Rapid Ascent 2 – Aiguille du Midi

Landscapes, Photography, Travel

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.

The first viewing platform seen from the highest point – the town of Chamonix nearly invisible in the background.

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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.

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.

Rapid ascent 1 – Plan de L’Aiguille

Landscapes, Photography, Portraits, Travel

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.

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Climbers prep as the second tram departs at Plan de L’Aiguille, July 23, 2013.

The Aguille de Midi cable car quickly becomes obscured by the mountain it will soon summit.

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.

Closeup of Aiguille du Midi, a viewing platform  and communications tower high in the Alps.

The tall point of Aiguille du Midi is visible top center. 

Town of Adventure – Chamonix, France

Landscapes, Photography, Sports, Street, Travel

Above: View of flower boxes, mountains and the river that runs through the town of Chamonix, France, July 20, 2013. 

Following the fantastic bike ride through Burgundy wine country, the adventure town of Chamonix, France, only 190 miles south-east, was a logical next stop. Surrounded by mountain fortresses, Chamonix is situated right on the border with Italy and Switzerland. It is perhaps the most accessible and popular gateway to explore the vast Alps.

Under foot a cold, silty, glacial-fed river bisects town. Overhead clouds veil and expose mountain peaks, gondolas whisk explorers in a web-like maze, climbers tackle treacherous peaks, and dozens of paragliders waft down and around in strong wind-currents.

The town itself is a resort town – crowded, lots of shopping, and lots of people tromping around in mountaineering gear. Needless to say the reason for visiting was not to explore then town – but the surroundings.  Those surroundings will be featured in future posts – particularly the Aiguille du Midi, an intense, two-gondola trip that ascends sheer-rock faces to an astounding 12,605 ft. (3,842 m,) in roughly 40 minutes.

Paragliders pepper the sky, cable-car wires hardly be seen stretching from one mountain peak to the other.

Paragliders pepper the sky, cable-car wires can hardly be seen stretching from one mountain peak to the other.

Being pulled on a bicycle through the main square in Chamonix, mountain peaks projecting in the background.

Being pulled on a bicycle through the main square in Chamonix, mountain peaks projecting in the background.