Sportlov (part 2): Aiguille du Midi Cable Car & the coronavirus creeps in

 I left off part 1 of this post with us headed to the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car.

By Friday, we'd figured out the bus system... hop on, head down to Chamonix maybe 20 minutes. We watched the clouds starting to get stuck on the mountain top but figured it was still worth going up.
Our ski passes could be upgraded by paying an extra $30 to allow us a discounted ticket to the top (otherwise, around $200 for our family to go up on this crazy cable car).

This is a nutty part of the world. Take the steep and the exposure, add a collection of buildings, tunnels, and stairs at the top of it. To get here, you take one of the longest free standing cable in the world, strung in 1955. I've not had a chance to fully dig into the history, so you don't quite get the history lesson of other posts, though here's the wikipedia page.

[Upper photos: the left is a map from the site, and the right a photo from wikipedia. We couldn't see the top. Photos below are mine: a mural of the mountain guides of Chamonix, and what they used as a "cable car" in 1955 during construction.]


The cable car goes up in two stages, where you switch cars between. Amazing infrastructure.

At the base. Steel beam as support, cable car coming in.

View from our first stage- looking down to Chamonix, and up to the car coming down.

Stage 1 accomplished. So far, so good-- some degree of mountain top still showing. View up, and off to the side, complete with local weather station.

We had a reasonable # of people on the car with us. Get off the car, take pictures, wait for car #2 to the top. I'm guilty of taking pictures as well, but it definitely felt like people didn't really see what they were looking at so much as make sure they got their picture.

Climbed into car #2, started up. Not too crowded. Still doing okay. 
Looking back down the valley through the cable car plexiglass window. 

Cool views of the glaciers, other cable car coming down (moving an incredible speed), and lots of frozen rocks.  

We disappeared into the clouds, then suddenly our destination lurched out of the ice. One could write a novel about this place, or perhaps some already has. Murder mystery? 

The wind picked up and as the cable car headed to its icy perch, the car slammed against the left part of the docking station. The operator noted that the wind had been quite up until then. Doh. We arrived, 3,842 meters (12,600 feet, and above the hypoxia zone where it gets harder to breath).


We off loaded and ventured out into the sideways wind and cold. 

No single picture can do the labyrinth of tunnels and contraptions stuck to the top of this peak justice. We went exploring, mostly able to stand up against the wind at the top. Where there were windows, things were a bit frosty. 

What the view was supposed to be vs. the "get your picture here view point":

Sign inside: don't lean your skis against the wall, don't carry your skis in your pack, don't wear your crampons. Why? People ski off the top (including our intrepid friends, who did so on Monday of that week). Our view from the top gate? No part of me wanted to go through that gate wearing crampons nor planning to ski down.

We poked around, then being late in the day, decided to go for the next car going down. They lined people up and then stuffed everyone in. We literally couldn't move. 

I'm in the lower right of the photo. Perhaps my skeptical look was whether we'd need to be contact tracing all of these people for the coronavirus. For you see, the ride up was fairly tame- not too busy. Wasn't worried about it. End of the day, everyone was coming down. During the week we'd been in Southern France, the outbreak in Italy had gotten worse very, very quickly. In post 1, I mentioned the Mount Blanc tunnel between the Chamonix valley and northern Italy. Direct tunnel = lot of people coming through every day. We were watching the news as France started announcing cases. 

We were not too worried because we were generally outside in freezing temperatures and fully bundled up. Eating at our apartment, and avoiding crowds. Now, however, you either skied into the abyss or crowded in with 50+ of your closest unknown friends, several of whom were wearing masks. [When we skied again on Sunday, the sign at the end of the lift warned of coronavirus symptoms. The shift in dynamics was getting much harder to ignore.] 

Looking over my family to the view down the valley- happy to see the sky again. 

Arriving safely on the ground after the cable car lurched over every support tower, I at least was happy for fresh air and to explore Chamonix a bit, though found that I really didn't need to shop at every named sports brand that exists in the world. We found the largest meringues I've ever seen, managed some groceries, and caught a ride with Colter back to Argentière, happy for the quieter surroundings and greater presence of snow. 


I'll leave this post here, and apparently have a part 3 (or maybe 4 at the rate I'm going- had to take a break to return to the working world, including giving a talk).

Preview of forthcoming posts: another day of cross country skiing, a fantastic final day of alpine skiing, then the trip home to a world changed. Musings on the Swedish healthcare system, sick leave, and paid time off.