Rapid Ascent 2 – Aiguille du Midi

Above: Steep, craggy peaks dwarf a steady stream of climbers en route to Mont Blanc base camp. Sun flares intensify an already dramatic scene. July 23, 2013. 

My last post – Rapid Ascent 1 – took us to 7,800 feet. It was the first of two gondola rides, and the second climbs to 12,605 feet without a single support tower. The trip started early, at 6:30 a.m., and the line of mountaineers meant waiting for the third car. The views and sunrise proved well worth the wait.

The Aiguille du Midi – meaning “Needle of the Middle” – is the perfect start for someone trying to summit Mont Blanc, taking climbers to within 1000 meters of the 4,810 meter summit. Mont Blanc, translated into “White Mountain,” is the highest peak in Europe. 

There are multiple viewing platforms embedded in rock to challenge one’s vertigo. Cross a seemingly precarious steel-grate bridge, walk through a carved out mountain, and take an elevator to the highest point – “ohs,” and “ahs,” can be heard as people take pictures and peer over guard rails. Eye-filling views of Mont Blanc the incredible Alps make this a truly unique experience. 

The first viewing platform seen from the highest point -  the town of Chamonix nearly invisible in the background.

The first viewing platform seen from the highest point – the town of Chamonix nearly invisible in the background.

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Mont Blanc -Europe’s highest peak – fills the frame from the Aiguille du Midi, 3,842 meters. Note base camp in the lower left of the image.

A close-up of base camp on Mont Blanc. People, tents and walking paths mixed with the sheer scale of the mountain lend a very celestial feel.

A close-up of base camp on Mont Blanc. People, tents and walking paths mixed with the sheer scale of the mountain lend a very celestial feel.

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Rapid ascent 1 – Plan de L’Aiguille

Above: The Alps backdrop a morning smoke at Plan de L’Aiguille – 7,800 feet above sea level. I can’t imagine the hell cigarettes play on lungs at such high altitude. A photo I relish for numerous reasons: Magnificent-morning sunrise diffused over many mountain tops, where clouds stream as smoke out of the cigarette. Meanwhile, a bench and sign not only add geometrical designs and useful framing, but indicate frequent human presence.

The total trip comprises two different gondolas and an elevator. The first cable car starts just south of town – roughly 1000 meters – and after 15 minutes arrives at Plan de L’Aiguille, 2,354 meters. Views here are merely a warmup, as are the feelings of vertigo. Continuing on a second tram – the Aiguille du Midi – crosses glaciers and ascends near-verticle rock faces en route to the second viewing platform.

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Climbers prep as the second tram departs at Plan de L’Aiguille, July 23, 2013.

The Aguille de Midi cable car quickly becomes obscured by the mountain it will soon summit.

The Aiguille du Midi cable car quickly becomes obscured by the mountain it will soon summit, rising 1,500 meters in about 10 minutes. The final destination is all but invisible.

Closeup of Aiguille du Midi, a viewing platform  and communications tower high in the Alps.

The tall point of Aiguille du Midi is visible top center. 

Town of Adventure – Chamonix, France

Above: View of flower boxes, mountains and the river that runs through the town of Chamonix, France, July 20, 2013. 

Following the fantastic bike ride through Burgundy wine country, the adventure town of Chamonix, France, only 190 miles south-east, was a logical next stop. Surrounded by mountain fortresses, Chamonix is situated right on the border with Italy and Switzerland. It is perhaps the most accessible and popular gateway to explore the vast Alps.

Under foot a cold, silty, glacial-fed river bisects town. Overhead clouds veil and expose mountain peaks, gondolas whisk explorers in a web-like maze, climbers tackle treacherous peaks, and dozens of paragliders waft down and around in strong wind-currents.

The town itself is a resort town – crowded, lots of shopping, and lots of people tromping around in mountaineering gear. Needless to say the reason for visiting was not to explore then town – but the surroundings.  Those surroundings will be featured in future posts – particularly the Aiguille du Midi, an intense, two-gondola trip that ascends sheer-rock faces to an astounding 12,605 ft. (3,842 m,) in roughly 40 minutes.

Paragliders pepper the sky, cable-car wires hardly be seen stretching from one mountain peak to the other.

Paragliders pepper the sky, cable-car wires can hardly be seen stretching from one mountain peak to the other.

Being pulled on a bicycle through the main square in Chamonix, mountain peaks projecting in the background.

Being pulled on a bicycle through the main square in Chamonix, mountain peaks projecting in the background.

Beautiful Burgundy Bike – Sunset Scenery

Above: A tree silhouetted amongst wheat fields at sunset, Bourgognes region, France. 

It’s time for the third and final installment of the bike through Bourgognes region of france. Part One portrayed some of the many small villages and vast vineyards. Part Two  took a closer look at some of the facades of rural French architecture. Today we’ll take another look at Rochepot Castle, some dramatic scenery during a stunning sunset, and a  few more looks at grape vines. 

Unfortunately my Alaskan blood deals poorly with warm temperatures. The three liters of water I took was insufficient for 22 miles, and by the end I didn’t have any fluids to sweat out. The result was a suspected case of heat shock. All in all nothing too serious, does make me glad we waited to start the bike until afternoon when it was cooling off, rather then heating up in the morning. 

Beautiful Burgundy Bike – Facades

Above: Château de la Rochepot perched above Rochepot village. Parts of the castle date from the 13th century.

Believe it or not Château de la Rochepot is for sale – complete with drawbridge and barbican! The real estate listing has a lot interesting information and awesome photos, especially the meticulous tile roof. I would like to own a castle.

It’s time for Beautiful Burgundy Region Bike Ride – part two. Part one started us on a bike path leaving Beaune, Bourgognes. The 22-mile bike wound through beaucoup villages and vineyards on a hot and hazy July 17, 2013.

Fantastic architecture abound, culture seamlessly blended with scenery, and rolling hills like tides continually changed perspectives. 

Beautiful Burgundy Region Bike Ride – part one.

Above: Vineyards near and far in the Saint-Aubin town of Bourgognes, France. 

The bike left from Beaune, Bourgognes region of France, on a scalding July 17, 2013 – perhaps high eighties by early afternoon. But it was très beau! Blue doors on brick houses, vineyards near and far, wheat fields, and small towns continually supervened by smaller towns – even one with a castle. 

This is part one-of-three and it it only gets better. So please, stay tuned. 

Cool blues and greens on the brick house contrasted the hot mid-July temperatures.

Cool blues and greens on the brick house contrasted the hot mid-July temperatures.

This brick house comes complete with a creek.

This brick house comes complete with a creek.

On a very smooth bike path. One of many small towns in the background.

On a very smooth bike path. One of many small towns in the background.

Beaune, France.

Above: Chatting on church steps at sunset. Beaune, France.

Tucked away in Burgendy region, southeast of Paris, is the peaceful small town of Beaune. Fantastic food and wine may be Beaune’s mainstay – they are both salubrious – but the proximity to vineyards, vistas, and ancient architecture offer adventure galore. One of the most enjoyable days in Europe was spent bicycling 22 miles on smooth, paved paths through the small villages surrounding Beaune. I will feature that in a future post.

Today is a brief overview of Beaune.