Chamonix-Mont Blanc

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September 11th 2009
Published: October 5th 2009
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Notre Dame de la GardeNotre Dame de la GardeNotre Dame de la Garde

The church that overlooks all of Marseille -- view from two blocks from my apartment.
Friday, September 11, 2009

Marseille, France to Chamonix-Mont Blanc (via Lyon and St. Gervais le Bains)

After class on Friday, I packed a bag for the weekend, and set out for the train station to get a ticket to Chamonix-Mont Blanc. This is a ski resort town in the winter months and a popular place in the summer for seeing the mountains and glaciers. My train reservation took me through the city of Lyon, France (2 hours from Marseille if I remember correctly) where I caught a connecting train to a town called St. Gervais les Bains. From here I caught yet another connecting train to Chamonix-Mont Blanc. The train ride from Marseille to Lyon was the TGV (high speed train ) in the first class car. The Eurail Railpass is a great money saver for these long train trips. I really suggest anyone going to France to buy a train pass. About 30 minutes into the ride, a lady and dog got on at Avignon and sat across the aisle from me. I am really amazed at how well behaved the dogs are here. Even cats do the train travel thing here. I will tell that story on
Place CastellanePlace CastellanePlace Castellane

This busy traffic circle with a statue in the center (obelisk) dating from 1811 -- view from about six blocks from my apartment; where I take the Metro each day to go to class.
another blog. :-)

I arrived in Chamonix-Mont Blanc late Friday evening and got a place to stay. Got into bed and slept well. It was about 20 degrees cooler in this part of France here in the Alps.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Chamonix-Mont Blanc

I got up early and had breakfast and set out to get tickets to the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of Midday, since the sun is directly over this peak at noon when viewed from the town of Chamonix in the valley below) for a close-up-and-personal view of the French Alps. I walked to the ticket counter where the cable car (gondola for 72 persons standing) are sold and hopped on the next departing ride of my life. This gondola ride is split in half where you switch to the second gondola. Each portion of the ride takes 10 minutes to lift you from the valley where the village of Chamonix-Mont Blanc is at about 3,400 feet in elevation, up to the Aiguille du Midi at 12, 602 feet in elevation. Each time the gondola would pass the pilon that holds this thing up and from crashing, the car would sway back and forth and many of the people and the kids in the car would scream. Quite a roller coaster ride of sorts. Arriving at the Aiguille du Midi puts you out of the gondola and right out on this rocky point on the mountain surrounded by glaciers and other rocky points. I never thought that I was afraid of heights until I had to walk out of the gondola station onto the passageways that are built right into the rocks and they are made out of wood. Some staircases were made from steel that you could see through. I really nearly lost my breakfast. :-( The weather was great and the cloud cover that existed in the valley did not at this altitude. The reflection of the sun off the snow and ice was very bright. It was close to 32 degrees F at this altitude. Good thing I had packed a jacket. From here you can see into Italy, Switzerland, and all of the French Alps. The views are really amazing. You can even see the Matterhorn in Switzerland when the cloud cover cooperated. The view of Mont Blanc is amazing. This mountain is a large snow covered dome and is the highest point in Europe at 15, 781 feet in elevation. From these vantage points you can see the mountaineers camping on the glaciers, hiking on the rocks, rappelling, climbing, hiking in the snow up to the summit of Mont Blanc, and paragliding - yes, jumping off these mountains at these heights with only a parachute. Not my thing but it does look like it would be fun. The persons climbing Mont Blanc appear to be small ants trekking along on a zig-zagged trail in the ice and snow.

