Alps 2017

Chamonix - Aiguille du Midi, Mer de Glace, La Maison Carrier

Day 4

Bonjour!

This morning is brought to you by a 04:30 sunrise hike and some croissants. We’ve discussed doing a sunrise hike for the past couple of days, but we didn’t decide until late last night that we would go. I slept in my hiking clothes, rolled out of bed into my shoes, and walked out the door. Two of my classmates joined me. We hiked a ski lift clearing that has a 1km vertical gain. It was a very strenuous trail, but it was beautiful to see the sunrise coming up over the trees.

I would have summited the mountain, but we needed to get back for breakfast, and the trail was so steep that I would have had to use cables to climb any higher. Sadly, I only made it 80-90% of the way to the top. Notwithstanding, we managed to hike a few miles and get some excellent pictures of the sunrise.

Breakfast - Hotel de l'Arve

After we got back from our sunrise hike, we headed back to the room to clean up a bit, and then headed back down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. We had essentially the same breakfast as yesterday, but it was just as good. Actually, this was my second breakfast, since I ate a Clif Bar on my way up the mountain this morning. Like I always say, second breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast - Hotel de l'Arve

Chemin de fer du Montenvers

We left breakfast and walked to the train station to meet CREA and catch the cog railway up the mountain to Mer de Glace. Today, our assignment was to section off 15sq.ft. sections of land and record the types of ground cover (including juniper, rhododendron, aspen, grass, rock, and more), GPA location, and elevation. CREA will use this data to compare with their remote sensing (satellite) computer data to track the accuracy of their satellite surveillance models.

Mer de Glace

Before we started surveying, we looked at the valley and the runoff from the glacier. The glacier Mer de Glace has been shrinking for over 50 years, and has decreased so much over recent years that it is not even visible from it’s original observation deck. In fact, it takes over an hour to hike to the glacier from the observation deck. The glacier used to stretch thousands of meters below into the Chamonix valley. You can, however, see the wasteland from the original location of the glacier.
Mer de Glace

Data Collection

I managed the GPS, marked off the squares, and navigated the thickly covered slopes. The other three in my group recorded data, planned the locations, observed the plants, and directed me as I navigated the terrain.

While we were hiking, we saw several ibex (Chamoix), which is a type of mountain goat with long horns.

GPS tracking system
GPS tracking system

Lunch

We finished our data collection and headed back to a plateau with a magnificent view to eat our lunch. Once again CREA made us a delicious lunch, including a lentils, rice, vegetable, and pancetta stir fry, a fresh apple, two homemade chocolate-chip-dried-blueberry cookies, a baguette, and an excellent piece of cheese.

It was one of my classmate’s birthday, so we also got lemon meringue and pear pies from a local bakery to celebrate.

View at lunch - you can see the Grand Dixence Dam in Switzerland in the background
View at lunch - you can see the Grand Dixence Dam in Switzerland in the background

After lunch, we headed back down to the train station and rode the train back down the mountain. Unfortunately, half our group missed the train, so we had to wait for them for 30 minutes at the bottom of the mountain. The rest of us took that time to grab a café (espresso shot).

Train Ride Down

Aiguille du Midi

After the quick energy boost, we met back up with the group and walked over towards the chairlift for Aiguille du Midi, which is around 12,600′. It overlooks Mont Blanc and Chamonix. The view was absolutely stunning, and pictures simply don’t do it justice.

We took a gondola up from the 3,000′ elevation valley floor, and then had to change gondolas again to reach the summit. The spire has several observation decks and magnificent views.

At the top, you must take it easy because of the elevation, and also always wear sunglasses and sunscreen because the snow reflects the sun’s UV rays.

La Maison Carrier - Restaurant de pays

After taking the Gondola back down from the mountain, we headed back to the hotel via downtown, grabbed a quick shower, and got ready for dinner.

CREA wanted to treat us to a genuine French dinner for all our help in the field, so we headed to La Maison Carrier – Restaurant de Pays for a very nice three-course meal. I had a salad, pasta with a porcini mushroom cream sauce, and a strawberry mascarpone trifle. We also had a variety of meats and breads. All the food was wonderful; it was a meal to remember.

Dinner at La Maison Carrier
Dinner at La Maison Carrier

Conclusion

After dinner, we headed downtown to hang out for a while. We sat and socialized for a while, and then headed back to the hotel to retire for the night.

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