Sunday, August 1, 2010

Europe's Rooftop

This weekend, I managed to achieve one of my touristic goals this summer: see the Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, situated at the border of 3 countries: France, Italy and Switzerland.

So, on Saturday at 6 a.m. I was up to get the 7:04 train from Lyon; after switching 3 trains there was I, at 11:15, in Chamonix, departure point of the gondolas that take people up in the sky.
Being under time constraint (last train for Lyon at 16:40), I chose for a round-trip, from one side to the other of the massif:
Chamonix(1030m)-Plan de l'Aiguille(2317m)-Aiguille du Midi(3842m)-Helbronner(3462m).

All this isn't just about one mountain, though it is not an ordinary mountain after all; besides the snowy ridge, there are wonderful panoramas, spectacular glaciers and the proof of human physical and technological capacities pushed beyond their limits. For hikers, skiers and climbers the place will not only nourish the eyes but also the inner passion.

The thing to be done is a complete tour, by taking a gondola from Helbronner down to Courmayeur in Italy and then return to Chamonix by bus through the Mont-Blanc Tunnel. Because of the weather this is only available during the summer season. Arriving at 11, deprived me of this opportunity, but the panoramic tour was "good-enough".
One marvelous detail is the Silence, being up there all the artificial sounds are gone...all that be heard is the wind.

With a bit of luck, the one of being alone and thus easier to fit in a gondola, I managed to get back to Chamonix in time for my train; but even if I would have not, the experience was worth the extra price of a night at a hotel, not a 5-star one but still... ;)

Information and Tips:
Here is the site of the Compagne du Mont-Blanc, which patronizes of all tourist attractions in the Chamonix - Mont-Blanc Valley.
The complete tour is called Trans Mont-Blanc. It is highly recommended to check the weather a couple of days before your trip because up there the conditions are quite unstable and the gondola access could be restricted; leaving early in the morning will assure you enough time for sightseeing without the stress of missing the gondola/bus connection.
Also it's better to make a reservation in order to avoid the 1h+ waiting line for the first part of the ascent...and to be very reactive when switching gondolas at Plan de l'Aiguille.
Obviously, all the other advice concerning mountain trips are to be taken into consideration (warm clothes, adequate shoes, candy...); remember, each 1000 m equals a 6°C temperature drop, so, for almost do the maths.
Last but not least, the French employees of the Compagnie seem to be more polite and helpful, at least on the outside, than the Italian ones, which are bossy, regardless the language spoken by the tourists.

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