I was awestruck the first time
I laid eyes on the enormous snow capped Mont Blanc.
There I was, standing in Chamonix, looking up at one of the worlds
most recognizable peaks, which inhabits a mythic place in the
sport of mountain climbing.
For an idyllic summer sojourn, Chamonix will charm you and Mont
leave you speechless. The stark contrast of jagged white peaks
jutting into the cobalt sky
high above the clouds left an indelible image etched in my mind.
For those of you who
share a love of nature and the mountains; its the ultimate
place for adventure and
Chamonix Valley is among some of the highest mountain peaks in
Alps, including Mont Blanc massif at 15,771 ft. In 1924, it was
host to the first Winter
Olympics. The village has a combined chic and rustic atmosphere
filled with outdoor
cafes, boutiques and small cozy hotels. Its a high class
milieu situated at a
crossroads of three countries. The Chamonix tunnel takes you into
in less than 25 minutes, and in the same amount of time, Switzerland
can be reached over
the Col des Montets. Here, in this picturesque town, outdoor adventurers
mix with the
well heeled. Bar none, its the crème de la crème
for the perennial mountain climbing and
expert skiing. Its also a haven for an international set
of mountain climbers and radical
off-piste skiers, and there is a predominate mix of Italians,
Swiss and British climbers.
The highlight of Chamonix is ascending the mighty Aiguille du
Midi, a rock needle
which towers above Chamonix at 3,780 meters (12,600 feet). The
worlds highest cable
car transports you and about 60 other onlookers on this unforgettable
ride. Its evident
when you have passed the tree line, as rocks, ice and snow replace
the vanishing pine
trees and alpine plants. The village below diminishes and becomes
the naked eye. At the mid way point, as you climb toward the sky,
youll encounter the
the descending gondola returning to Chamonix, as it passes, they
both sway enough
to cause most of the occupants to gasp, including myself. My stomach
had the sensation
of doing flip-flops as we dangled precariously thousands of feet
above the ground. As I
embraced the cool, crisp mountain air, I was conjuring up scenes
in my mind befitting
James Bond. At this stage in the journey the air is thin, and
the vast majority become
light headed and giddy. As you gain altitude the surrounding scenic
paradise of peaks
and snow-blinding glaciers will enrapture you.
As the cable car reaches its pinnacle and sweeps itself inside
the crevice of a rock wall, the door opens and the drastic decrease
in temperature is apparent. The alpine air is frigid however,
refreshing. Regardless that it might be summer, expect a drop
in temperature of about 40 degrees. The average temperature on
a sunny day in July is 32 degrees. Dressing in layers is paramount
for a comfortable visit, and without sunglasses, the intense glare
will leave you blinded.
Cross the bridge and ride the small elevator through the rock
to its summit. This part of the trip is exhilarating. When you
step off the elevator you will be on an observation deck with
your head literally in the clouds. A stunning panoramic view of
the French and Italian Alps is spread out in front of you. Forty
miles in the distance, the Matterhorn can be seen on a clear day
with its distinguishable bent tip. And looming smack in front
of you is glorious Mont Blanc, the Alps highest mountain.
Its all too obvious why its labeled the" Rooftop
of Europe." Looking through the telescope you will spot mountain
climbers walking along trails where the snow never melts, and
tents pitched the night before, dot the sea of snow.
Next explore Europes tallest lift station. More than 490
feet of tunnels lead to the icicle-
covered gateway to the glacial world. This tunnel of ice is where
you can observe skiers
and mountain climbers embarking on their journeys. After all,
this is the birthplace of
mountaineering over 200 years ago. Seasoned hikers undertake the
Tour du Mont Blanc
by following a circular route through France, Italy and Switzerland.
They follow roads
once used by the Roman legions crossing through a succession of
For your final venture of the day, youll have an intimate
look into a world of glaciers,
by taking a ride in the small red telecabine ( called Panoramic
du Mont Blanc) where you
will head south to Hellbronner Point, the Italian border station.
A suspended pylon
stretches between two peaks from the Italian end. For 40 minutes
youll dangle silently in
a gondola for four as you glide over the glacier to Italy. I opened
the window and peeked
my head out for breathtaking views that will last a lifetime.
Have your passport handy to
show at Hellbronner where you can then descend onto the Italian
Valle d Aosta.
Otherwise you can continue back to Chamonix via the tram, or better
yet, get off at
Plan de l Aiguille where you can hike to a peaceful spot
for a picnic lunch and return to
Chamonix on a cog- train. The allure of Mont Blanc will entice
you to return again, and until then, the images will
be indelibly etched in your mind too!
Chamonix is 381 miles/613 km SE of Paris and
51 miles/82 km SE of Geneva.
You can reserve and purchase tickets for the Aiguille du Midi
in advance, or at the information booth next to the lift. Open
to mid-September. Toll free phone 08 9268 0067-any season/English
is spoken. The lift is generally open from 7:00 to 1700 during
Set aside three to four hours, or longer at peak times for the
Chamonix/Aiguille du Midi ride.
© Susan Fogwell June '05
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