Haute Route 1 - Chamonix to Argentiere
Oct 28, 2010Public
Photo: The pretty French town of Chamonix (elevation 3,379 ft.) lies in a valley at the foot of Mt. Blanc (hidden in clouds above). A glacier tumbles down the side of Mt. Blanc almost into town!
Photo: On a clear day you can easily see the summit of Mt. Blanc from town. At 15,781 ft., it is the highest mountain in the Alps.
Photo: Having arrived a day before our hiking partners, Marcia and I make an excursion to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), a glacier reached by a cogwheel railway.
Photo: At the end of the railway line, a cable car takes visitors down to the glacier itself--almost.
Photo: When the cable-car was built, the top of the glacier was much higher than it is today. Now, to reach the glacier one has to descend some steep stairs.
Photo: Signs mark the level of the glacier in years past -- in 1980 the glacier top was here.
Photo: The stairs lead to some ice caves, dug, I think, to give tourists something to see. Back in the 70s when I visited the Mer de Glace I was able to walk out onto the glacier itself, which in those days was not far below the end of the cable-car.
Photo: The caves are lighted with blue light. This was fairly tame, as excursions go, but tomorrow should bring a bit more excitement: we will take the cable-car up Mt. Blanc.
Photo: We get up at sunrise the next morning to take the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi (elev. 12,605 ft.). The Aiguille (the peak at left) is a rocky outcrop on the side of Mt. Blanc. In this photo you can just make out the massive manmade tower that tops it.
Photo: The cable-car or "telepherique" starts right in town and climbs to a midway station. From there it runs up a single uninterrupted span of cable all the way to the top, ascending about 9,000 ft total in 20 minutes. Quite impressive!
Photo: Looking almost straight down at Chamonix, the midway station is visible on the knoll below.
Photo: The tower at the top looks like an old Saturn rocket. The cable car runs to the base of the tower, and an elevator takes you the rest of the way.
Photo: From the top we can see the Chamonix valley with the town of Argentiere nestled near the end. The Col de Balme, a pass which separates France from Switzerland, is at the upper right.  Look under the word "de" for a barely-visible small white building in the pass--a sort of inn that sits right on the border. We will cross the Col de Balme tomorrow and hike down the other side into Switzerland.
Photo: Swinging our eyes up and to the right we see the incredible jagged teeth of the Mt. Blanc Massif. This is a big mountain, however, and the summit lies almost in back of us. See the next series of photos...
Photo: Climbers descend a snow-covered ridge leading down from the Aiguille du Midi. (Aiguille means "needle")
Photo: The Mt. Blanc summit.
Photo: From a lookout by this huge thumb of rock we could even see...
Photo: ... the Matterhorn, our final destination, just visible in the middle distance! Gasp, are we really going to hike over the mountains from here to there?
Photo: These guys might be able to do it ...
Photo: ... but are these two 60-somethings capable of such a trek? Time will tell. (A German tourist took this photo of us under a "snow bridge.")
Photo: Oops, we'd better get back down to Chamonix. Debbi, Carole, and Stuart, are coming in around 11 am and we are supposed to start our hike today!
Photo: Back in town, we are again impressed by what a handsome place it is!
Photo: We walk to our hotel, where we had arranged to meet our hiking partners.