Wow, what a day. I am not sure I have superlatives enough to describe our day today. We had booked into to visit the engineering marvel which is the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi. A two-part cable car journey, first to the Plan de l’Aiguille station at 2317m. Then second section, which has a span of 2,867 m (1.781 miles!) takes you to the Aiguille du Midi mountain summit at 3777m. An elevator then takes you to the top of the station at 3842m. Where Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, at 4807m, is just above you across the valley.
As clear skies were forecast,we had picked today to do the trip up. Mont Blanc had been shrouded in cloud since we arrived in Chamonix. Last night however, it had started to clear, but this was obviously fairly rare as even the restaurant staff were heading out front to see the peaks of the mountain emerge. We opened the blinds this morning with trepidation that it had disappeared again, as we were now booked in to go, but found clear blue skies 🙌
We were just about to leave when I received an email regarding our 8.55am booking to say that they were clearing snow and ice from the site and lifts were temporarily suspended, more updates at 9.15am. Slightly worrying but with such great weather, we reasoned it could not be a long delay and headed the 5min walk to the terminal. There were great crowds of people, many with ropes or some with skis ready to ascend. We were booked onto cabin 23, but there were 3-4 lifts ahead of us which should have been running from 8.15 but nothing was moving. A large queue snaked from the ticket desk still hoping to book in. After another 10mins or so, number 19 appeared on the board and embarkation had started!!
A few moments later the number suddenly jumped to 22. There was a great cry of indignation and dismay, the zeal of which only the French can muster. I have seen decisions made by strong rugby referees based on the mock horror shown by the French crowd before now. Then a surge started from the back of the line as those from 22 tried to get to the front. Number 20 and 21 crowds were not giving ground and it had all the makings of quite a ruckus, when suddenly the display reverted to 20 and collective a sigh of relief followed. So either accidental fat fingering of a double pressed number 2, or someone with a wicked sense of humour behind the scenes 😂 We were looking in the windows for bored members of staff in stitches at one of the windows.
Soon enough it was our turn to head to the embarkation with our fellow number 23 cabin members. We had mountain climbers and day trippers. Sure enough as per all airport security queues, after embarking 25 mins late, the first people still managed to arrive without their tickets ready to scan 🙄
We managed to get a prime front window position as we flew over the carpark with our motorhome below up a very steep but impressively fast climb we reached an initial plateau and went over the stanchion and the whole car swung backwards and forwards to the collective ooohh of the crowd. However, we safely pulled into Plan de l’Aiguille station where we moved through to the next lift. Some people departed at this point apparently to walk fade-in from there. We set off again to the still out of view Aiguille du Midi station. We were now well into the snow line and ears were popping regularly. The cables seem impossibly long and unsupported as we swing forward and upwards.
We disembark onto an open wooden and icy walkway to an icy wind and blowing snow. Wowee it’s a long way up. We take a few hasty photos, not too close to the edge of the sheer drop below and retreat into the interior of the upper station and the altitude sickness hits us both straight away. A feeling of lightheadedness and slight nausea, plus perhaps a bit of childlike giddiness of excitement of being up here. The climbers have all taken the left tunnel leading to the cable car to Italy (the border is half way across Mt Blanc) and the door out to the mountain top. People are being tied together and applying cramp-ons to boots. It looks like rightly serious preparation akin to our old technical diving days.
We step past them to a tunnel in the ice leading to slightly unbelievably a stainless gate giving access to the mountain alongside warning signs about how dangerous mountains are. Those day trippers amongst us need no warning of this as we take turns to barely step out the door for the obligatory photo shoot. The climbers are stepping past us to the sheer ridge beyond and onto various parts of the mountain peaks below. We can see their ant like figures and trails across the snow. The endless peaks of the Alps stretch out ahead and the tiny specs of Chamonix behind.
We take the lift to the final stage and brave the “Step Into The Void” glass box suspended off the side of the structure with 1000m drop below. They have a member of a staff to help with photos and you have to wear slippers to protect the glass. It is quite a surreal but quick experience as you take your place in the queue, but the photos are amazing and capture the height and space or here like none of the others.
An expresso each in the cafe adds to the lightheadedness and it is time to descend to base. What an experience! Would highly highly recommend a once in a lifetime experience.
We get back to our motorhome to find one car has blocked the route out for us and about 20 cars and motorhomes! New arrivals take matters into their own hands by removing a No entry barrier at the other end. We decide to leave them to it and get a celebratory lunch in town.
We had planned to move on to Annecy this afternoon as our ferry is now booked for home on 24th June from Cherbourg. The chaos forming in Chamonix with the sun out confirms this as a plan. Obviously Annecy is also impacted by the weekend rush as we try 3 campsites to get in, all the free camping spots reporting as super busy and luck needed to get in. We are now settled in having barbecued a short walk from the lake ready to explore tomorrow. What an epic day!