Chamonix

We recently took a road trip to Venice and back. This post and a few of the next ones come from some of our travel moments.

Chamonix, France, lies in a valley directly below Mont Blanc, which is Europe’s tallest mountain. There is a lookout called the Aguille du Midi at an elevation of 3,842 m, 968 m lower than the top of Mont Blanc. From there, there are purportedly grand views in all directions atop the peaks of the Alps. Alas, the upper portion of the cable car system was closed for maintenance.

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On the other side of the valley, a cable car ascends halfway up to the place called Flégère at elevation 1,877 m. In winter, additional lifts can take you higher up the mountain to ski runs. We arrived at the base at 10 am, opening time, with the expectation of a nice ride up, a little time enjoying the views, and a return descent.

Just off the cable car, we found clear sunny views across the valley, to Mont Blanc and adjacent peaks, including the Aiguilles du Grépon, du Chardonnet, et Verte. Our view looked directly south, right into the sun. Very little of the peaks were in direct sun, just silhouettes against the brightness. The cable car terminus was in our way, so we thought to walk up the gravel path a little to get a clearer view.

A little higher, and the panorama was full. But still silhouetted by the low sun. We wanted to see the mountains in full bright light, so decided to stay a while longer. The gravel path continued up the mountain to the next switchback. We decided to go up just one more level.

From here the view was even better. The sun was starting to illuminate the edges of the mountain ridges, as well as to cast rays down across the forests facing us. Maybe just a little higher.

Now we spotted a group of people above us who were pulling on what we realized were paragliders that were lying on the ground. We had already seen a number of paragliders over the valley. We wanted to see them take off. So up another level.

We found a spot just above their launching field. The wind was gentle. All but one person were sitting on the ground amid their piles of colored sails. A leader or instructor was on her radio. She had a very strong voice so we could hear her talking about the wind currents, and relaying information coming over the radio. She helped the standing person spread out the sail behind her. We, and they, waited and waited for gusts of wind. Just as we were about to give up on seeing a launch, suddenly the sail was inflated and the person flew off the cliff and into the sky above the valley. It happened so quickly that we missed filming the launch.

We decided to wait for the next launch, determined to capture the jump into the void. A little higher up the hill for us, of course. Now a man was positioning himself. He earlier had been talking cockily about how to turn figure eights in the air, much to the consternation of the leader. He stood, waiting, with his back to the hill. With a new gust, his sail filled and he ran off the cliff. Instantly, the sail deflated, twisting on itself. He disappeared below onto the steep slope below. We think that the only thing that got hurt was his pride.

Finally, our phone was in position for the next launch. Lovely and exhilarating to watch this person, slung beneath what a moment before was a swath of thin fabric, float away high over the deep valley.

By now, the sun was shining on the glaciers on Mont Blanc and the other icy valleys. The upper air was so still that jet contrails stayed fine completely across the sky.

While we talked about staying up here forever, we knew we needed to descend. Looking down at the cable car terminus, we realized just how high we had hiked, one switchback at a time. On the leisurely stroll down the views continued to shine and awe.

Back at the cable car, we realized we had enjoyed the views, air and walks for 4 hours. The time had slipped by just like the paragliders.

Delightful.

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