Aiguille du Midi for the non-hikers
A trip to see Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4810m is one of the must do’s in the French Alps but how can you do this in a day? Well, it is simple and you don’t have to hike. It’s just one cable car journey away. Here is my guide on how to spend the perfect day seeing the ‘White Mountain’ and how to do the cable cars up to Aiguille du Midi (where the main viewpoint is) with no hassle.
This mountain resort is located in the heart of the French Alps and is easily accessible by road and train and the nearest airport is Geneva (the French side of the airport, not the Swiss side). Chamonix is a splendid resort with plenty of accommodation for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer, as well as shops, lakes, restaurants and bars. It is worth spending a few days here if planning to do some hikes or take some train rides up and down the other mountains nearby.
Aiguille du Midi and the journey to the summit.
Everyone has heard of Mt Blanc but not Aiguille du Midi and can’t understand why I am mentioning this other mountain. One of the most common questions I get asked if there is a cable car going up Mont Blanc and the simple answer is no. If visitors want to go up Mt Blanc, you will have to be a very experienced mountaineer with all the gear and possibly a permit. The nearest visitors are going to get if they take the cable car from Chamonix and go to the summit (3,842m) and take in the views from there.
For the cable car here are some tips which will help visitors have an more enjoyable time as it does get busy during the peak season.
- Get there early (I mean, really early, if possible, around sunrise is a good time to go) and buy your tickets (or even better, book them online). The queues after breakfast for the rest of the day are just simply crazy and will add on a lot of time to the day.
- With the way the queuing system works in Chamonix, after buying the tickets, expect to wait up to twenty minutes before boarding the cable car (if boarding one of the first ones in the morning or during quiet periods otherwise the wait is a lot longer).
- Whilst on the car, remember to take your backpacks or other bags off your back and put them on the floor. This frees up space for other people to get onto the car.
- Take a jacket or a jumper even in the summer months. You will be above the clouds (if any) and it does get quite cold up there. Also be careful and check your breathing due to the altitude. If feeling light-headed, take a rest and don’t panic.
- Also on the health side, take suntan lotion as the sun rays are pretty strong up here, even in the winter months.
Now the cable car journey is done in two parts. The first part is a pleasant journey to Plan de l’Aiguille (2,317m). Here there is a restaurant/bar which has a fantastic outdoor terrace where visitors can have a drink or a meal and take in the surrounding mountains above. Also from here there is a couple of hiking trails, the main one being the trail back to the cable car station in Chamonix where in the summer months there are lots of beautiful flowers to be seen and the smell of the alpine air whilst walking through the trees are a highlight.
The second cable car from Plan de l’Aiguille to Aiguille du Midi is one of the best in the world I have come across. Without any support pillars, the cable car passes the Les Pelerins glacier before arriving on the northern face of the Aiguille du Midi. The cable car journey also holds the record as the highest vertical ascent from 1035m to 3842m (and didn’t I know it, when the cable car rocks when going underneath a pillar, the food in my stomach kinda went up through our body but lucky no vomit came out).
Aiguille du Midi – the summit
Once leaving the cable car, there is a footbridge with connects the station to the main building. From here there are several things to do and see.
There is the highest cable car journey in the world to do (for an extra fee) which connects France and Italy. Whilst doing this, visitors will get a fantastic panoramic view of Mt Blanc and the surrounding mountain summits of the French Alps. The journey is 5km long (3.2 miles) and finishes in Point Helbronner, however once there, there is another cable car to take visitors to Courmayeur, Italy where a different view of Mt Blanc can be taken in.
Most visitors will hit up the viewing platforms dotted around the building and all will have amazing views of Mt Blanc. However the other mountain peaks are equally impressive and gives the area a more dramatic feel. The best time to see this is either sunrise or sunset. Having to admit, I was very lucky to catch the views during sunrise and whilst watching it, there were feelings of joy and a slight tear in the eyes. There was no word to describe this moment.
A new feature to the building (but in peak season can have a bit of a waiting time to do this) is the Step into the Void where a panoramic viewing platform in a sheltered area with wide windows can be experienced. This will give visitors the chance to see the surrounding mountains even in bad weather.
There is also a cafeteria, snack bar and a restaurant in the building (the latter being one of the highest restaurants in the world) plus an souvenir shop which sells postcards and stamps. If doing this, make sure to write them out up here and send it from the letterbox so the receiver gets a special postmark when delivered. Whilst wondering about, make sure to visit and see the museum displays which has many mountaineering memorabilia (and as the museum is located at 3,777m, this is the highest museum in the world).
After spending a whole morning (around 4-5 hours) at the summit of Aiguille du Midi as I didn’t have time to do some hikes this time round. This would be the ideal amount of time to do all the queuing, the journey, the sightseeing, the shopping and having some food and drink. The cable car maybe one of the most expensive in the Alps but you do get your money’s worth here. This is an once in a lifetime experience, totally blown away with the breathtaking views and came back with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Hiking Plan de l’Aiguille to Chamonix
As mentioned above, the second trip to these mountains didn’t involve any hikes. My first visit here was previously back in 2009 and took in the hike from Plan de l’Aiguille to the cable car station in Chamonix. Which looks like a simple, easy, quick hike down the mountain, it actually took about ninety minutes to two hours to complete. The terrain wasn’t hard but there were a few rocks lying about here, there and everywhere. What was more time consuming was the fact, was checking out the views and taking every opportunity to get amazing captures with the camera. It’s good for all ages and a good bonding experience with children and to teach them nature as there were some birds, butterflies and other interesting creatures around. A great learning experience.