After our arrival at the airport in Geneva, we boarded a van for the one hour trip to the Chamonix area. That trip took us into a valley surrounded by majestic mountains on every side; we all were grabbing our cameras to capture the beauty of this area. Our hotel was the very comfortable Chalet Hotel Les Campanules located in a neighboring village, Les Houches, and a short train ride from the many activities in Chamonix. We had allowed two extra days to check out this area before we began our trek, so we frequently jumped on this train for the 20 minute ride to Chamonix.
Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in Chamonix on the final day of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, a 106 mile, 40 hour running race considered one of the most difficult foot races in the world. This is the same route and terrain we would be walking for the next 12 days!
Chamonix is a very attractive town with lots of charm, color and flowers.
After a night’s sleep to recover from out jet lag, we checked our travel guide, Rick Steve’s France, and discovered what the area had to offer while making plans to see as much as possible during the next two days.
The first activity on our list was to ride the cable car up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi, the imposing 12,604′ mountain directly above the town.
The cable car trip up the mountain was tremendous as the whole valley below opened up before us. At the top we encountered many climbers and mountaineers embarking on what looked to me like perilous adventures: hikes farther into the mountains along ridges above sheer cliffs, dropping off on each side!
From the top of the cable car we had a perfect view of Mont Blanc. Notice the climbers in the foreground.
This 11,371′ peak straddled the French Italian border and revealed a view of our planned trek, including the village of Courmayeur (far left of the picture below) through which we would pass the following week on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)!
After returning to Chamonix via the gondola and cable car, we could look up through the clouds to see the Aiguille du Midi as it was darting in and out of these clouds, giving us an interesting perspective.
On our second free day we decided to check out the mountains south of the valley and the cable cars making this trip. We first rode the Plan Praz gondola and then changed to the Le Brevant cable car. Not only were the views of Mont Blanc spectacular, but the paragliders were active and exciting to watch on the mountainside.
After returning to the valley floor, we had time for another activity and chose the Mer de Glace (sea of ice) which is the largest glacier in France. A short train ride took us up for a view of the glacier.
Finally, it was time to return to the hotel to ready our packs and prepare for the next day, our first day of hiking.