Above: Steep, craggy peaks dwarf a steady stream of climbers en route to Mont Blanc base camp. Sun flares intensify an already dramatic scene. July 23, 2013.
My last post – Rapid Ascent 1 – took us to 7,800 feet. It was the first of two gondola rides, and the second climbs to 12,605 feet without a single support tower. The trip started early, at 6:30 a.m., and the line of mountaineers meant waiting for the third car. The views and sunrise proved well worth the wait.
The Aiguille du Midi – meaning “Needle of the Middle” – is the perfect start for someone trying to summit Mont Blanc, taking climbers to within 1000 meters of the 4,810 meter summit. Mont Blanc, translated into “White Mountain,” is the highest peak in Europe.
There are multiple viewing platforms embedded in rock to challenge one’s vertigo. Cross a seemingly precarious steel-grate bridge, walk through a carved out mountain, and take an elevator to the highest point – “ohs,” and “ahs,” can be heard as people take pictures and peer over guard rails. Eye-filling views of Mont Blanc the incredible Alps make this a truly unique experience.
The first viewing platform seen from the highest point – the town of Chamonix nearly invisible in the background.
Mont Blanc -Europe’s highest peak – fills the frame from the Aiguille du Midi, 3,842 meters. Note base camp in the lower left of the image.
A close-up of base camp on Mont Blanc. People, tents and walking paths mixed with the sheer scale of the mountain lend a very celestial feel.
Above: The Alps backdrop a morning smoke at Plan de L’Aiguille – 7,800 feet above sea level. I can’t imagine the hell cigarettes play on lungs at such high altitude. A photo I relish for numerous reasons: Magnificent-morning sunrise diffused over many mountain tops, where clouds stream as smoke out of the cigarette. Meanwhile, a bench and sign not only add geometrical designs and useful framing, but indicate frequent human presence.
The total trip comprises two different gondolas and an elevator. The first cable car starts just south of town – roughly 1000 meters – and after 15 minutes arrives at Plan de L’Aiguille, 2,354 meters. Views here are merely a warmup, as are the feelings of vertigo. Continuing on a second tram – the Aiguille du Midi – crosses glaciers and ascends near-verticle rock faces en route to the second viewing platform.
Climbers prep as the second tram departs at Plan de L’Aiguille, July 23, 2013.
The Aiguille du Midi cable car quickly becomes obscured by the mountain it will soon summit, rising 1,500 meters in about 10 minutes. The final destination is all but invisible.
The tall point of Aiguille du Midi is visible top center.