Chamonix is a sports town, no question about it. The main street is lined with sporting goods shops selling everything from skis to snowboards to rock-climbing and mountaineering equipment (Craig bought himself a nifty new daypack). Ski lifts run year round, carrying skiers and boarders in the winter, and hikers, mountain bikers, climbers and paragliders in warmer months.
Not all lifts run all year though, and our first choice of hike was denied when we learned the lift to the starting point (Le Brevent) was closed. So we settled for the cable car (téléphérique) taking us up from Les Praz just outside Chamonix to La Flégère (1,877 meters) then via open chair lift (télésiège) up to l’Index (2,385 meters). The téléphérique was standard issue cable car – a big box where 60ish people (less if there are a lot of mountain bikes) get crammed in by the operator and the thing glides to its destination, where everyone spills off. The télésiège was a large chair lift – six padded seats across (no cold butts in Chamonix) – that runs constantly. It’s exhilarating hurtling along in the open air at 2,300 meters, but it must be freaking cold in January!
|Chair lift, headed up…|
|Mont Blanc behind as we rise|
We hiked around l’Index, had some lunch, watched the paragliders run off the side of the mountain and launch themselves into the air (no thank you!), and watched some climbers haul themselves up a needle to the top of Aiguille de la Floria, a climb mostly straight up of another 500 meters. We saw a helicopter hover close to another rock face far above us, first picking up supplies of some sort then picking up a few people. It was too far away to see clearly so we don’t know if it was a rescue or just a regularly scheduled pick-up. The local governments probably do a lot of both.
|Paraglider taking off|
|Paraglider high above Chamonix, Mont Blanc beyond|
|Mer de Glaee and Refuge Hotel du Montenver from opposite side of the valley|