Starting a hike of 1km vertical ascent up a mountain at 3pm when a storm is forecast might not have seemed like the best idea to some people. But when we saw the Emosson dam looming above us we just had to get up there to check it out – and I’m so glad we did! We’d driven to Chamonix in the camper van, had some work meetings in the morning and taken the advice of a local client to take a short waterfall hike from the little hamlet of Barberine. We reached the waterfall in 20 minutes and the signs directing us to the 2hr trail to the dam were too much to resist, so on we marched with one eye on the gathering clouds.
Then it happened – we rounded a corner and almost bumped into a huge Ibex! These great horned beasts are a rare sight in the mountains and we’d watched them in awe down the lens of a telescope before, never up close. Our shocked silence was quickly broken by the dog barking like mad at the interloper. Fortunately he wasn’t troubled by our tiny but loud mouthed dog and carried on staring at us thoughtfully while chewing. As he was blocking the path we had to walk right up to and past him – terrifying but amazing – and round the next bend we saw the rest of his family, another 10 Ibex right nearby. Incredible.
The path became steeper and more shale-y towards the top. The dam is right on the border of France and Switzerland and over on the Swiss side we could see a steam train and lift taking day trippers up. No such luxury on our side. But our reward for just over 2 hours climbing was a stunning view of the lakes created by several connected dams, and even a bit of snow still lingering at altitude into June! We walked across the dam, which provides water to the towns below, to a pretty restaurant and had a drink, but the thunder was threatening so we got our descent underway pretty quickly. Almost jogging most of the way we made it down and cracked open a beer in the camper van – just as the first drops of rain fell.
All in all, a risk worth taking!