Up the mountain and descent into troubleJuly 19, 2017 in France
Well what a stunning day! Only 48 hours from swimming in the Mediterranean we were up in the snow. We left camp at 7am and headed for the base of the Skyway gondola just a 20 minute drive away to glide our way up Mont Blanc. We started at Courmayeur which is 1300m above sea level and got into a large rotating gondola with the carrying capacity of about 50 people. As it was early we had only about 25 on board and most of them were moutaineers with all their gear. It took just 10minutes to get to the Pavillion du Mont Fréty at 2173m which was the first stop. Mandy and Charlie stayed there for a while but we decided to go higher before stopping in case the weather turned so headed up to Punta Helbronner at 3466m.
This stop was 400m less that the top of Mt Cook and we certainly noticed the lack of oxygen as we walked up the steps to the viewing platform at the top. What an amazing view. Mandy and Charlie arrived later and we looked through Charlies binoculars and were staggered at the numbers of climbers we could see on all the peaks and rocks around. There must have been hundreds of people climbing in the basin and ridges and valleys we passed through and over but as it was so vast without binoculars you could only pick up those walking on the snow in the open and they looked liked like ants on the snow. It was a glorious day with full sun and no wind - stunning.
There is a cafe and interesting videos to watch and a crystal hall showing the amazing crystals that have been found up there under the glaciers. We also took the opportunity to go down three stories by lift and walk down the long corridor that the mountaineers use to access to mountain so that we could step outside on the rocks beside the glacier. As it looked like the weather may change in the afternoon we were eager to push on over to the French side of the mountain and then down to Chamonix on the French side of the border.
We had to buy tickets for the French part of the trip up there and the very nice lady suggested we might qualify for the over 65 year discount which we accepted- we later learned that Mandy was offered the same deal!
From here we took the smaller gondolas (just 4 seats) in an absolutely amazing journey across several glaciers. It was a slow trip which was wonderful as you could really take in the breathtaking views. We watched mountaineers below us crossing the ice as they headed to the next pinnacle. We ended up at Aiguille du Midi at a staggering 3842m which is higher than Mt Cook which stands at 3724m. We got breathless, light headed and slightly nauseous there and there was an information board on hypoxia which informed us that we had only 60% of usable oxygen in the air we were breathing. If we were on top of Everest there would only be 30% oxygen!
As it was difficult to climb stairs and our hearts were racing we decided to head back down to Chamonix for lunch where we could function better before heading back through the tunnel to our camper vans waiting for us in Italy. It was a very fast descent in large gondolas taking only 5 or so minutes and our ears popped as we rushed downward and then out and over a ridge which made us catch our breath. It was great fun and a wonderful morning as it was just before midday when we reached the ground. But we were unaware of what was to come.
We thought we would book the bus back through to Italy before having lunch so we knew we had a seat but were horrified to be told by a rather officious lady that we couldn't get on the bus without passports or some ID (drivers licence wasn't accepted). As we had crossed the border previously from France to Italy with no border control it never crossed our minds we may need some ID. There was no notification about it on the gondola blurb either. She told us we had to either go back over the mountain (we were still going to be crossing the border!!) or find a taxi prepared to take the risk of taking us across the border with no ID (€1500 fine per person he was taking with no ID). We then realised we had entered the country illegally via the gondola lifts.
We decided to ask at the Police Station so a couple of nice policemen tried to help by ringing a taxi for us and asking if the driver would be willing to take 4 New Zealanders with no passports over the border! He agreed and said he would be there in 20 minutes driving a black Mercedes for the cost of €150.
We hurriedly grabbed a pizza for a quick bite to eat while watching for every black Mercedes that passed but after an hour we decided he had changed his mind. I wandered back to town and.asked at the information centre if we could get some help. The lovely girl there also suggested we go back over the top but when she worked out the price she understood that we wanted to try a taxi. Also the weather had closed in and it would not have been nice up the top. She found a taxi willing to take us as he said mostly they never check the border and so we enjoyed a €160 trip back through the 11.6km tunnel and never saw a border control officer! - just part of the adventure I guess!!Read more