This is a story that happened a few days ago in the Mercantour. The Mercantour is a place in the Alps that I particularly love and where I have spent quite some time over the last 2 decades. North from Nice and the French Riviera and bordering Italy, it is very wild and high altitude, and the winters are extreme. Four legged animals are the marmots who hibernate during the whole winter, and the chamois and bouquetins who are uniquely designed to survive on high, rocky and barren lands. Over the years I have seen hundreds of those and never ever seen any other mammals there.
Last may I went up there on a beautiful clear day and set up to do an 8 hours walk I had done numerous times. Not a cloud as I started early morning. By noon I reached a plateau at 2600 m and decided to have lunch by one of the magnificent lake. A few clouds started to gather. By 1 pm the sky was getting dark and I moved further up. Within minutes I was in the midst of a snowstorm, unable to see one meter ahead, and reaching the top of the mountain from where I thought I would walk 700 meters downhill in less than 2 hours. I realized that this north face was thick with a few meters of snow and plenty of ice and that walking down blindly was a risk I had not taken in a very long time. Walking all the way back instead, not seeing what was ahead was equally risky. Those few minutes where I weighed my obviously thin options smelled of death; the 2 hours that followed certainly contain the essence of living.
At 5.30 pm I was on a beach between Antibes and Cannes, still shocked at the miracle that had just happened and at how it could have unfolded so differently, but I enjoyed a memorable swim in the big blue.
Not many places on earth offer that possibility, and this is one of the many ways the Mercantour is so magical.
I just took my Japanese friend Toshan there again and we spent an extraordinary week walking all day and sleeping under the stars every night. Day 2 had been so magnificent; we had walked up 900 meters, swam in 2 different lakes and saw so many marmots and chamois.
Exhausted and deeply fulfilled we laid down looking out for shooting stars as soon as the night set in.
I decided to make up a bedtime story. It was about a little Japanese girl who found herself alone in the wilderness of the Mercantour, and with whose only inhabitants – the marmots, the chamois and the bouquetins- she had nothing in common. But by miracle she met a little fox…and then a little rabbit…both also foreigners in those high barren lands.
My eyes felt heavy as I caught a last shooting star, and I started to fall asleep. I quickly wrapped up the story: “the little Japanese girl, the fox and the rabbit became best friends and lived happily ever after”. Good night beautiful. “Oh, really, wao, that is a sudden ending…”
And we both woke up 9 hours later with the first morning light.
After a swim in the ice cold river and some food we set up for day 3. A long day was ahead as we started across a wild raspberry field; we were headed for a lake at 3300 meters and it would be a hot steep climb. After about an hour we had a little break and I reminded my friend about last night’s story. She smiled. And then I asked “if you had to spend the rest of your life with one of them, who would it be? The fox or the rabbit?” The answer was clear and instant, “the rabbit!”
And off we were again. After about 20 minutes Toshan says “Nirav, look behind you! “
Ok I thought, probably a chamois, or a bouquetin, or maybe a marmot.
I turned around, and there just behind me, starring at Toshan, was a grey rabbit!
Never in my long life in those mountains had I seen a Rabbit.
Before I could grab my camera, the rabbit run away, and astonished I asked Toshan if I had just been dreaming. She said that no I had not, that the rabbit had indeed been starring at her and that to her it made complete sense and that she got the message.
My eyes are closing as I recall and write this story, so please excuse the spelling mistakes.