The first morning cable car from Chamonix up Aiguille du Midi is packed full. You can’t move.
The passengers are varied. There are people in street clothes and formal raincoats crushed against extreme skiers and climbers (wearing harnesses festooned with gear, carrying large packs, and with ice axes over their shoulders).
The air is full also. You avoid breathing deeply to avoid some of the odors: perfumes, cigarettes, last night’s parties, fragrant breakfasts, and worse.
The talk is loud and in many languages. Skiers discuss routes and the lengths of ropes needed to reach certain points for their descent. Sightseers stare nervously at the approaching walls of rock and groan in fright when the cable car bounces as it passes over a tower.
The lift slows as it reaches the top station and glides to a stop. The Aiguille du Midi is a granitoid spire on the flank of Mont-Blanc in the French Alps. Its summit is at 3,842 meters (12,605 feet).
It is an intimidating place to ski from, or climb from, or ‘hike’ from, or even just photograph from. Precipitous rock and ice surround the top station on all sides. A solid platform leads from the building to an excavated tunnel in the rock.
As people leave the cable car they spread out. Some skiers move through the tunnel to emerge at the head of a famous run called the Vallée Blanche, which is 20 km (12.4 miles) long. A mountain guide is required. Other skiers with mountaineering equipment head toward other routes. The sightseers spread out on the viewing platforms. The scenery is simply spectacular.
As people mill around and take photos they notice that two guys are getting ready to go over the railing onto a rock face. In a sense this is their trailhead for a hike. It is really more climbing than hiking and they clearly know what they are doing. Still they draw a lot of attention.
Perhaps they have done this many times, but it is still impressive. They are methodical and businesslike. Mistakes cost everything. People standing next to them are thinking about a café au lait in the café.
After going through their preparations it is time to go over the railing.
It is one step at a time, like every hike, but ….
The crampons hold.
Now it is time to work on the descent.
Mountaineering skiers gather with similar gear, but with a different descent in mind.
This descent is an access to routes which involve some ‘hiking’ and some climbing.
Scrambling down the rock below leads to other route choices. They moved on down the mountain. They have a full day ahead of them.
This form of climbing and hiking is way beyond what I would ever consider. But it was very interesting watching them prepare and then carefully work down this rock wall. The viewing platforms provided a front row perch. However, not everyone was captivated.
Despite this interesting climbing demonstration and the world class scenery some people still just wanted to photograph themselves. Instead of savoring the beauty on all sides they were documenting their presence there. There were others doing this also. These people go through life posing instead of being somewhere and learning about it. One of the purposes and benefits of travel is to lose our preoccupation with self and experience other places, cultures, and people. Pulling out a selfie stick should be as embarrassing as walking along holding up a mirror so you can watch yourself all the time.
Mont-Blanc provides plenty to look at for most people. The surrounding mountains of the French Alps are extra helpings of beauty and intrigue. Chamonix and Mont-Blanc are wonderful places to visit. You don’t have to climb or ‘hike’ to enjoy them. And there are plenty of places to walk in the surrounding valleys without having to use ropes.