02 Aug Who’s Next? – Chamonix Stories: Day 1
DAY 1 at Aiguille du Midi.
The first morning of the trip started at 8am just outside the tram station for the Aiguille du Midi. We met our guides and set about putting on the harnesses and beacons they supplied.
It was an exciting start to the trip. We took advantage of a very favorable weather report for the day and decided it was our best chance to go up and ski the famous Valle Blanche.
Looking up to the top of the tram your neck almost tips backwards to see the top of Mont Blanc. Its the highest peak in Europe at 15,781 feet and trying to imagine how they built these cable cars 50 years ago to over 12,600 feet is mind boggling.
It’s March and everyone in the group has been skiing all winter, yet it’s still day one and the harness cinching and the massive peaks have everyone a little giddy.
Our Group is made up of skiers from 18 years old to 68.
We were a diverse group of skiers with varying levels of ability, but everyone shared the same enthusiasm and basic abilities to ski the Valle – its not a difficult run and other than the first short walk down the rope line its really quite easy. However, the dramatic vistas and sheer vertical drops down to Chamonix village below raise your nerves to an excitable level.
Our guides Federico, from Argentina and Ella Alpiger from Switzerland exhibited that friendly calm demeanor that gave everyone confidence. They had done this many times before and were very reassuring. Kudoos to the group because nobody backed out and everyone got on the first of two trams that took us to the top.
Our big day was off the ground.
A short visit at the top Station was a must.
The Aiguille du Midi is the highest mountain peak served by an aerial lift system. The name translates literally to “Needle of the Mid-day”. The mountain lies to the south-east of Chamonix and when viewed from in front of the church it indicates that it is noon when the sun passes over its summit.
It is a two-stage journey. The first leg brings visitors to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m).
The second stage, without any support pillar, traverses Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi at the top station (3778m). A footbridge connects the cable car top station with the Central Piton terrace. An elevator inside the rock rises the visitor the final 42m to the top terrace at an altitude of 3,842m.
It was here that we took off our boots, threw on the free slippers provided and stepped off the edge and into the glass box… you had to take off watches and anything else that could potentially shatter or scratch the glass. Trust us you weren’t thinking about breaking anything.
Just put one foot in front of the other…. we got you.
After milling around the station and exhibits we were ready to start the careful walk down the rope line. We utilized the harnesses and the guides tied 5 of us together with about 3 feet gap between us. The guide would then anchor off the back of the group and with our skis latched to our backpacks we started down the well laid path.
A guide rope lined both sides of the path and allowed you to slide your hands along it for support. It was very safe but if you dared to look to your left it was a sheer 6000 foot drop to the town below.
Skiing through the glacier ever so carefully.
When you arrive at the glacier the guides get a bit more serious with the group. There is a well defined single track snaking its way down the first half of the glacier. We are reminded to not waver off the path even a foot. Crevasses hiding under thin layers of snow lurk just outside the path ready to swallow up undisciplined skiers.
We aren’t skiing fast and the trail is easy but you have to follow the directions of the guides. Safely down the first long section we break for lunch at the Requin Hut and have excellent food and drinks.
The Long And Enjoyable Run Out
The stoke level is high and some of us forgot to drink enough water. You have to be careful as the run itself is 12.5 miles and the altitude combined with the excitement can dehydrate you in a hurry. As good as the beer tastes at the hut its a good idea to refill your water bottles and drink one of those too.
The last half of the day is spent skiing out the very gradual but long exit to the Montenvers Train station. It’s a 4-6 hour day depending on how fast your group is and how long you break for lunch. The kicker is after skiing all day, the glacier has melted so low over the last 110 years that you have to walk up over 300 stairs to the train station above the Valle floor. On the train ride back to the town of Chamonix the group was as emotionally drained as physically. The high of the mountain experience, the overwhelming views of amazing peaks and glaciers had fulfilled us all and had already made all the travel and build up to the trip worth it.
If we had done nothing else the rest of the week we would have been satisfied… but happily that wasn’t the case. There were more good times ahead for our group and it begs the question for next season – Who’s next?