The dreaded travelogue: Chamonix, France

This is our third trip to Chamonix, or first in 2011 as we hiked one-half of the Tour de Mont Blanc*. We came here again in 2016, prior to taking on the Swiss Haute Route (which we completed over a two year period). This year we are here with the freedom of a vehicle, not having to walk everywhere. That said, the vehicle has been sitting in the hotel parking lot for three days now.

We could have driven to Cascade de Dard, a local waterfall. Instead we opted to walk up the thousand feet, our total day covering nine miles. There was a time when such a hike was a small thing, but after ankle surgery and a long period of relative inactivity, it was tough. The ankle hurts at the end of each day, but the next day feels new. It also counts against us that we are in our seventies.

We made it to the waterfall, and it was worth the journey. There is a small restaurant there, and we were able to relax and enjoy eau gazeuse, or sparkling water, delightful. Since waterfalls are such common fare, I decided to mess with my camera, taking shots a different aperture setting and shutter speeds. Below is Dard Falls at a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec, at which we should be seeing individual droplets.

I then reduced shutter speed to 1/5th second.

Below is a scene I encountered late afternoon where mountains were lit up high by the Sun.

I monkeyed with the aperture setting … the above was taken at F11, so I narrowed it to F22 or so, and got this:

I don’t know what to do with that or where to with it. I am not a very good photographer so that affectations like this are child’s play. I have many more photographs on my camera, all taken at the highest resolution possible so that I can crop away with Affinity photo without affecting the quality of the underlying photo. My intention is just to get better over time. I’ll be working in Affinity after we return to Colorado once I get over jet lag once again, harder to do flying west to east than the other way.

Chamonix is a tourist attraction, and we are here during shoulder season. Chairlifts are closed, and high mountain trails, including Tour de Mont Blanc, are deep in snow. It is still a time for skiers. Below is a shot of Chamonix and the surrounding mountains, from street level. That amazing view is a constant no matter where we are in town.

Those mountains seen from the street are part of a masiff that includes Mt. Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. They overshadow the town to the South. Below is a postcard view.

Keep in mind that working on an iPad, I cannot currently enlarge photos. I will do that later. This particular professional photo was taken from Aiguille du Midi, a high peak that sits across from the Mt. Blanc massif, and important for another reason.

There is a cable car system that starts in Chamonix and ends in Cormayeur, Italy. Its first stop is Aiguille du Midi, at 12,605′ one of the smaller peaks in the area. (Mt. Blanc is 15,700 or so.) How a cable car system got there is one of the most impressive feats in human history.

Construction of cable lift systems began around 1905, interrupted by two wars. The later objective was always Mt. Blanc, and the intermediate objective Aiguille du Midi. Around 1950 or so, construction towards du Midi and Blanc began in earnest. Here it gets murky – normally in making a chairlift or a cable car system, engineers use pylons and helicopters. The terrain around Aiguille du Midi would not allow for that, so engineers decided to use local mountain climbers and hikers. It took four years of backbreaking labor, but in 1955 the cable cars were running.

As of this day, as I understand it, Aiguille du Midi is a midway point that serves skiers who want to take on Mt. Blanc, but also a transfer point to the system that ends up in Cormayeur, Italy.

That photo only begins to do justice to the men who made this happen. We have ridden the cable cars to Aiguille du Midi. It is amazingly fast. Once there we found a viewing platform, a snack bar and restaurant. It all seems so mundane once completed. But there was a time when passage to Cormayeur to  Chamonix and back was only by ski and sleds.

Today we can take the tram over the top, or the tunnel underneath Mt. Blanc. Since the lifts are closed and we did not want to pay 60+ euros to travel to Cormayeur for lunch, we stayed put in Chamonix. Just know that among the Italians, French and Swiss, there are some amazing engineers.

By the way, Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world. It completely encircles the Mt. Blanc massiff, and is 103 miles in length. In 2011 we walked only half of it.

Before we left Colorado, I saw a young doctor for a sleeping pill prescription, as I knew we were going into jet lag territory. We talked about Tour du Mont Blanc, and he said that come September he would be running that race. He’s young and very fit, and I certainly wish him the best. (He modestly tried to minimize his abilities by saying that in the very steep parts he would walk. My guess is no, he will run the entire 103 miles.)

*A friend of ours in Bozeman whom we have lost track of decided to do the entire Tour de Mont Blanc, even as he was our age. He was stubbornly determined, and suffered greatly in his efforts. It is a challenge for young people, much less those of us (then) in our sixties.

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