Sep 15, 2015

Don't Tell My Mom: Chèvre des Alpes


Do not read this post if you are afraid of heights, falling, rushing water, lightning, thunder, or being stuck in precarious places. Do not read this post if you get nervous by the thought of isolated places, children left alone, the opening set-up of horror films, going off-trail, lying, or cold water. And most of all do not tell my mother to read this post about a few days spent in the Parc National de Mercantour.

Not only do we start off our time here river rafting in the rapids, but rafting in a the midst of a thunder and lightning storm. Sure, many of the photos look clear, because much of the trip is sunny and warm.

above two photos taken by professional photographer at Barceló Raft
remaining rafting photos above and below taken by Laure Latham at Frog Mom
But by the time we are near the end of the route, we find ourselves jumping off a rock into the river with a storm raging almost directly overhead. The amount of lightning feels biblical, and the thunder claps near-simultaneously.

I don't know about you, but my mother has drilled into to me that pretty much the last place you want to be in a lightning storm is in the water, holding onto a metal rod. Oh well.

For our hike in the mountains, the weather is both worse and better -- rainy and cloudy and cold with an occasional chance of almost-sun-in-the-distance, but without the lightning.

We go off track and tromp through the wet grass, so that by the time we find this hut in the middle of the mountain, most of us have cold, wet feet. The girls (our own two and three other friends on our hike) unilaterally decide they will go no further. Since the adults want to make it up to see the lake, we leave them alone in the hut, in the middle of the mountain.

It's the kind of thing that would be the opening set-up for a Hollywood horror movie...

...especially when I find this on the ground (cue spooky music).

...but here in the French countryside seems pretty safe. I'm more worried they're going to get bored in the hour and a half we're gone (they don't) or that they're going to feel like they missed out on the hike (they are thrilled not to be hiking in the wet/cold).

If you're wondering what the soundtrack to that horror film sounds like: take a close look at those distant dots on the hill. They are all sheep. Each wearing a bell around its neck. It's cacophonous but kind of soothing at the same time.

My friend takes a dip in the lake, and if she looks happy, it's because she's a cold-water swimmer (has crossed the English Channel as part of a relay). When I gingerly touch the lake with the tip of one finger and agree that the water actually is rather nice, she invites me in. I have to pass because the water may not be cold, but the air and my feet inside my wet sneakers are, and I don't think I'd survive getting out after a high-altitude dip; I am most definitely not a cold-water swimmer, and I like to cross the Channel in a train.


And, finally, we hit the Adventure Park over the Ubaye river, which may just be the best ropes course ("Accrobranche") we've been to yet...and we've been to a lot.

It's got an unusual rock-climbing section, which is difficult enough that one of the girls' friends ends up in tears, frozen at a point where she can't go up or down (spoiler alert: she eventually makes it down and is not still stuck there).


But what makes this ropes course especially great are the two over-the-river features: One is a slow and scary tightrope walk, with hand guides, over the Ubaye River. We basically lie so Pippa will be allowed to do this course (she makes the 140cm limit only wearing high-soled sneakers, a ponytail, a hat, and standing on slight tiptoe). We stretch the truth frequently on her height at ropes courses and normally it's not an issue, because she's mostly monkey, with a small portion mountain goat. But on the tightrope across the river Ubaye (the title of this horror film: Tightrope Across the River Ubaye), it's purely a matter of height, and she goes at a snail's pace, trying to inch her way across it with her arms as high up as she can reach. On the positive side of the parenting ledger, she's very proud of herself when she safely reaches the other side.


The most fun feature of all is a very long, super fast zip line over the Ubaye River (Zip Line Over the River Ubaye does not have the same ominous ring).

In the end, it's not the girls' friend on the rocks or Pippa on the tightrope that we need to worry about: I'm actually the one who gets stuck, going across the river zip line for the second time. I rebound off the landing pad so fiercely, I end up zipping part-way back across and dangling, stuck, over the middle of the river, until a staff member can come rescue me. Luckily, I am not afraid of heights, I trust the safety gear, and there's no lightning or thunder. In fact, I rather enjoy the view while I'm there.

What makes it all so special for us is that as Parisians, we don't get a lot of time to just enjoy nature.

P.S. Mom, if you're reading this, of course it's not true. I made it all up. Don't worry.

THE CHEESE: Chèvre des Alpes

Chèvre des Alpes is a raw, goats' milk cheese made in the Haute-Alpes, down at the mountainous edge of Provence, far from the Mediterranean crowds. The milk comes from several select farms, and is thickened and aged with pressure and lactic fermentation.

The Fromagerie Ebrard, where it's made, also makes a bunch of other goat cheeses, a bunch of sheep cheese, and a bunch of cow cheeses, as well. They do it all.

Chèvre des Alpes is a medium-mild goat cheese, semi-hard and pretty classic tasting, without being exceptional.


Perhaps I should have chosen a sheep cheese, in honor of the many (many, many) sheep on the mountainside in the Mercantour.

But instead, I've chosen this Chèvre des Alpes both for the name (it's all about the Alps, after all), and also for the picture on the label: a lonely mountain hut and, in excellent horror-film style, a goat that is, evidently, the size of a lonely mountain hut.


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