Peaks and Glaciers
In Chamonix, a resort town in the French Alps, we wake up to the view of the highest mountains in Europe. This little village in the valley between two huge sets of mountains was the site of the first Winter Olympics. We have parked the car on the street (safely, we are told) because our hotel is smack right in the middle of town, on a pedestrian-only street.
The thing to do here is get high. NO, not like that – what are you thinking?? We go to one of the highest spots in Europe to view Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc. After arranging our excursion for tomorrow (just wait and see) we find the cable car along with a couple of busloads of tourists, and squeeze in. The sign says 72 people fit in this thing, but there must be 73 because I ended up in the middle of them and don’t need to hold on to anything because I am a standing sardine. It takes 2 cable cars to reach the tippy-top and on the second one, I am smashed into the front window. Nice!! I take a video of our ascent.
When we get to the top, whew! Amazing view, amazing altitude (12,605 feet – is that higher than the top of Mt. Hood, my Oregon friends?), and everyone is feeling a little woozy from the lack of oxygen. We climb 20 steps to the terrace and we’re breathing hard. At the top of the world, we can Alps, Alps, and more Alps all around. Mont Blanc (because it is always white) is shining above us. Somehow, we see the occasional skier or hiker down below on the glacier. There are no real “runs” so they just ski down this massive expanse. It’s about 10 degrees and the wind alternates between caressing us and trying to blow us over the railing. Good thing we brought our long underwear, hats, and gloves. Chamonix is far, far below. Everything is snowy white. This is the closest to heaven I’ve ever been.
At the bottom, we grab a sandwich and head to the other biggie attraction in town, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) Glacier. A cute little red cogwheel train takes us up the other side of the mountain to find Europe’s longest glacier (8 miles long). The length is impressive, coming from the mountains above, but where we’re at, it’s covered in dirt. We have to take a little gondola down from the train station and then walk down 350 steps (more steps every year) to get down to it. Back in 1909 when the train was first built, there was no gondola or steps, just step off the train and touch the glacier. Is it global warming or just the glacier’s normal cycle? As we descend to the ice caves that they carve out of it (we can walk inside a glacier) there are signs saying where the glacier was… 1980, not far from the bottom of the gondola. One hundred steps later, 1990, and so on, till we reach the bottom of the moraine and enter the ice cave. They have lights in the walls and are playing some new agey music. Very surreal.
The clouds are starting to roll over the peaks above. Time to descend to our (comparatively warm in the 60’s) valley. We have gotten high, but feel pretty tired. Like we climbed a mountain?