Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Visit to Chamonix and Aiguille du Midi

We have been to Chamonix twice, since we have been living in Switzerland, and each time there were heavy clouds over the mountains.  We were hoping for a clear day so we could ride the Aiguille de Midi cable car, the highest cable car in Europe.

I had been checking the weather constantly and it appeared that there would be clear weather over the mountains on Tuesday, Oct. 23rd.  So, even through Paula had to work, I decided to make a day trip to Chamonix.

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 3,400 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.

It took me 2 1/2 hours to travel to Chamonix from Vevey.  Once I arrived I immediately headed for the cable car station.  The elevation at Chamonix is 3,399 ft.  The Aiguille du Midi cable car will reach an elevation of 12,510 ft.  Once you reach the Aiguille du Midi cable car station, you can ride an elevator to the top of Aiguille du Midi at 3,842 m. or 12,602 ft. 

The Aiguille du Midi Cable Car.

The cable car to the summit of Aiguille du Midi, was built in 1955 and held the title of the world's highest cable car for about two decades. There are now a few cable cars in South America that are higher.  It still holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, from 3,395 ft. to 12,510 ft. There are two sections: from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille at 7,601 ft. and then directly, across the Les Pelerins glacier, without any support pillars, to the upper station of the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi at 12,510 ft.

Approaching the Aiguille du Midi cable car station.

The Aiguille du Midi (12,602 ft.) is a mountain in the the Mont Blanc mountain range in the French Alps.

The name "Aiguille du Midi" translates literally as "Needle of the South". it gets its name from the fact that it points south when viewed from in front of St Michel’s church in Chamonix.

The round structure at the very top of the mountain is a radio tower.  

Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe at 15,771 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. 

As you can see, the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  I could see for miles.  The temperature in Chamonix was in the mid 70's and at the top of Aiguile du Midi it was in the lower 30's, but felt a lot warmer because of the bright sunshine.  I even came back with a slight sun burn.

A picture from the viewing platforms at the cable car station.  Later, I will take an elevator to the viewing platform, seen above, at the top of Aiguille du Midi. 

As I have mentioned in other blogs, there were record snow falls, in the Alps, last winter.  The workers shown here are still clearing snow from one of the walk ways between viewing platforms.  You can see that the heavy snow wiped out the fencing along the walk way.  It is a long drop to the bottom, so the workers are roped to prevent falls.  

These workers are repairing the netting that is suppose to limit the damage due to falling rocks.  They too are roped in, as a fall, would be 1,000's of feet.

 Two climbers on a rock pinnacle called Grand Capucin (12,591 ft).

I took the elevator from the cable car station to the very top of Aiguille du Midi (12,602 ft).

A view of the cable car station from the top of Aiguille du Midi.

A close-up view of the radio tower.

The next few pictures, were taking from the top of Aiguille du Midi, of the surrounding mountains in the French and Italian Alps.

Pictured above is Grandes Jorasses (13,805 ft).

The tallest mountain in this picture is Aiguille de Leschaux (12,237 ft).

The peak on the right side is Dent du Geant - French for "Giants Tooth", (13,166 ft).  The peak on the left is another shot of Grandes Jorasses (13,805 ft).

The peak on the left is Mont Maudit - French for "Cursed Mountain", (14,648 ft).  THe highest peak in the middle is another shot of Mont Blanc (15,771 ft).

A view looking north at the Swiss Alps in the back ground.

A view of Chamonix from Aiguille du Midi.

The Aiguille du Midi Cable Car arriving at the station.

The Les Pelerins glacier.

A view from the cable car as I was descending to Chamonix.

You can see the shadow of the cable car on the trees. (I thought it was a neat shot).  It is apparent that winter is approaching, the tress are turning brilliant shades of yellow and orange.

The Reformed Church of Arve Mont Blanc.

This little church is near the Chamonix train station.

Once I returned to Chamonix, I had a some time before I needed to catch the train back to Vevey.  I had seen Paragliders, such as the ones above, jumping from the area around Aiguile du Midi. I could see them gliding over Chamonix, so I followed them to their landing area, which turned out to be the city park.  I found out that they can stay aloft for an hour or more.

Finally it was time to head back to Vevey.  While on the train, which runs high above a valley, I noticed that fog was starting to roll in.  This was strange because I had had such clear weather in Chamonix.  Come to find out, according to Paula, it had been foggy in Vevey the entire day.  In fact, it was so thick that she could not see the mountains, across Lake Geneva, from her office.

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