Thing are very different up high and with tickets in hand we prayed they would be good. This was our one and only chance to peer into the secret life of Mont Blanc and go higher than we had ever been before. 3800m in fact, nearly twice as high as our highest peak in Australia.
It’s a rest day, which for us means more exploring and on the agenda was the Aiguille du Midi and Paragliding, something that had evaded us until now. Wanting to beat the crowds we arrive at the telepherique early, but the signs are not good with the start delayed due to bad weather. This is common, where the weather in the valley is fine but the same cannot be said for the peaks. A squint into the sky reveals nothing the massive mountain hidden by cloud.
Balancing excitement and expectation, red turns to green as cogs whirr into action and the bright neon sign changes to open. Packed like cattle we worm our way to the window only to be met with deep scratches in our view, the result of ski’s and climbing gear, grazing the surface. The view out front is steep and cables waste no time taking up the load whisking us skyward to Plan de l’Aiguille the halfway point and the start of the Balcon Nord. This morning is all about the top and we make a quick change.
The views are astounding, this is the closest we have been to the mammoth mountain and the glaciers really show their size, driving steep moraine ridges in contrast to the vertical rock slops of the Aiguille du Midi, that rises before us.
Jolting out the gate the car swings over the cavernous space settling as it picks up speed toward the rock face. Anne isn’t generally phased by heights or new experiences but this one really got her and it was the first time in our marriage I have ever seen her really panicked. She wasn’t this worried when years ago I collapsed on the kitchen floor, a result of a mini-stroke!
The rock face growing ever larger in our view it’s hard not to believe you’ll hit it, but the car skims ever upwards giving a birds eye view of the needles and ice. Gathering our breath we appreciate just how amazing this view is. the Drus to our left, Mont Blanc to our right and the village of Chamonix far below, wedged to our back by the Le Brevent.
With a rapid deceleration we disappear into the rock cradled by guides that looks like the dock of a space ship. Doors open and the wind whipping up pummels us from underneath and sideways. It’s got the touch of death in it’s icy grip, stripping any warmth from the valley away. Instantly teeth start chattering and fingers go numb. This is not the environment for the average day tripper, save the structure that sits at this towering site.
We take refuge in the tunnelled rock but even that is cold and our need for warmth is not satisfied until we are deep in the structure. Now with all our alpine gear on we’re ready to tackle the various terraces and balconies and enjoy the view.
Panting we climb a winding set of steel stairs to the first exit, the sign is blurry and my head feels light, I push off the panic, sucking in large breaths of air but my lungs crave more. Using meditation techniques I settle myself having experienced my first thin air environment, with such a quick change of altitude.
Stepping onto the Terrace we are met with incredible mountain peaks shrouded in cloud and the mysterious stillness of the Vallee Blanche and the tiny little stick figures crossing it’s massive expansive. Something you cannot comprehend without the scale of a person on it.
Words fail me to describe the feeling of this place and what we saw so i’ll let the photos do the talking.
The first attempt to tame the big mountain was a cable car built for the 1924 Olympics but didn’t get beyond Para, a little below Plan de l’Aiguille. It was destroyed in an avalanche in 1980, the ruins can still be reached, but are further up the mountain than they look.
The current two stage ride was completed in 1955 and was the highest structure connecting the valley with Piton Nord and a bridge to the Aiguille du Midi. The telepherique was erected in two stages. The first to Plan de l’Aiguille and then a second stage with a ridiculously steep single cable run without support pillars. The top of the mountain is often 19C cooler and wilder than the valley below.
Preparing to leave we greet the rock cavern again, a labyrinth of tunnels drawing you into different experiences. The Vallee Blanche has me curious, could we walk down onto it and gain a new perspective of its majesty?
A little sign beckoned us right and then left. Our eyes blinded by the sudden intrusion of light, we inch closer to the cavern opening. Adjusting our gaze a group of tourist are gathered at the opening, hemmed in by a gate, an ominous sign warning of the prospect of death beyond this point. All are content with a quick view and a photo.
The path beyond the gate narrows just wide enough for boots and crampons, snow and ice sheering down both side. With nothing to hold onto or break your fall, only the experienced or fool hardy would attempt it. While the adventure tempts me, a lack of experience and proper gear halts me in my tracks.
We mange the cable car like old pro’s keen to get to the bottom and meet our paragliding instructors and try something entirely new…