President’s Day weekend means a 4 day for all of us guys back in Naples and where are we off to this time?!
Chamonix France for some seriously good skiing, drinks, friends, Apres Ski (daily happy hours), party’s, and GREAT FOOD. Around 25 of us in total all staying at different places throughout the town of Chamonix, to ski all day and drink and eat good food all night (with a few cigars and some very good scotch thrown into the mix). I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong here.
All the above will come in another post, for this one I want to tell you about a very tall cable car in Chamonix with great views of Mount Blanc called Aiguille Du Midi. Never heard of it? Well if you are planning a trip to Chamonix anytime soon and you do your research, you’ll see that Aiguille tops just about every to-do list of things to see and do in Chamonix.
Taking you all the way to 3842 meters (wow, that’s high!) you’ll ride 2 separate cable cars the first stopping at Plan de L’Aiguille and the second to Les Pelering Glacier. If you are going to commit you can’t stop halfway, however a ticket to the top and back down costs 57 euro which I think is OUTRAGEOUS. It only costs 49 euro for a lift ticket to ski on any one of the 5 available mountains for the entire day.
Aiguille instantly became a must do for me, but before we even go all the way to the top my first question was HOW did they even get a cable car strung all the way up there?
Turns out the idea became an actual attempt by 2 Swiss Engineers in 1905 to reach the peak by lift and link Les Pelerins with the summit of L’Aiguille Du Midi. When technical problems began the project was abandoned.
A couple years later a French company got ahold of the idea and made an attempt to complete Les Pelerins-La Para which was opened in 1924. 3 years later Les Pelerins- Les Glacier was opened making this the tallest cable car in the world, and for the next 2 decades at that!
Now the cable car called “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” in Zermatt Switzerland is the tallest cable car in Europe, but Aiguille Du Midi still holds the record for tallest vertical ascent taking you from 1035m – 3842m.
Once WWII began the cable car lost popularity and interest, shutting down in 1951. This time an Italian engineer was called in to renovate and revive the project. 5 years, 4 lives, 500 million francs, and loads of work later, Aiguille Du Midi was complete.
After the cable was laid out, the 5 guides went out on a venture completing one of the longest Abseils (Rappelling or “roping down”) in mountaineering history down to Plan d’Aiguille.
A complete refurbishment of the area happened in 1991.
During the summer months the Valle Blanche Ariel Tramway is also open which crosses Glacier du Gearit to Point Helbronner which is on the Italian side standing at 3462 meters.
Aiguille du Midi didn’t come without her problems. In 1961 a French fighter plane accidentally cut the cable on the car linking to Italy killing 6 people.
In 1971 an operator was killed when wind blew the cabin straight off the cable.
Which brings me to our first problem of the day, high winds. When we all met up at 1100 to buy tickets and get in line to ride the cable car up to the top we were derailed from our plan because of high winds.
They continued to plague us for the better part of 3 hours, with a very serious understanding that we might potentially not make it to the top and this was our last day in Chamonix!
Instantly I felt like I was back onboard the warship all over again monitoring winds for the helo’s coming and going stopping flight quarters within minutes because the winds were too high to send them out. grrrr.
Although this did mean I was able to get my cheese fondue lunch and french onion soup, 2 must have dishes while visiting Chamonix.
At just after 2pm, just as we were walking out of the restaurant for lunch we saw the cable car out on the line heading upward. With a joyous shout we rallied the troops and we were on the way to the station, which ended up working out for us because no one else realized they had opened the cable car yet so no one was in the lines, perfect!
On a regular day they are used to pushing 600 people through in one hour. Now we would practically have the place to ourselves as it was later in the afternoon, no one realized it was open at the moment, and they would only be running the cable cars for another hour, we really lucked out here.
Just as we saw the cable car running it was easy to see that the fog had dissipated so as we reached the top we would have full unobstructed views. I can only imagine what it would be like to pay 57 euro just to get to the top and realize you won’t be able to look out over Chamonix. That would be devastating.
Into the cliff face, a giant structure was built expanding out to all sides of the mountain. Once you arrive at the main station you can walk down corridors going to each side of the mountain, that way you don’t miss out on any of the great views.
There were 8 of us up there at the same time and we were all running off in different directions, mostly because I’d be with someone and then seconds later they went around the bend and were gone leaving me to choose my next direction. It was freezing up there compared to the town, I was quickly out of breath from climbing up a bunch of steps to get to the multiple lookouts. Whew!
My eyes first saw the Alps when I was in Zermatt skiing around the Matterhorn back in 2012. This vast mountain range ruins me to all others. One look and you’ll realize that everything else is child’s play.
Right after we arrived it looked like the fog was about to close in on us, can you see the fence^? There are 2 important reasons why that fence is there. One is because this is a starting point for the Cosmigues Refuge Route, one of multiple routes to the summit of Mount Blanc. The other is because you can actually do the Valle Blanche Off Piste Ski Run. Which means clipping into the group with rappel gear and going slowly down to the end of that railing and then skiing all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
How do I know that? Because 6 of the people from our group were crazy enough to do it! & T’s comment about the whole thing was, “I started out the morning clipping into the guide at 3842 meters to rappel down to my starting point for the ski day… I knew it was going to be a good day!”
Biggest advice I heard for the Valle Blanche Off Piste Ski Run: IT’S NOT FOR SNOW BOARDERS! Trust me, the guy who went with them on a snow board struggled the whole day and it was very dangerous because when he couldn’t board (where it was flat) he couldn’t take his snowboard off because there was a high chance he would fall into a crater (weight distribution) so he had to do that akward snowboard dance across the flat areas. I’m not kidding!
Here’s some photos from their day skiing down Valle Blanche:
That town nestled right into the mountains down there is Chamonix. My hotel was right in the middle of town which was very convenient for getting done with the ski day, heading back and changing quickly, then heading off to the apres ski nights (Happy Hours!) Thanks M for booking it for us!
What I tried to look up but couldn’t find, was how they were able to build this structure into the rocks? I’d imagine they strung the cable car first, then sending supplies out in the car, they would start building all of these places into the rock. Either way its a very impressive structure built so high up and in such frigid conditions.
In 2013 they opened an area up here called Step into the Void where you can step out into an all glass enclosure looking 1035 meters straight down, and with no obstructions between you and the summit of Mount Blanc. Unfortunately they had closed this feature in January 2015 for renovations and will not be reopening it until May of 2015. That was a bit of a bummer since we almost didn’t even make it up here today, I couldn’t be too upset.
Once at the bottom, we gave a shout out to our friends, told them we would meet them at the airport and we were zipping around out of the town heading back through the tunnel and customs between France and Italy, headed for the airport to turn in our car and make it through security in time. We ended up with an extra bottle of champagne, trail mix, and gnocchi for dinner. How can you go wrong?
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.