Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Trip to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is located about a 2 ½ hour train ride south of Vevey.  

 This picture was taken from the mountain train on the way to Chamonix.  We think this may have been the best train ride we have had so far. The train tracks run above a deep valley with mountains in the background. The views were incredible.

 Chamonix (shah-moh-nee) is located in southeastern France, at the foot of Mont Blanc (White Mountain), near the border of Italy.  With an altitude of 3400 feet, it is the highest city in France.  

The city was established in 1091, but because of its remoteness, travel for pleasure was very rare.  In 1741 two wealthy Englishman, Dr. Richard Pococke and William Windham visited the area.  They published the account of their visit and it became, almost over night, a well-visited tourist area for the British.  In fact, surveys have shown that almost half of Chamonix’s 5 million annual visitors are from Britain.

In 1916 the city officially changed its name from Chamonix to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. It was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, further raising its profile as an international tourist destination. Its population of around 9,800 ranks 865th within the country of France.

 Arriving at Chamonix.  Sorry, the picture is so dark, I was having an issue with the flash on my camera.

Of the 3000 people at the Nestle HQ, roughly 100 are Americans. There is a subset of this American group that broadcast some of their travels to the rest and include whoever wants to come. This was one of those trips.  This was a small group we found very pleasant and agreeable.  From left to right - Jodie, Ash, Jennifer, Jim and Courtney. You will also notice that the little animal family traveled to Chamonix.

On our way to the Tourist Information Center, we passed over the Arve River, which flows through the middle of Chamonix.

The Coat of Arms for Chamonix-Mont-Blanc at the entrance to the TI office.

Near the entrance to the TI office is this map indicating the mountains in the area.

Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe at 15,780 feet.  Portions of the mountain clearly lie in France and Italy, but its precise relationship to the border was a subject of doubt starting in the 17th century.  With the availability of advanced surveying methods, it has become clear that its summit lies within France, with Italian territory ending at an elevation 660 feet lower. 

Unfortunately this is how Mont Blanc looked when we arrived.  This photo is looking south.  In the TI office they have a web-cam set-up near he top of Mont Blanc, and it showed the same picture as the one above.  They advised us not to take the cable car, to the top, as we would not be able to see anything.

What was really strange is that in this photo, looking north, the sky was almost cloudless.

Another view to the north.

If Mont Blanc had been clear, this is the picture we would have seen from the Aiguille du Midi cable car.  This is one of the highest cable cars in the world. It starts at 3,395 feet and finishes at 12,500 feet.  From the bottom to the top, it has the greatest vertical range in the world. The picture above shows the view from the 3.1 mile cable car ride over snow capped mountains from Aiguille du Midi in France to Helbronner in Italy. These are the closest viewpoints of Mont Blanc.  A 1.8 mile stretch, without pillars, is the world's longest cable car ride without pillars.

We decided to do some sight-seeing and then check back with the TI office to see if the clouds had cleared at the top.  This is a picture of St Michael's Church.

The statue on the right is Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740 -1799).  Because of all the time he spent climbing mountains, he is considered the founder of "mountain climbing".  In 1761 he offered a "large" sum of money to the first person to climb Mont Blanc.
The statue on the left is Jacques Balmat (1762–1834).  He and Michel Gabriel Paccard (see picture below) were the first to summit Mont Blanc on August 8, 1786.  It was reported that Balmat claimed the entire sum of money. 

This is a statue of Michel Gabriel Paccard (1757–1827) he was a doctor and mountain climber.  He made several attempts to climb Mont Blanc from 1783 to 1785.  Finally in 1786, with Jacques Balmat, he was successful.

After sight-seeing and shopping, the clouds over Mont Blanc still had not cleared, so we decided to eat lunch at this little outdoor restaurant.  

Pictured from right to left - Paula, Ash, Jodie, Jennifer, Courtney and Jim.  Notice  beer is a two-handed beverage.

After lunch, the clouds were still over Mont Blanc, so we decided to take this cable car to Planpraz.  Planpraz, which is on the north side of the valley, sits at 6,560 feet.

View from cable car to Planpraz.

The always present bar at the midpoint of the ski slope

This is the gondola that takes you to the top of Le Brevent. At the top, you get a 360-degree view of the mountains and valley surrounding Chamonix.

This is a view from the top of Le Brevent, of Mont Blanc (it is the mountain in the middle still covered by clouds) and the glacier Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) in the center of the picture.  The glacier is 4.3 miles long and 660 feet deep making it the longest glacier in France.

