse misadventure and am delighted to be sitting in the cold, dark lift station while we wait for the gondola to depart again.
Back in Les Deux Alpes, we stop at the four-star Hôtel Chalet Mounier for afternoon tea and a swim in the outdoor pool set in the hotel’s beautiful gardens. The Chalet Mounier is known for its spa, which caters for fans of relaxation alongside the new Chamois Lodge Spa.
That’s the great thing about summer holidays in resorts like Les Deux Alpes. You can indulge in many activities (up to 40), relax after the adventure and enjoy good food at restaurants such as Le Trappeur (traditional mountain dish), Chez Nous 2 for Basque tapas/pintxos and Le Raisin d’Ours
Les Deux Alpes has 80 restaurants and 30 bars including Wine Not Bar and The Polar Bear Club where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
In winter, the resort is popular with groups of skiers and snowboarders. In summer it is strikingly beautiful and buzzes with mountain bikers, hikers and active families. There is a relaxed atmosphere that really appeals to me.
I also love its affordability. We are staying at Base Camp Lodge 2 which opened last December and has a sister of the same name in Bourg-Saint-Maurice. A double room in the lodge costs from €95 in summer, a shared room costs €35. That’s serious affordability in a well-known French high-altitude resort.
The lodge has been cleverly designed with plenty of mountain and ski features and a modern restaurant serving an excellent three course meal for €28. I cannot fault the place.
Discover the resort from all angles, including tandem paragliding, a fantastic way to see the region’s imposing 3,000+ meter peaks with pilot Xavier Dauboin; white water rafting with Vénéon Eaux Vives at Le Plan du Lac near Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans; and summer skiing on the glacier, which unfortunately closed earlier than usual this summer due to the high temperatures.
But one of the absolute best ways to explore this region is on foot, with a hike in the heart of Les Écrins National Park.
We drive to Venosc, a pretty little village with centuries-old houses and craft shops selling local groceries and jewellery. From there we take the gondola to what feels like a very beautiful end of the world.
Public bus service to this area is limited, meaning it doesn’t get too crowded, but also means you need to plan your hiking day carefully to ensure you catch the return bus.
La Berarde – known for its mountaineering – is the starting point for many hikes and climbing tours. It also marks the start of a 12.5km hike that will take us 500m up to the Refuge de Châtelleret at 2,225m.
Along the hike, which is classified as moderately difficult, our guide Aude Berruyer tells us about the unique fauna and flora of the national park. We stop to spot marmots and chamois, but it’s the magnificent views that capture our hearts.
We are treated to a close-up view of the Barre des Écrins, and the closer we get to the refuge, the more breathtaking the view of the south face of La Meije, the imposing summit of the nearby off-piste skiing and mountaineering dream destination La Grave.
La Meije has mythical status in the minds of serious mountain fans. It was first climbed by Pierre Gaspard in 1877, and the Refuge de Chatelleret is the very point where he bivouacked before his ascent. This area is sauvage – wild. If you love wilderness and multi-day hut-to-hut hikes, this is a must.
As we devour delicious post-hike crepes, we look out over Le Vallon des Étançons, a popular winter ski touring area, and promise to return to the Refuge du Promontoire for an overnight stay in Chatelleret and another hike.
Our trek is a back and forth affair – the first section back from the refuge involves some scrambling up and over rocks before descending onto flat trails and even more majestic views. We end the day with a glass of white wine on the terrace of a Venosc restaurant and take the gondola back to Les Deux Alpes, ready for rest and the next day’s adventures.
- Catherine Murphy was a guest of Les Deux Alpes Tourist Office, whose website has a range of summer accommodation and walking/cycling offers. les2alpes.com
- The nearest airport is Lyon. From there travel to Grenoble and on to Les Deux Alpes (L2A) or organize a private transfer. aerlingus.com
- L2A offers many outdoor events, including the new Mountain of Hell mountain bike race for kids and a trail running challenge every August.
- The ice walk costs €80 per person. Hiking in Les Écrins National Park costs €45 per person or €260 for groups. guides2alpes.com
- Tandem paragliding costs €80 for a 10 minute flight. Rafting costs from €27 with Vénéon Eaux Vives. rafting-veneon.com
- The ski pass is inexpensive and varies for hikers and mountain bikers.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/summer-thrills-and-spills-in-frances-les-deux-alpes-41908172.html Summer thrills in Les Deux Alpes, France