Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chamonix

I arrived in Chamonix after a day of train travel and the discovery of a picturesque locale. It was early evening and I had yet to find a place to stay.

During the previous trip, we researched possible accommodations in the guide books. When we arrived we would locate them via the tourist office. Then we would find vacancy at one of the first two on the list. It was usually at the youth hostel since they had more than a couple in each place, it was off season, and they were big cities. In this case, it was a village and they had only one youth hostel on the outskirts of town.

I called the hostel and they said they were full with only a chance that a spot could open up. I decided that it was better to try my luck in town. I checked quite possibly every hotel in town. I was either quoted 288 francs ($58) or more or they had no vacancy. So I bit the bullet and paid the 288 francs. Quite a jump for me since I was usually paying half that. The upside was that I had a room and a bathroom to myself. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I ever had a hotel room to myself.

The next day after a big breakfast that was included with the room, I set off without any real plans. I found a slightly cheaper place to stay for 178 francs ($36) and wandered around the small village. It was not a very large town and it had no tall buildings. So it was composed primarily of three and four story buildings with primary streets parallel to the valley. All the while, the mountains tower over either side of the valley. Chamonix is at the base of Mont Blanc which is the tallest mountain in Europe. It is also a world-renowned downhill ski destination. But this was in between the summer tourist season and the ski season, so activity in the town seemed like any other. The style of buildings tended to be either traditional French stucco or alpine timber frames. A charming little town, but not really any more special than other small European towns.

After a tour of the city, I decided the thing to see would be the mountains. I returned to the tourist office to see if any of the ski lifts were operational. Unfortunately they were not in service because the forecast was for cloudy conditions later in the day which would prevent any chances to see anything. Having already seen the town, I figured I would try hiking up the side of the valley opposite Mt. Blanc to see if I could get up there before it clouded up or even get up above the clouds. So at 11:30am I started walking up one of the streets on that side of town until I found a trail. I had done quite a bit of hiking as a kid and I was a runner at the time, so I didn't have any concerns about the hike. I decided that I needed to be back by 4pm, so I split the available time in half and determine that I needed to turn around and head back down around 1:45pm.


The hike up involved a few different progressions. The scenery changed from deciduous forest to sparcely scattered conifers to steep rocky terrain with patches of snow. The oxygen got more and more scarce with my ears popping from time to time. I had to stop at each switch back to catch my breath. The weather went from partly sunny to cloudy to spitting drizzle. Not enough rain for an umbrella, but enough to get drenched over an hour or two. Plus it was starting to get pretty windy toward the top.


I just kept climbing thinking I would either get above the clouds or reach the top and see over the other side. Finally when it got to be half an hour past my turn around time, I headed back down. The top was very close, but I was drenched and cold. Water had even gotten into my camera. And I also did not want to head down in the dark. It took me 2 1/2 hours to climb 965m (4000ft). But it only took 1 1/2 hours to get back down. Although I wish I could have gotten to the top, the landscape was worth the climb.

The next day was bright and sunny for another day of train travel with multiple transfers. A nice ride with great views of the fall colors. Although my experience in Chamonix was less than perfect, it would be nice to return if I'm in the area.

2 comments:

borked said...

I don't think you can get to the top of that (North) side without some serious climbing. You end up on a horizontal band called "Le Grand Balcon de Chamonix" with a almost horizontal hiking path following the direction of the valley. Up from there are no hiking paths anymore but only steep bare rock. I climbed quite a lot in Chamonix and it is indeed very pretty when there aren't too many clouds. I went there for a short visit last spring but didn't see any mountains because the clouds were very low.

mare

Frank said...

Thanks, mare. I'm glad to find out I didn't miss anything by continuing. Although it was cloudy, it was still a nice climb with some nice views. Maybe one day I'll return when it's sunny.