Descending The Vallée Blanche
There’s nothing like taking a cable car ride that straddles the highest peak in Europe. The ride to the top of Aiguille du Midi makes your heart pound and carries you to a height of 12,391 ft in only 20 minutes. Even if you don’t ride the Vallée Blanche, the cable car is a must do.
It was an unforgettable experience just to be standing up there. At the summit, you can view Mont Blanc, Italian Alps, French Alps, and even the Matterhorn which lies in the Swiss Alps. Breathtaking to say the least. The icy ridge that would begin our descent loomed in the near distance, and from our angle, it looked awesome!!!
Holy crap, we’re actually here and about to start.
We were insanely hyped. The walk through the ice tunnel was dramatic and straight out of a movie. It exposes you to the top of the icy spine that needs to be slowly descended. It can be a little intimidating since with a straight drop on either side to the valley bottom. Thankfully, we hired a guide whose confidence exuded that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us.
P.S. Did you know it takes nearly 20 years to become certified to lead a group on a glacier in France?!?!?! Crazy!!!
We began roping up in the tunnel and if you’ve never seen this before it’s basically 1 piece of climbing rope that’s attached between all members of the climbing party. If anyone falls it’s everyone else’s job to hit the deck and grab something or dig an ice ax into the snow to stop the fall. Noticing the order in which we are roped, it seems like our guide Bruno was going to be the lead hiker.
On the opposite end of the umbilical cord (Bruno being the mother) was Mike. Another certified badass (aka my brother). One of three handsome gentlemen, but also the one with the least mountaineering or climbing experience. He will be the first one taking steps onto the icy spine and leading us all.
Sweet. We’re going to die
You should have purchased that GoPro before the trip bro!
Luckily during the winter months, guides have placed railings that are attached via two ropes for handles down the spiny descent. Great, because we didn’t have crampons or ice axes to keep our balance.
The view and exposure was insane. Mike absolutely crushed the hike. We’ve only been at the top for 20-30 minutes and we are already having the time of our lives.
With the hike complete, we stare straight down into a glacier and incredible valley, it was time to finally drop into the Vallée Blanche. Pictures don’t do it justice, but I tried. All the GoPro footage and photos will hopefully give you some idea of how little you feel here. It is certainly a bucket-list adventure and one that I hope everyone gets to experience.
The riding was not necessarily hard, but there are sections that need to be accurately navigated because crevasses are everywhere. Most crevasses have an unknown depth and it would be the last place you would want to fall into. The glacier is not steep but you need to stay focused and remain close to your guides tracks.
Our guide was nice enough to stop every couple hundred feet so that we could catch our breath and take in the views. That altitude wreaks havoc on your body. We had just gone from sea-level in NY to over 12,000 ft in under 24 hours. Pretty crazy but we were managing.
My highlight and personal favorites from the Vallée Blanche was the descent down the spiny ridge and also, the location where we all had lunch. Our guide nonchalantly stops under a towering serac, probably the height of a 3-story building, and explains that it can collapse at any minute, day, or month.
“So, let’s eat lunch”, he says. Total badass!
What a psycho! But he’s right. How often do you have the chance to eat below a glacial serac? Our french baguettes with meat and cheese never tasted so good.
We made it down the Vallée Blanche in about 3 hours. Most websites state that the descent can take anywhere from 4-6 hours. Not too shabby.
Surprisingly, the hardest part of the day wasn’t the spiny ridge, the altitude, or avoiding the deadly crevasses. Once at the bottom of the run there’s no other way out besides taking another cable car to a train station in Montverde. The only problem is the cable car is a steep hike up from the glacier. Face tingling, legs burning, and nausea consumed our walk up the stairs.
We had just completed 14 miles of snowboarding and we didn’t expect our cause of death to be stairs.
If there’s enough snow, one can ride down to downtown Chamonix. Unfortunately, snowfall had been scarce all season so the hike to the cable car was necessary.
I’m kind of glad we didn’t know about the hike before we began the day. That way we didn’t have it sitting in the back of our minds.
I’m also really happy that our guiding service, www.chamonix-sport-aventure.com, was able to accommodate us. We can’t speak highly enough about their services, especially after our miscommunication and the bad weather rolling in during our originally scheduled descent.