Sunday, September 11, 2011

Italy, day two

Beat and I are sharing an apartment with three of our friends, Steve and Harry, who also are running in the Tor des Geants, and Martina, who is joining me in a supportive role for the guys while we indulge in freelance hiking and copious amounts of Italian delicacies. It's a tiny apartment with one small bathroom, and we've all settled into it like the bickering family we almost are. Our Italian neighbors are endlessly friendly, always inviting us over for coffee and assuring my race-nervous boyfriend and friends that "You, you men are the real men."

On Friday Beat, who was supposed to be tapering, was not too keen on another 6,000 feet of climbing for the day, but we wanted to get up into the mountains. Steve and Harry joined us on an indulgent ride up the Mont Blanc gondola. The little box swept us up the impossible cliffs and across a glacier to a station built into the rocks at 3,840 meters, the Aiguille du Midi Chamonix.

It was a gorgeous day, and the view from our little box was jaw-dropping. I prefer to work for my views, but I can't deny that Mont Blanc is one of the most incredible places I have ever had the privilege to visit.

We peered down into crevasses and expressed envy for the ant-sized trekkers making their way across the glacier. I actually brought my ice ax and crampons in hopes that I could explore a bit of the glacier while the guys ate lunch, but the access from the gondola station was too perilous to go it alone. Read: Incredibly exposed knife ridge, less than a foot wide, with death drops on both sides. Every trekker we saw traversing that ridge was using ropes, and I am hardly an experienced mountaineer. Oh well. Next time I visit Mont Blanc, I vowed, I will be more experienced and prepared, and I will start from the bottom and climb to the top.

I joined the guys for lunch at this fancy French restaurant called 3840, which is the elevation of the gondola station in meters. It's a fun experience to dine on wild mushroom soup and delicious five-cheese pasta at 12,000 feet, looking out the window at a snow-swept moonscape punctured by jagged rocks. I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those of us who are used to huddling in the wind and trying to use thick mittens to stuff frozen Pop Tarts in our mouths in these types of places. It's a strange but wonderful cultural experience.

Looking down toward Chamonix, France, about 9,000 feet below. Auguille de Midi Chamonix sits right on the border of Italy and France, one of those places where they actually paint a white line that you can hop across singing, "Now I'm in Italy. Now I'm in France."

Looking down the glacier toward Italy.

Mont Blanc, at 4,810 meters (15,782 feet) is the highest peak in the Alps. What an incredible mountain.

I can't wait to go back, human-powered next time.

14 comments:

  1. Incredible pictures! We took a family vacation to Switzerland when I was 8, maybe too young to really appreciate it but I do remember the magnificent mountains and the steep walled valleys. I'm sure you will love the experience. Enjoy! Good luck to Beat, 200 miles would be an amazing accomplishment even to finish.

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  2. I came *this close* to visiting Chamonix when I visited France (we went to Annecy instead). Now you've got me thinking of my return trip. Hubby and I had such success on our recent "flying to go backpacking trip" that we decided the French Alps (and Chamonix) is where we want to go...

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  3. Love the pics Jill. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Fabulous pictures! Thank you for posting. The guys still in good spirits and doing well? Guess they highly appreciate your and Martina's (pizza+Cola?)support. Please give them an Hello from peter and me.

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  5. *sigh*
    A friend and I did a mountain bike tour in the Alps a couple of years ago, and I long to return...

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  6. Happy you love my beautifull mountain!!
    Chamonix is one of the best place to go to skiing but also Courmayeur is nice.

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  7. Stunningly beautiful Jill! I am so looking forward to getting over there:)

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  8. Viva Monte Bianco! The Kingdom of Mont Blanc really does rule supreme in mountain places and culture. It's all that and more.

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  9. Vast. And very real.

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  10. I drove through Chamonix on a tour bus. That bus driver was a super hero navigating the Alpen switchbacks so tight it felt like the bus was hanging over the edge of the cliff. But wow...those views are incredible!

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  11. Totally stunning. I gotta make over there one day...

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  12. What beautiful and stunning photographs! You did an amazing job capturing that those majestic scenery!

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  13. must... visit... mt top... restaurant!

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