Powerful Panoramas of Mount Blanc and Chamonix

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Sep 30, 2010

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Flag of France  , Rhône-Alpes,
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This has been one of the most power-packed days of spectacular scenery in my 20 years of surfing the globe in search of scenic wows, historic revelations, and cultural connections!

Linda and I left the hotel this morning after a delightful breakfast in a 7th floor dining rooms with picture windows offering 180 degree views of the mountains to the east, including Mount Blanc. We were headed through Chamonix village to the Aiguille du Midi gondola. Our gondola was filled with about 50 excited visitors, all anticipating an amazing day in the French Alps.

Weather could not have been better. It was chilly at first, to be sure, but as we zoomed upwards along the tops of the trees, clear skies promised unrivalled visibility. After a transfer at the mid-station – Plan de L'Aiguille – we were amazed to find the next gondola pulled by its cables up an almost vertical mountain face to the final station at Aiguille du Midi.

Panoramas were stunning in every direction! In the rarified air of over 12,500 feet above sea level (we’d started at about 3500 on the valley floor), sensory overload hit us in more ways than one. We climbed the stairs to the first viewing platform, drinking in the high altitude oxygen along with rare vistas of Mount Blanc majesty.

Though the highest peak in Europe, Mount Blanc was actually a minor player in the 360 degrees of eye-popping wonder surrounding us. It is a rounded mountaintop, connected to other peaks and lacking that standalone, monolithic drama of volcanic peaks like Mt Fuji or mountains in our own Cascade Range such as Hood and Rainier.

We wandered from platform to platform in the first tower, then took an elevator about 100 feet higher to the central rock tower and the highest platform, imbibing a full circle of top-of-the-world peaks, glaciers, paragliders, and the valley stretching out 9000 feet below.

A third platform offered yet another perspective, including a chance to watch rock climbers struggle up a challenging formation very near the platform. Many who rode the gondola with us had obviously geared up for more aggressive action than chasing photo ops with us from viewing platforms. Mountain climbing groups were hiking down the slopes from the Aiguille du Midi station with regularity. Their progress was easily followed as they snaked like marching ants across the ice field below us, then ascended the glaciers on steep, crevasse-laced slopes leading to Mount Blanc itself.

Admirers of this beauty from all over the world shared the viewing platforms, and we had a fun, but very limited, conversation (due to my limited German) with an animated older gal from Germany who was in search of the restaurant, and a more well-rounded chat with a lively lady from Wisconsin.

Finally remembering we had a walk route yet to preview, we returned to the gondola station and queued to return to the midpoint station - Plan de L’Aiguille. Once there, we walk to Le Lac Blue (Blue Lake), a tiny glacial lake only 15 minutes walk from the station. 

Our primary route, however, lay across the face of the mountain on the Aiguilles Chamonix Nature Trail, also known as the Grand Balconee for its mid-mountain orientation looking across the valley at sister peaks to Mount Blanc.

After shedding several layers – there was almost no wind and temperatures were now in the mid 60’s – we followed footpath signs to Montenvers. The trail was rugged in sections, rocky and demanding attention to footing, but long sections were level and relatively smooth. At about 7000 feet elevation, the Chamonix Valley lay below us, and the hillsides were covered in low lying blueberry bushes turning a fall shade of red.

After about an hour, we reached a junction. From our topo-map, right appeared the most challenging, with some significant elevation gains. We headed left, and immediately encountered a couple picking berries – lingenberries. A conversation ensued and we learned they were transplanted Swedes, drawn to this valley by the better weather (Gothenberg, Sweden has more cloudy, rainy days even than Seattle) and proximity to skiing and the Mediterranean.

We shared with them our walk planning objectives, and they offered loads of only-a-resident-would-know advice, including the suggestion that the high road would actually be better than the low road. Like most Scandinavians, their English was amazingly good, and after a surprisingly long and wide ranging chat – me with the guy and Linda with the gal – we finally said farewell and retraced our steps.

They were right – the high road had some significant elevation gains, but the trail surface was much better, and the views turned out to be stunning. This section took us up to Forbes Signal, a rocky ridge showing off a 360 degrees array of spectacular peaks and valley views. From Forbes Signal, we dropped us down along the ravine with breathtaking vistas of the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) winding its way down the mountain valley.

Just in time we arrived at the rail station and nabbed two of the last seats. The rack and pinion train took us the back to the valley floor in comfort, and we enjoyed exploring Chamonix village this evening – great window shopping and some outstandingly expensive chocolate shops!

Rarely have I experienced such a full day of scenic wows. An amazing corner of creation is the Valley of Chamonix!

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Diane H on

Wow! Each day just keeps getting better. That first shot sort of concerned me, though ... I thought you had visions of us doing some serious hiking in the snowy rocks - I don't think so! LOL Take care - safe travels.

friesendm on

Not afraid of a little snow at 12500 feet are we? Linda and I watched them climbing up towards Mt Blanc for quite a while. Not for me!

Heseyere on

Awesome blog and wonderful post also

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