Thursday, June 30, 2011

Halfway to Heaven

We spent four days in Chamonix, France riding the gondolas up and down the mountains and hiking the French Alps. The days were long and hot and extremely rewarding. Who knew it would be so hot up on a glacier? We got more sun during this time than in the past three months in southern Spain and Italy. It was also outrageously expensive but you only live once!

The first day we bought our two day family pass and tried not to look at the Canadian exchange while hitting the “okay” button. We flew from Chamonix up to the mid-station in about 10 minutes with 70 other tourists all laughing nervously as our stomachs dropped out with each tower pass. The cable car did a great impression of a Fun Park ride as it zipped along. We then caught the second “telepherique” from the mid-point to Aiguille du Midi, the high point of the Chamonix gondola rides. At the top, we dished out another hundred dollars to ride the three km gondola to Helbronner, Italy.

This particular “telecabine” takes about half an hour to traverse between the glaciers and mountain peaks offering unparalleled views. As we drifted above the snow, we watched the mountain climbers snail along in short chains and Rhys announced he was coming back one day to walk in that snow. It had that kind of effect. The snow below looked like the back of a Beluga whale at some points and seemed deceptively close. However, we were so high up that there were no towers between the two points of the gondola. Three kilometers and no towers you say…impossible. Well, no, one “tower” is a rock peak where the gondolas squeeze through the rock. That was interesting. The second “tower” has no base. It floats in mid-air, suspended between two peaks by long cables. That was also interesting. I felt a bit breathless by the time we reached Helbronner and was glad to escape the cabin. They have a line the station there that separates Italy and France. Naturally, we had to jump back and forth visiting several times.
The return trip was just as spectacular, made even more so as we got a close up view of the rock climbers scaling the face of the rock our telecabine docked at when we reached Aiguille du Midi again. We took the elevator up (yes, you aren’t really high enough yet) to the top of the peak and enjoyed our status of being “half way to Heaven”. It may be as close as some of us get so we took advantage of it. From here, we returned to the mid-station by cable car and then hiked 2.5 hours across the alpine meadows to Montenvers to see the ice caves and ride the train back to Chamonix.

We stopped early on the hike to eat. We were all ravenous and although we had made huge sandwiches, we all managed to inhale them in record time. NOT fast enough to avoid two donkeys who obviously heard me offering tomato to my family and decided to share our lunch with us. One of them was dog-like in his approach, quietly munching grass on the side of the trail and not looking at us but creeping towards us ever so slowly until he was practically on top of us. He then waited expectantly for a treat but sandwich meat and tomato were not his idea of treat food so he meandered away after some time.

We started our hike in high spirits after lunch. It was beastly hot, even with a cooling breeze and it wasn’t long before we all started feeling the drag of exhaustion. Julia asked how long we’d been hiking and we’d only made it ten minutes. Okay, it may have been more but we hadn’t really checked the time when we left. We filled up the water bottle in a creek and enjoyed the ice cold water on the walk. The views were amazing and kept us going for quite a while. Then the thought of ice cold treats at Montenvers spurred us the rest of the way.

We were pretty much done by Montenvers. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and we had started the day at 8:00. We gamely took the gondola down to the glacier and hiked the 400 steps further down. The glacier recedes by 3-4 metres every year so they had signs showing where it had been previously. They keep having to add more steps. The ice cave was awesome. Having never been in an ice cave, this one was impressive with basic sculptures and drippy walls. There was a man with his Saint Bernard set up inside for tourists to have their picture taken with the dog. He charged 6 euros for the privilege. The dog wasn’t bad at posing and they were doing a brisk business. Imagine. I wonder how much we could get for tourists to pose with Sparky? On our return trip up we travelled in Cabin 5 which we all thought was apropos. Our last adventure of the day was taking the rack and pinion train back down the mountain to Chamonix. We arrived at the base by about 6:00 and by the time we walked home we were all ready for bed.

1 comments: said...

Happy Canada Day...Love all your pictures and notes...Quite impressive....I'm glad you had your jackets...even if it was HOT...