Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit – Getting There
We arrived by train from Paris for our Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit. First we rode the TGV high speed train from Paris to Lyon. The country side was fields of yellow rapeseed. The second train entered the foothills of the Alps. At one of the stops, the train did a switch back that reversed its direction, so we were suddenly facing backward. As we approached St Germain, the white peaks of Mont-Blanc loomed in the distance.
From St Germain the train was a cute small bright red coach with extra large glass areas for viewing. This last train was truly a local run, with stop buttons to push if you wanted to get off. We watched a young woman get off at one stop and kiss her waiting boyfriend, as tears streamed down her face. At the next stop, a school boy got off and disappeared down a narrow path into the darkness of the woods It was like watching a story or movie unfold before your eyes.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit – Chamonix Village
Our accommodation at the Pierre & Vacances Premium La Ginabelle was excellent. It faces the train station. The top floor unit had a separate bedroom and a pull out couch. It had views of the Mont-Blalnc mountain range and the Aiguille du Midi. The Chamonix village was surprisingly small. The town was full of climbers, who were steadily streaming up the Aiguille du Midi cable car and then pick axing their way back down to the valley floor. We wandered the quaint shops and streets, taking pictures of the excellent views of the mountains. A glacial river flows through the middle of town with several foot bridges over it. We stopped to admire the two bronze statues. One is Michel Gabriel Paccard sitting as he admires the Mont-Blanc peaks. The other is Horace-Benedict de Saussure and Jacques Balmat gazing directly at Mont Blanc and the Mont-Blanc massif of neighboring peaks.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit – Cable Car Ascent
We were up early the next morning and it was clear. There was no line up at the cable car. The cable car had 6 tourists and about 20 climbers on board. The climbers had full winter gear and each one had a pick axe. The trip to the first station, half way up, involved 3 towers. The second half of the ride has no towers. As you approached the top, the rock face gets very close. The wind howled, but there was very little sway in the cable car.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit – Aiguille du Midi
When you step off the cable car at the top, you walk over a bridge to a separate higher section of the Aiguille du Midi. There you enter tunnels into the mountain. You can see the climbers exiting the side tunnels to begin their descent. Then an elevator whisked us up to the highest platform. When the doors opened, the wind was blowing at 25 mph and the temperature was only 5 degrees F. I said, “Oh, no.” and the elevator attendant said “Oh, ya”. We laughed and entered the frigid world at 12,600 feet. Mont Blanc was to our right. The impressive Grandes Jorasses peaks were to the left. The Aiguilles Rouges range was behind us across the Chamonix Mont-Blanc valley.
Extra clothing and light gloves did little to resist the cold. I began to have problems using the camera. I noticed that I had no feeling in my index finger. Also, my thinking slowed, as if my brain was being paralyzed by the wind chill. After a very few minutes, we retreated to the lower section by the cable car entrance. Here we discovered a heated café and several levels of observation decks. The views to the valley far below were fabulous. Then we made our hasty retreat. Back in Chamonix it was 50 degrees F warmer. Even though it was toasty, we took quite a while before we were ready to shed our winter clothes.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc Visit – Mer de Glace
After lunch we took the short walk to the Montenvers cog wheel train station. The cogs / racks are used to safely take trains up and down steep inclines. The train went up about 4,000 feet to the back side of the Chamonix Mont-Blanc range. Here we reached the front end of the Mer de Glace. This is a 6 mile glacier that is rapidly receding. From there, we took a short gondola ride down into the glacier valley. Then we walked on stairs bolted to the mountain side for the final descent to the man-made ice tunnels in the glacier. There was no charge to enter the ice caves, but the temperature inside is cold. So, you feel like heading back outside fairly quickly.
This was amazing day in the French Alps.