Chamonix, Mont Blanc, and the Aiguille du Midi
The French alpine resort of Chamonix has a rich mountaineering heritage and a lift taking visitors 12,600 feet high, near Mont Blanc's summit and over to Italy.
Complete Video Script
From Lyon, we drive east into the Alps — into a valley dominated by Mont Blanc, western Europe's tallest peak.
The alpine resort of Chamonix, nestled in the valley, is filled with enthusiasm for the surrounding mountains. Tourists and avid climbers alike mix it up in the streets.
Statues celebrate famous mountaineers with their sights set on Mont Blanc. These men were the first to climb it, back in 1786. After that triumphant summit, mountain climbing became fashionable. Chamonix boomed, and to this day it serves the dreams of serious climbers and day hikers alike.
For advice on finding just the right hike, the helpful tourist office can get you oriented. The staff knows the weather patterns and can match your abilities with the most interesting hikes in the area.
We're heading for a station 12,600 feet high, just across from the summit of Mont Blanc. From there we hop on a gondola and soar high over the glacier to the border of Italy.
The well-organized lift handles huge crowds in peak season. We're here on a sunny Sunday in August, and it's packed. Within minutes, the powerful cable car sweeps us up 10,000 vertical feet from Chamonix to a pinnacle called the Aiguille du Midi.
From the top of the lift, a tunnel leads into the rock, where we make our final ascent — by elevator — to a commanding perch. Before us spread the Alps. You can almost reach out and pat the head of Mont Blanc. At nearly 16,000 feet, Mont Blanc is the top of Europe. Up here, the air is thin. People are awestruck by the grandeur of these mountains. And, back on the floor of the valley, nearly two miles below, is where we started: Chamonix.
The Aiguille du Midi station is a maze of tunnels and stairs leading to various thin-air amusements and stunning viewpoints.
This is one of the highest lifts in Europe. Everything's breathtaking. At 12,000 feet, even the stairs are breathtaking.
For an easy thrill, don't miss the glass box. You can stand in midair with no risk…but plenty of fear.
This ice tunnel — like a gateway to oblivion — is from where skiers and climbers depart. From here, tourists get to see why Chamonix attracts climbers from all over the world.
For your own private glacial dream world, hop on to the petite gondola and head south to Helbronner Point, which marks the border of Italy.
Dangling silently for 30 minutes, we glide over the glacier. From here, it's clear why the glacier is called the Mer de Glace — "sea of ice." And below us, safely navigating deadly crevasses, small groups with mountain guides enjoy the challenge of their choice.
We're surrounded by a majestic world of jagged rock needles — called aiguilles in French. The Giant's Tooth, not climbed until 1882, was one of the last to be conquered.
The cable stretches three miles with no solid pylon for support. It's as if we're floating. And here comes Italy.
Helbronner Point is the French/Italian border station. From this 11,000-foot-high station, the lift descends into Italy's remote Valley of Aosta. Hikers from both countries enjoy the sun and the views. Among countless peaks, you can pick out the perky Matterhorn in the distance. And you can look down on the classic hundred-mile trail that circles Mont Blanc — part of which we'll be hiking later. But today, we're heading back to Chamonix.