Wednesday, July 4, 2012


On our way to Freiburg im Breisgau with the two boys, Roberts, my mother-in-law and myself in the car, we took a slight detour. We wanted to drive through Switzerland on the way there as our route home would take us on a straighter course through France, and so a logical stopping point was Chamonix (about 4 ½ hours from Clermont-Ferrand).

As the last hour or so of driving took place after sunset, we awoke to a surprise. Knife-edge peaks surrounded our little hotel, the valley rising away on both sides changing from green to white in a dizzying ascent. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France, separated from Courmayeur, Italy by the jagged peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges. The site of the 1924 Winter Olympics (the first Winter Olympics), it is well known within the world of skiing, snowboarding and mountain climbing. It wasn’t these extreme sports that had us stopping in Chamonix, it was the world-famous cable car that goes up the Aiguille du Midi (3,842m or 12,605 ft). Constructed in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world.

Something we hadn’t thought of in our planning was altitude and its effect on the boys. The car ride up to Chamonix was gradual and the altitude quite reasonable (1,037m), but the cable car would ascend a couple thousand meters in about 30 minutes: not good for little ears, and infants are not allowed. And toddlers, well we weren’t going to try it. So we were faced with a dilemma; were we still going to ascend Aiguille du Midi, and in what combination?

Roberts had taken the cable car up to the summit more than five years ago, while living in Geneva, Switzerland with his friend Fredrik. Having paid the fee and arrived at the top – nothing. They were fogged in! He would have liked to try again, but opted to stay with his mother who didn’t wish to make the trip. So off I went, alone, to the highest point I will have ever been in my life.

Although the tower wasn’t open, there were three separate viewing areas that were, and I spent almost an hour admiring the fantastic views over the valley and of the peaks. Only 8km from the summit of Mont Blanc, the cable car was full of adventure seekers with skis and climbing gear. I watched quite a few do last-minute checks on their gear before heading off the platforms, to a base camp down below with miles of seemingly in-traversable terrain separating us.

The picture on the right is a zoomed in shot of where the arrow is pointing on the left

I also was witness to an interesting ritual. A group of men from Mongolia took turns with an ornate teacup, saying a prayer and then tossing a cup of milk to the wind. Perhaps a prayer, maybe an offering, but beautiful in the simplicity atop this soaring mountaintop.

According to the locals, that day was the first in quite a while that the view was as clear without clouds, fog or snow. The experience was worth every penny of the 45,60 € ticket and I suggest it to anyone visiting on a clear day. It is possible in the summer to cross the Mont Blanc massif by cable car into Italy by passing through Pointe Helbronner (3,462m or 11,358 ft) to Entréves in the Aosta Valley. The first car goes up early, and my advice to avoid the queues (and to get the best views since the mornings tend to have better visibility) would be to get there early.

I did wish it was me setting out on this grand adventure...

Meanwhile, the rest of the family was looking into the option of visiting the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), the second largest glacier in the Alps. At 14km long, 1800m wide and 400m deep, it is possible to visit an ice cave that has been carved every spring since 1946. However our luck with the weather for my ascent up the Aiguille didn’t extend to the glacier; the mountain train that takes tourists to the cable car was running, but the cable car was not.

After meeting back up with the rest of the family, we drove northeast on small roads, winding up the valley. With breathtaking vistas around every bend it was hard to resist the urge to park and photograph each and every scene. Interlaken was our destination, and we knew that there would be endless photo-opportunities the whole way there, and so it was with tremendous restraint that we kept driving despite the numerous panoramas. Simply unbelievably gorgeous.


  1. Your photos are just stunning - it really is hard to resist taking shots of every single gorgeous view when you are surrounded by such beauty.

  2. wow! it is so pretty, isn't it?! we went in october so there wasn't any snow but i'd love to see it like that.
    i really need to travel more. you guys are great.
    aidan xo

  3. Oh Liene, this is such a stunning post. You always explain your new vistas so beautifully - thanks for transporting me! J x

  4. What amazing pictures! You were lucky to have made it on a clear day!

  5. Wow, simply gorgeous!! What a wonderful place to visit :)

  6. If you can believe it I have never seen a full sized mountain in my life. The mountains of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia might come close, but they would be nothing in comparison to what you were able to see on your ascent. Hoe lucky you are to have such an experience.

  7. Way more interesting than the flat plains of central Illinois.


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