With just two days left in our vacation, one of which is to be spend on the campsite, there is one day to do something from our 'other-things-to-do-than-hiking-list'. Since we are rather deep in the French Alpes that list is quite a short list. And most of the items on it, we had already done. Luckily, Google Maps came to the rescue. While I was exploring the area around our campsite on Google Maps, I noticed that across the col de Montgenèvre, a kilometre or so inside Italy, near a village called Claviere, there is something called 'Ponte Tibetano'.
According to their website (https://www.pontetibetano.net/) they have the longest and most beautiful Tibetan bridge in the world. Whether or not that is true, it sounded intruiging enough for us to decide to make it our last adventure of the holidays.
If only we knew....
A Tibetan bridge is a footbridge for pedestrians (obviously), build like a suspension bridge. Only, instead of a bridge deck that is solid and more or less horizontal, the bridge follows the curve on the cables on which it is suspended and you walk on small planks attached between them. This means that you can look down between the planks into the depth you are crossing. There are two additional ropes that you can grab with your hands. Between the ropes for your hands and the ropes the planks are attached to, there is only air. Meaning that there is actually nothing blocking your view of the depth you are crossing in whatever direction you look.
Already sounds like fun? There's more.
The Tibetan Bridge in Claviere is not one bridge, there are actually three. The first one crosses the Gorge di San Gervasio at an altitude of 70 metres. The second one follows the same Gorge in longitudinal direction, for about 350 metres, at an altitude of about 30 metres. The third one crosses the Gorge again, this time at an altitude of 90 metres. And remember, all this time you're hanging in midair with nothing blocking your view in whatever direction.
Of course there are safety precautions. You cross the bridges safely attached with two carabiner to an extra line to prevent you from falling to your death. Perhaps you fall one or two metres, perhaps hurting yourself and certainly hurting your pride, but nothing catastrophically can happen. So when you cross the bridge, your mind knows nothing really serious can happen.
Your gut feeling, however, tells you DO NOT CROSS THIS BRIDGE, YOU ARE NOT SAFE, YOU ARE GOING TO FALL HORRIBLY TO YOUR DEATH, DON'T DO THIS, GO BACK, GO BACK, GO DO SOMETHING ELSE!!!!!!
And there I was, poised to cross to the bridge, suddenly to afraid to do it, and actually wanting to go back. Let me out of here!!
Of course I did not back out. We had already paid for it (typical Dutch consideration), there were already other people lining up behind us, and, well, let me be honest, I did not want to back out in front of my two sons.
So I plunged ahead. Taking one step after another, carefully placing my feet on the next plank, gripping tightly the sidelines with my hands. Normally, when you're afraid of height you tell yourself to not look down. In this case however, I wanted to make sure I placed my feet correctly on the next plank, so I looked down. And the planks in this case are nothing more than grated metal, allowing for an almost unhindered view of 70 metres of possible free fall into a ravine.
I was really, really scared.
Yet somehow I made to the other side. And only there I saw how long the next bridge, the one traversing the Gorge, would be. So here I am, relieved of not having died, scared as hell of what lies before me, and as a typical Homo Telephoniensis thinking, "O, let's take a picture".
The picture you see me taking in the previous image, is this one:
And my wife took a picture at the same spot at almost the same moment, a little behind us and thus a little from the side.
And on we went. Believe me when I say, 350 metres is really, really long. Suspended between the two walls of rock of the Gorge, 30 metres above the torrent streaming through it, I was only concentrating on the next step. And the next. And the next. And the next.
Funny thing is, the fear subsides. That does not mean hanging there becomes less scary. It means that the body can not stay afraid that long. Gradually, even though the experience continues to be scary, you get more and more the opportunity to look around and take in what you are actually seeing. The bridge up the Gorge eventually leads up to a cascade. And it is great to walk towards all that falling water, suspended in mid air in front of it. I've never seen a waterfall from that angle before. Though I do hope you'll forgive me I was still not cool enough to take a picture of it.
From the second bridge to the third takes a steep climb. Along that climb there is a beautiful view on the Gorge and the bridge we had traversed moments before.
And you don't even see it from start to end in that picture... That's how long it was. Having traversed the second bridge, you might think the third bridge, the one crossing the Gorge at an altitude of 90 metres, would be a piece of cake. It was not. A Tibetan bridge is not a rigid construction. It moves and wobbles with the wind and the motions of the people crossing it. It swings from left to right and you have to keep constantly looking to place your feet on a plank and not mistakingly beside one. The adrenaline keeps rushing through your body until the final steps.
And then finally, finally, there's solid ground again. What a relief. Traversing the Tibetan Bridge at Claviere, Italy, is a great experience. Especially afterwards....
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