Don’t look down. Just don’t look down, I said as our cable car slowly, but surely, ascended the last precipitous length of cable up to the Aiguille du Midi viewing station high, high up the mountain above Chamonix. Before we set off I hadn’t even considered being nervous, I was just so pleased that the weather had cleared and we could do the ride and see the peaks. But once we were on the way and I really took in just how high up we were in a little metal box dangling from a (thankfully) thick piece of metal rope, I thought this could be interesting if something goes wrong. Best if I don’t look down and don’t think about it.
Nothing did go wrong; the engineering system that makes it all work is pretty darn impressive, and the price tag for the return trip, like the ascent, is steep at 55€uro per person, so I figured there should be sufficient in that for regular investment in safety! The trip is spectacular, and totally worth it. This is one time I can legitimately say without exaggeration that the view is breathtaking. At 3,842m above sea level (12, 605 feet) and -210C your breath really is taken away. Climbing the steps from one viewing platform up to another resulted in a bit of heavy breathing and I felt a tad lightheaded.
The Aiguille du Midi is a mountain viewing station built on and around the very peak of the same name. From the open terraces you can see Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4,810m, the station is the departure point for skiers to launch off down the Vallée Blanche, and in the summer another cable car trip runs from AdM over the Glacier du Géant to Pointe Helbronner in Italy. The station building is over several levels; there is a lift up to a higher viewing platform, where a glass box has been installed, called “Step in the Void” from which you can see down through the glass floor all the way to the valley below. This part was not open when we were there. Not sure if I would have stepped into the void…….what do you think Mum?
The ride itself is quite an experience; there are 2 stages, first from Chamonix (at 1,035m above sea level) you glide slowly upwards with a little shudder and swing as the car (which holds up to 72 people) traverses the pylons to the half-way station, Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,317m and change cable-car there. The second leg seems slower and is steeper, there are no pylons between Plan de l’ Aiguille and AdM, the span between them is 2,867m. Looking ahead as you launch into the second stage, the cable track dips between the two stations and you fix your eyes on the rocky beacon up in the distance, the last few metres of the trip the car ascends steeply close to the rock then docks snugly into the arrival deck at its destination at 3,842m. Coming down the car travels noticeably faster from the top to the midway station, it’s all safely managed with a cable car operator riding in the car each trip.
Overall the vertical ascent from Chamonix to the top is still the highest for any cable car trip in the world. To put in perspective just how high you are; at 3,842m that is just a snip higher than NZ’s highest mountain Mt Cook (3,724m or 12, 218 ft). Here are a few other markers:
1,344m Ben Nevis (Scotland and UK)
2,182m WhistlerMountain (British Columbia, Canada) ski-ing resort
2,518m Mt Taranaki (NZ)
2,797m Mt Ruapehu (NZ)
8,848m Mt Everest – dwarfs them all easily of course.
The verdict: absolutely A. M. A. Z. I. N. G. Words cannot do justice to the view; even the photos you can see if you click here are just a snap shot of the experience.