This attractive little group were celebrating the pending nuptials of their buddy in the green hat. The Suisse bachelor party. 

Apres Ski in the center of town as the ski slopes empty

This mural is painted on the side of The Mountain Guide's Company building by Patrick Commecy.  The Company is the oldest and biggest mountain guide’s company in the world. 

All the figures represented in this painting are famous figures in Mont Blanc's history.  

Starting at the very top:
Marie Paradis (1779 - 1839) Inn waitress.  The first women to reach the summit of Mont Blanc on July 14, 1808.

Second row - left to right:
Gabriel Paccard (1757 - 1827) Doctor.  Climbs with Jacques Balmat for the first ascent of Mont Blanc, Aug. 8, 1786.

Jacques Balmat (1762 - 1834) Crystal Engraver.  Climbs with Paccard for the first ascent of Mont Blanc.

Henriette d'Angeville (1794 - 1871) Mountaineer.  The second woman to climb Mont Blanc in 1838.

Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740 - 1799) Physicist.  Reached the summit of Mont Blanc with Balmat on Aug. 2, 1787.

Joseph Vallot (1854 - 1925) Astronomer and Geographer.  He climbed to the summit 34 times.

Third row - left to right:
Jean-Esteril Charlet Straton (1840 - 1925) Professional Guide.  Reached the summit many times.

Alfred Couttet (1889 - 1974) Mountain Guide.  1st French ski champion in 1909.  Captain of the French Ski Team at the 1924 Winter Olympics.  Reached the summit of Mont Blanc many times.

Michel Payot (1869 - 1908) Doctor.  Initiator of alpine skiing.  He organized the 1st International Skiing competition in 1907.

Louis Lachenal (1921 - 1955) Mountain Guide.  He along with Maurice Herzog, were the first persons to reach the summit of Annapurna (26,545 feet) on June 3, 1950.

Lionel Terray (1921 - 1965) Climbing Guide.  He made many first ascents in the Alps and mountains on other continents.

Roger Frison-Roche (1906 - 1999) Climbing Guide.  He opened the Les Gaillands Climbing School, in Chamonix, specializing in rock climbing.

Rene Claret-Tournier (1917 - ) Climbing Guide.  He has made a record 530 ascents to the summit of Mont Blanc.

Armand Charlet (1900 - 1975) Climbing Guide.  He specialized in difficult ascents.  He climbed I'Aiguille Verte (13,500 feet), which is located in Chamonix, more than 100 times.

Hanging from the climbing ropes:
Gaston Rebuffat (1921 - 1985) Writer and Film Maker.  He was a member of the French expedition during the first ascent of Annapurna.  He also discovered new climbing routes in the Alps.

The bird is a Bearded Vulture.  It can live up to 40 years and is one of the biggest vultures and rarest bird of prey in Europe.  It has a wingspan of 96 to 107 inches.  In the Himalayan mountains, it can reach heights of over 26,000 feet.

In the middle of the mural is the badge of the Chamonix Company of Guides.  It was founded in 1821 following the first accident in the high mountains in which 6 guides were killed by an avalanche.  Today, the Company employes approximately 240 guides.

More of the mural - this was painted on the side of the ground floor of The Mountain Guide's Company  building.

From left to right:
Edouard Cupelin (1804 - 1906) Mountain Guide.  His nickname was "The Mont Blanc Captain" after his 80+ ascents to the summit.

Francois Devouassoud (1832 - 1905) Teacher.  In 1868 he made the first ascent of Mount Elbrus (18,350 feet) located in the Russian Caucasus.  He also made more than 50 first ascents in other parts of the world.

Joseph Ravanel (1869 - 1931) Mountain Guide.  He made many first ascents in the Alps.  He was also a world class skier.

Michel Payot (1840 - 1922) Mountain Guide and Blacksmith.  
He made many first ascents in the Alps and mountains on other continents.

Michel Croz (1830 - 1865) Mountain Guide.  He made many first ascents in the Alps and mountains on other continents.  He died on July 14, 1865 on his first ascent of The Matterhorn.

A photo of one of the side streets in Mont Blanc.

Finally, as we were getting ready to leave Chamonix, the clouds almost cleared over Mont Blanc.  It is the mountain in the middle with just a wisp of clouds over it.  We found it interesting that this mountain, which is a huge tourist attraction, is not nearly as recognizable as The Matterhorn.
We will be back for the summer hiking season. Au revoir!

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