Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chamonix: Partie Trois

Warning: This post contains many graphic photos of/at high elevations. For those sensitive to altitude and unable to view life a little over the edge, I suggest you quit reading this post.


OK then. I'm going to take you on a little trip. Up the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of Midday), over the glacier of the Mont Blanc Massif to Helbronner, Italy and back. There are a lot of pictures as many of you may never travel to Chamonix, France and I thought I would share the incredible experience that it is. After viewing, it may become one of those places you just have to go to. Or - you may just be happy with the pictures.

The journey starts in Chamonix at 1,035 m. Two aerial cable cars (there is a mid-station) will take you up 2 vertical miles within 20 minutes to reach your final destination on the Midi at 3,842 m (12,600 ft over sea level). It is the highest vertical ascent cable system in the world and holds the world record in ascent speed of an aerial cable.

Note: Young children/babies and elderly with health issues should NOT be taking the second stage of this ascent.

Here is the cable car getting ready to enter the dock at the top of the Midi:
This is the destination: The station, restaurant and observatory at the top of the Aiguille du Midi.
This is what you see from inside the cable car looking down on Chamonix and the Brevant (mountain) across the valley. The Brevant looks small even though it is approx. 8,000ft (2500m) high.
I will admit this. As the years have gone by, my stomach is not made of the iron it once was. Especially when I'm traveling with my family in these crazy contraptions. The girls like a spot right on the front window so they can see down and Bart is right with them. I stand to the side of them and look out of the sides - I don't miss the view - but I don't often look down.
Of course, Bart and my mom find it amusing to make little comments about the height, the drop, etc... and watch me roll my eyes and take deep breaths. They are soooooo immature.
HiHo, HiHo, it's off to work we go.....:
But no. These teams aren't off to work, they are off to make the ascent up Mont Blanc. Or take a day hike on the glacier. Mom & J refer to the Mont Blanc ascent as a "slog." Mont Blanc is not necessarily a 'technical' ascent. Yes, one needs crampons, ice axe, etc... but it is a 'smooth' mountain. It's big but doesn't require technical climbing skills as the Matterhorn does. It requires strength, endurance and altitude acclimation. Theoretically, with some physical training, Bart & I could do it. Theoretically.
It's not on the to-do list yet. First I need to go back to Florence and find myself a nice, leather purse.
Once on the Midi, you can take yet another aerial cable car across the glacier to Italy and so off we went. The gondolas you see below are in groups of three - and not very frequently spaced. I'm not sure what the length of this cable system is but it takes one half hour to cross the glacier in these little things. There are several stops along the way. They leave you hanging so you can get some still pictures. I had my camera speed set so I got most of my pic's while moving (and ignoring the "don't hang outside the window" signs - they were in French & Italian but I guess I can't claim ignorance of the little pictures). I'm more comfortable in one of these little gondola's over the glacier than in a large one going up the side of the mountain - crazy.
It was absolutely stunning.
Little picture explanation of the mountains in our gondola. On the way to Helbronner, Bart & girls were in one separate from my mom & I. Oh, did we have some fun. Thanks mom for all the funnies and laughter.
Mom and the girls at Helbronner - we crossed the border over the glacier. The difference between countries is immediately obvious once you depart from your gondola. The employees (Italian) have a sense of humor and greet you and smile at the children. The French & Swiss are much alike (don't tell them I said that) and oh, so serious and we tourists are tedious but yes, we pay the bills. I don't know why it's so different but we notice it - alot. (I know I often generalize these groups - I have lovely Swiss neighbors and friends - they will say the same - and then add that the Italians are loud - to which I add "so are the Americans" - they nod politely )
Hey - anyone up for crevasse-jumping:
It was like a crowded freeway down there. All these teams on their march. HiHo, HiHo....

Bart & Kendra enjoying the ride:
The pic below is taken from the Midi station. See the little circle in the snow at the lower right, it's tent city. For the guides and those who wish to camp out there instead of the Hut or down in the village. No bear boxes needed up here.
We met J up at the Midi station. He and Bart are looking at the route that he & his guide had climbed that morning - a circle around the Midi. His pack weighs about 45 lbs. Some of the climbers packs weigh close to 80lbs depending on their purpose. Fun!

Here is the platform and starting point for the teams beginning their trek across the glacier/up Mont Blanc. It is only about 2 ft wide along that snowy ridge - thus the ropes.
Here is the 'end' of the climb depending on direction from Mont Blanc or , as J and his guide did, the technical climbing route around the Midi. After all that exertion, one has to climb up this ladder to the platform. See the ice on it - still having fun?
So - Down we went again to the Valley. What an incredible experience.
I hope you enjoyed this little journey. We certainly did.


Makila said...

The purse line cracked me up.

Beautiful pictures.

planetnomad said...

We went up the Aiguille de Midi in 2004. GORGEOUS!! Our trip was in April, so there was a lot more snow. The rest of the line into Italy was closed, so we didn't go any farther, but it was fantastic just seeing the French side! Thanks for bringing back such great memories.

Susan said...

Your photos are amazing! They took my breath away. Good Job!! You're right, I need to put this place on my list.