Visiting Chamonix Mont Blanc has been at the top of my list since moving to Geneva. Almost every day, I look out our window and see Mont Blanc. The closest I’ve come to visiting it so far is when we drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy. Granted, that was a really cool experience, but we couldn’t really see the mountain. Since Chamonix is only about an hour from our house by car, we decided to go for a nice Sunday drive over to Chamonix and take the telepherique (cable car) up to Aiguille du Midi.
As I said, Chamonix is only an hour from our house and the drive is very easy. We just hopped on the motorway and headed into France, following signs for Mont Blanc and Chamonix. The drive through the Chamonix valley is really beautiful. There are several waterfalls you can spot high up on the mountain faces and there are lots of quaint villages to see as you pass through. Eventually, you end up on the “Autoroute Blanche,” which splits at the base of Mont Blanc to either go into Chamonix or up toward the Mont Blanc Tunnel and into Italy. After going through the first roundabout and following the signs for Chamonix, we came to a second roundabout with parking for the Aiguille du Midi and parked our car in the lot.
After parking the car, we followed signs for the telepherique, which is a cable car that will take you up the side of the mountain. It was only a short walk from the parking lot to the building which housed the ticket booth and the telepherique departure point. The round trip ticket from the ground up to the top of Aiguille du Midi was 50 Euros a person, which was a bit expensive, but we were going up the side of the mountain. We learned from the lady at the ticket counter that the journey is 2700 meters (8858 feet) and takes 20 minutes!
We got in line to wait for the next telepherique up and joined the crowded car. They really packed us in like sardines! I heard the workers counting as we went through the ticket scanner, and they put as many as 50 or 60 of us in one car! We were all squeezed in really tightly so that we were touching and could hardly move. Then, we started moving up toward the mountain. We were lucky that we were near a window because there wasn’t all that much air circulation from all the people. On our way up, the cable and our car passed through a couple of towers helping to hold the cable up. I really hated that part because each time we exited the tower and were back on the cable alone, the car rocked back and forth quite a lot. The only up side was that we were crammed in so tightly that no one fell over from the rocking, but there were lots of exclamations of shock and a little fear. After around 10 minutes, we reached Plan d’Aiguille where we had to switch to a second cable car to continue up the mountain. Getting off our car was quite tricky because it was rocking back and forth and we had to wait for it to be close to the platform and then jump off quickly!
We all made it off the car safely and followed the signs to the next telepherique departure point. I was really relieved that we got to wait outside in the fresh air because the stuffiness of the car had made me a bit dizzy. It was only a short wait until we boarded the next car to go the rest of the way up the mountain. We were crammed in again like sardines, but there were far tinier windows in this car so it was even stuffier! The journey up took about the same amount of time as the first leg, minus the extra towers.
Once arriving at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, we were at 3842 meters (12,604 feet). We followed the crowd of people off the platform and toward the sights. Before exiting the arrival building, we got a numbered ticket from a worker for a specific cable car and departure time to head back down to Chamonix. It turns out they do this to make sure everyone can get back down the mountain before the last trip. Our departure time was about two and a half hours from when we got to the top. We thought this was going to maybe be too much time, but it ended up being perfect for us.
There are a lot of viewpoints you can visit at the Aiguille du Midi. We started out by winding around the building we just came out of and heading up the many steps to the top for a great view of Mont Blanc and also the Chamonix valley.
Next, we headed across the footbridge and into another building in the mountain. We saw a lot of mountain climbers in this building as it turns out this is where everyone who is planning to climb Mont Blanc departs from. We headed to the elevator to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. We had to wait in line for our turn and then squeeze in an elevator that could only hold six or seven people, but it was luckily a very short ride. The views from the top were amazing! We were really lucky to have very few clouds near the mountain for most of our time at the top.
After heading back down the elevator, we went back over to the first building to get a very late lunch from the cafeteria (since the restaurant was closed). We were pleasantly surprised by how good the food was in the cafeteria and we were lucky enough to get a window seat looking at Mont Blanc and down at the glacier. We took our time in the cafeteria because we had quickly gotten worn out from all the steps at such a high altitude. But, we felt much better after taking a break and eating. When we had finished, we headed back over the footbridge to check out the other viewpoints.
There were several viewing areas and we headed toward the back first where the Mont Blanc Panoramic gondola departs from. The gondola connects the Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner in Italy. Near the gondola departure point was a sort of deck along the side of the mountain. We walked along the deck and had a great view of all the mountain climbers setting off. Toward the end of the deck was a sort of ice/snow tunnel we walked through to another viewpoint. From this second viewpoint, we could see a sort of base camp for the expeditions headed toward Mont Blanc.
We also visited the area where the mountain climbers departed. Most of the “building” was carved like a cave out of the mountain. However the Alpinist departure point was a sort of hole in the cave through another ice/snow tunnel to a steep, snowy slope. There were actually quite a number of mountaineers arriving and leaving, even around 4 in the afternoon.
Since it was getting close to our departure time, we headed back across the footbridge to the arrival/departure building and visited a final terrace viewpoint. The terrace had one of the best views of the glacier on the mountain.
When we had finished on the viewpoint, we headed up more steps, following signs to return to Chamonix. We finally found the departure waiting area where we waited for about 5 minutes for our departure number to be called. From the waiting room, we could see a lot of the machinery running that controls the telepherique.
The trip down the mountain was a lot like the trip up. There were two big differences, though. First, there were a handful of mountain climbers going down the mountain in our car and we had the maximum number of people squeezed in. Since it was so claustrophobic in the car, we took a few minutes at the Plan d’Aiguille to step outside and admire Mont Blanc from a lower altitude and in the fresh air. We were glad we did because there were so many people inside waiting for the next car we knew we weren’t getting on the first one to arrive. Outside, we saw two donkeys near some people begging for food. I’m not sure if the people rode the donkeys up the mountain like you can do at the Grand Canyon, or if they were wild and knew they could get some food from tourists.
After getting some fresh air, we headed back into the building to wait for the next car. We saw that we’d made a good choice because everyone from our car was still waiting. This second part of the journey was the one I was really dreading because of the towers the cables ran through. I remembered how the car rocked on the way up and wasn’t really a fan of it. The rocking was even worse on the way down because gravity kind of helped you fall. Despite the cramped quarters and towers, we made it down to the ground just fine.
We were more tired out from the high altitude and the sun than we had realized and were anxious to get back home. Luckily, the drive back was really easy until we hit a bit of traffic at the border crossing back into Switzerland. After the border, the traffic sped back up and we still made it home in an hour.