The alarm goes off at 7am, and I roll over to continue sleeping in my comfy bed just a little longer. After my crazy long day combining two stages yesterday, I am planning to have a relaxing morning and make a late start back on the trail. I’m hoping to combine stages 5, 6 & 7 over the next two days to arrive a day early in Champex, Switzerland, so I need all the rest I can get.
I’m staying in a cute little marmotte-decorated B&B with my friend Katy, and when we do get up, it’s to go down the hall to the breakfast that the Italian grandma running the hotel has prepared for us. After a delicious spread of breads and croissants and yogurts and juices, we set out for the main attraction― Aiguille du Midi.
Aiguille du Midi is a large peak (3,842m) within the Mont Blanc massif that offers unparalleled views of the incredible Mont Blanc itself (4,810m), and I knew I had to see Mont Blanc up close, especially considering I’m expelling all this energy just to circumnavigate the mountain! Aiguille du Midi is easily accessed by cable car from Chamonix, France, but I was hoping it would also be possible to reach from Courmayeur, Italy.
Last night, we asked the (somewhat) English-speaking grandson of the hotel owner if we could reach the amazing Aiguille du Midi from Courmayeur, and he told us that not only is it reachable, it’s much newer and better than the access from the French side. Sensing some country rivalry here, we take a quick bus this morning from our hotel to the tourist information office in town, where we catch another bus about 20 minutes to the bottom of the Skyway Monte Bianco.
On the bus, we bump into Tulia and Samir, a couple we met together when Katy walked with me on the first day of the hike, and that I’ve run into every single day since. Of course they are off to Aiguille du Midi as well, having finished the section of the hike they came to do, so we all chat in line.
For 48€, we buy tickets that will take us from Courmayeur to the Pavillon du Mont Fréty and then to Punta Helbronner, all via cable car. From Helbronner, we will be able to buy Panoramic Mont Blanc tickets that will take us all the way to Aiguille to Midi on the French side for another 29€. All worth it, I am assured by everyone on the Internet.
The cable car ride to this first point only takes a few minutes, where we are packed like sardines into a glass car that slowly rotates so that everyone can marvel at the view, and even at Pavillon du Mont Fréty, which is a modest 2,173m, we are gaping at the incredible mountain-scapes.
After taking a few dozen photos, we get in line for the second cable car ascent up to Punta Halbronner, which sits much closer to Mont Blanc at 3,466m. This point is even more spectacular than the last, and we spend a bit longer here snapping photos of the imposing Monte Bianco, as the Italians call it.
Finally, we queue up to buy tickets to Aiguille du Midi, which turns out to be quite a lengthy experience. We wait nearly 45 minutes before we are ushered into a much smaller 4-person gondola and set off on the 20 minute journey across the most incredible mountain range I’ve ever seen.
I spend the entire ride sticking my camera (and my head) out the tiny window, practically crying over the views we are entirely surrounded by. We can also see tiny specks moving across the glaciers and snowfields below us, even a few larger specks that look a bit like tents. More shocking than the ice climbers, the gondola swings us right by rock climbers tackling a large rock peak. Give me another ten years to refine my climbing skills and, who knows, it could be me.
Once at the top, we are let out of the gondola into a rambling network of platforms that offer views of Mont Blanc from every possible angle. I’m like a child at Disneyland. We spend a good hour exploring all sides of the mountain, as well as the other spectacular peaks in the range, before we hop into a very lengthy line to take the lift up to the uppermost viewing point.
We are both a bit hangry at this point, but the 15 minute wait is well worth it when we reach the top and look nearly head-on at Mont Blanc. Katy reckons one of the smaller peaks is more spectacular, but I just can’t get enough of the main event.
We take even more photos and then descend to the lower platform to enjoy sandwiches and orangina for lunch, all the while maintaining eye contact with the mountains. It’s about 3pm at this point, and it’s obvious I won’t be able to make it back on the trail today. I decide to stay another night in Courmayeur and head out early in the morning, hopefully making it to Refugio Elena tomorrow night, which is half-way through stage 6. The extra rest should certainly help me squish these 3 stages into 2 days, so I’m not horribly upset.
We meander back down through the various cable cars, not dawdling but also not stressing, and we don’t make it to the bottom until 430pm, where we have to wait until 5pm for a bus back into town. It’s clear that hiking today would have been impossible, as this whole experience has taken well over 6 hours. Worth it, though!
When we arrive back in Courmayeur, we bee-line for the gelato place we ate at last night and spend an hour enjoying our sweet treats while we wait for restaurants to open for dinner. Someone at the table next to us is waving, and it takes a second before I recognise him as one of the French men I walked with on day 2. Sure enough, I glance around the table and spot all the familiar faces of Philippe and Jean-Claude and Co., and we all have a quick catch-up about the hike so far. They are impressed to hear that I made it here last night, since they only just got in, and we wish each other luck on the rest of the hike and hope we may cross paths again! The rate at which I’ve been running into people makes it seem quite likely.
At 7pm, we head over to the restaurant Katy’s had her eye on and indulge in some delicious Italian cuisine, gnocchi for Katy and a gorgonzola pizza for me. Stuffed to the gills, we waddle back to the bus stop to buzz back home and get my things in order for an early departure tomorrow. I’m excited to get back on the trail, but my body does not share this feeling.