Atop these two rocky peaks of the Aiguille du Midi, there are gift shops (of course), a post office, a cafeteria, and many decks where you can see the sights. Getting from one of the peaks to the other requires crossing a wooden bridge over a drop-off thousands of feet high. I had to keep telling myself that “If it weren’t safe, it wouldn’t be here!” as I inched myself along. I really had to approach the railings on the decks very slowly to keep from feeling vertigo. I bought a mineral water to take away the nausea, and bought my next ride in a 4 seat gondola to
View of ChamonixView of ChamonixView of Chamonix

The early morning view from my room in Chamonix-Mont Blanc.
Helbronner Point, Italy. There weren’t very many people going this way, so I was alone in my gondola. The 4 seat gondolas are grouped in groups of three and it takes about 30 minutes to go from Aiguille du Midi to Helbronner Point in Italy at about 11, 358 feet in elevation. This gondola ride is amazing. It is a single suspended cable car ride with only one point close to the center that supports the whole thing. The ride is a distance of 5 kilometers (3.10 miles) and it takes you over to Italy. The ride takes you over glaciers and you can see deep into the crevasses on these. There were many people hiking these and climbing the rocks around the glaciers.

Helbronner Point, Italy

On the Italian side, there are exits from Helbronner Point for mountaineers and ice hikers as well. There is a little café and a gift shop. The Italian side also has a few viewing decks however this is the direction that all the clouds were coming from, so just about all that I was able to see were a lot of Italian clouds and a few rocks up close. I had a great cappuccino in the café, and took a few pictures. One of the pictures really cracked me up. It is somewhat of a damage/injury and liability waiver that one accepts/consents to by opening a door and exiting the gondola station. After snapping a few pictures and drinking my cappuccino, I got on the next gondola car going back to the Aiguille du Midi. Upon arriving, I took the elevator up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. On top there is a structure that reminds me of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. It is used as a weather station and TV/radio antenna. From here I snapped a few hundred more pictures :-) and then took the elevator back down and walked down the tunnel where they have carved out an exit from the ice. Here is where the mountain climbers get ready and leave the safety of the rock. I took the next gondola back down to the half-way point back to Chamonix-Mont Blanc village called Plan de L’Aiguille and by this time I was getting ready for lunch around 2 pm. At this altitude, there was just the one place to pick from -
The road into Chamonix-Mont BlancThe road into Chamonix-Mont BlancThe road into Chamonix-Mont Blanc

To the right, there is a tunnel underneath the mountains that takes you to Courmayeur, Italy.
the Bar Plan de L’Aiguille. This is a good place to have a hotdog on a baguette, with a mineral water with peppermint syrup.

For a good schematic drawing of the area and sites, see

Chamonix-Mont Blanc the town

After arriving back down from the gondola ride, I decided to take a walk around town. The town is very nice and well groomed. A little river runs through dividing the town in two. This river is a strange cloudy greenish-grey from the silt and sediments that are in the glaciers and are melting creating the water for these rivers. The valley is loaded with many other gondolas and cogwheel trains that take you to other mountian peaks and glaciers. One glacier in particular is alled the Mer de glace (Sea of ice). I didn't have the time to see this but you take a train up to a peak and a gondola down to the glacier. Here they have carved a cave/tunnel in the glacier and you can enter it. You are supposed to be able to see last year's cave downstream so-to-speak since the glacier is moving at a rate of about 120 meters per year in the upper part, and about 90 meters per year in the lower part. This averages to about one centimenter per hour, still slow enough to not be able to notice. The village of Chamoniix and all the others in the valley participate in a transportation cooperative. Each hotel gives its guests a pass which is good for all the trains and buses in the valley for the days that you are staying. This is an effort to keep pollution to a minimum in the valley.

Sunday, September 13, 2009
Chamonix-Mont Blanc and then back to Marseille, France (via St. Gervais le Bains and Lyon)

Today I walked around a bit in town and then took the 2 pm train back towards Lyon and finally Marseille. Unfortunately, I had a two hour layover in the train station in Lyon. I arrived late on Sunday night back in Marseille and had to complete my homework assignments for class the next morning. :-(


Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 28


At the half-way spot -- Plan de L'AiguilleAt the half-way spot -- Plan de L'Aiguille
At the half-way spot -- Plan de L'Aiguille

Waiting for the next gondola to take me to the summit.
Arriving at the summitArriving at the summit
Arriving at the summit

Ice climbers on the glacial ridge.
A wooden walkway...A wooden walkway...
A wooden walkway...

Looks safe from here, right?
The same wooden walkway...The same wooden walkway...
The same wooden walkway...

How does it look from out here????

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