If you are at all afraid of heights, this is not the trip for you. The Aiguille du Midi is a tram/gondola ride to the very top of one of the aiguilles that are prominent in the mountains above Chamonix. Aiguille translates as needle and that is appropriate because many of the peaks around Mt. Blanc are sharp and pointy looking.
For the majority of climbers, the Midi is the jumping off point for climbing Mt. Blanc and the other peaks nearby.
The picture above is where you put on your crampons and start the descent to the glacier below before beginning the traverse across said glacier and then starting the climb to Mt. Blanc. I don’t know the distance of the climb, but since Mt. Blanc is 15,780 feet high, I do know you have about 4,000 vertical feet to ascend from where you start on the glacier. And that doesn’t include the mountain you have to climb over before you even get to the actual Mt. Blanc climb.
M, Nancy, Sarah and I were amazed by the views and the magnitude of the many peaks around us. We were also amazed at the people who could not wait to get out of the gondola so they could smoke a cigarette at over 12,000 feet. There were people who got off the gondola, stood around smoking and not looking at anything, and then got back on the gondola to go down.
M took her fear of heights training to new levels (get it?). Fortunately the platform you initially get off the gondola onto is made of wood and you cannot see through it. It is about 25 feet wide with serious drops on either side. M tended to stay in the middle of the platform and was unable to go up the scary metal grate stairs leading to higher levels. I can not blame her as I had a bit of uneasiness myself when ascending those stairs. It is an odd sensation being so high in the air with only a 2 inch deep metal grate between you and death.
I was very proud of M for being willing to do something that was quite scary. The trip down on the gondola was even better as she kept her eyes open the whole way! Part of that was due to the fact that I pointed out to her that at 5’2” she was one of the tallest people on the gondola! It was a strange occurrence, but it’s true. The gondola was filled with a big group of Asians and one lady from New Jersey who were all significantly under 5 feet tall. They were not “little people”; they were all just extremely small. It was such a rare thing that M was distracted most of the way down thinking about being tall for once. There is also the fact that I was making “whoooaaa” sounds at random times.
Apparently a lot of the people on the gondola had never been on one before and were unfamiliar with the up and down motion that happens when the gondola reaches any of the towers to which it is attached. Therefore, whenever we would experience that brief swaying of the gondola, many people on board would in unison, say, “ whooooaaa”. Since I thought this was strange, I decided to start saying “whoooaaa,” at random times to see what would happen. As is often the case when I think something is funny, I was the only one laughing.
We had a great day on the Aiguille du Midi and I would highly recommend the trip to anyone who visits the Chamonix area. I will leave you with some more pictures. Oh one more thing! If you read the word Aiguille and pronounce it, “ah-gwilley,” people in the know will laugh at you or look at you funny. It is properly pronounced, “ah-ghee”. Because it’s French.