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The weather of our first two days in Chamonix was lousy: overcast and rain resulting in zero visibility above 2,000m.  So there is no point to go up the mountains, instead we checked out all the souvenir stores, hiking equipment stores, cafes … in town.  The 3rd day was brilliant – we had cloudless blue sky.  The entire town of tourists had been waiting for good weather in the last 2 days just like us.

The must-see sight here is Mont Blanc which can be seen from one of the nearby peaks – l’Aiguille du midi (roughly translated as the Needle of Noon, the surrounding peaks are referred to as needles “Aiguilles”). As you can see above, the line for the telepherique to go up to l’Aiguille du Midi was a mile long.  We waited for almost two hours and it was packed.  The maximum capacity per “car” is 72, standing room only, no seats.  We got a number designating us to get on a car at a specific time – about 15 minutes after we bought our 2-day Chamonix pass.  The pass granted us unlimited access to all the telepheriques, telecabines and mountain trains in the area.

Glacier du Bossons

There are two stages of the telepherique – a first stage that lands at Le Plan du l’Aiguille at 2233m and a second stage goes up to the summit at 3842m (photo below).  The whole trip was about 20 minutes. Some people did not line up, crowds rushing for the door to get the best window position, backpackers who had not taken a shower for days   –  essentially a sardine rush-hour experience in a serene alpine environment – it was surreal.

Looking back during our ascent, this is a view of the entrance to the Chamonix Valley.

Near the top (the top is not open to the public) are restaurants, viewing platforms and points from which climbers set off or return.

At this height, the air is so thin that we were out of breadth as soon as we climbed stairs.  The temperature was about minus 2 degree celsius with a slight breeze and it was blindingly sunny.  But I could easily imagine the severely hostile environment during winter.

Mount Blanc is a humble-looking flat-top summit unlike some of the other more dramatic looking needle-like peaks nearby. The logo of Montblanc pens is therefore quite appropriate given the roundness of the summit. I hope you can match up the panorama with the actual view – the first peak from right to left in the panorama is Mount Blanc at 4810 m – the highest point in Europe.

Views from an ice cave facing the Dents du Geant and la Vallée Blanche.

Trekkers in la Vallée Blanche below.

From l’Aiguille du Midi, there is another telecabine that takes people across a massive glacier for 40 minutes to Pointe Helbronner in Italy.  These cabins are much smaller than the one we used as you can see below. One need a passport to go over and since we planned to do some hiking, we promised ourselves to visit next time.  Rick Steve mentioned on his website that this route is a backdoor from France to Italy.  The trekkers above were in the background of the photo below.

Just looking at the sheer ice cliff was vertigo inducing. I wondered if I can do this hike.

The ridge was one person wide with a steep drop on either side.  The value of an ice axe cannot be underestimated here.

This is a view looking down towards the departure point of our hike at 2233m. Can you see at the left hand edge of the photo a tiny Plan du l’Aiguille – the first landing of the telepherique ?  I would like to go the little lake –  Lac Bleu at 2299m … may be next time. Our hike and unexpected adventure will be next !

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