November 11, 2013

Travel above the Clouds - Aiguille du Midi, The French Alps

The Aiguille du Midi is a mountain in the Mont Blanc Massif in the French Alps. The name "Aiguille du Midi" translates literally as "Needle of the Noon" or "Needle of the South". It gets its name from its tapered form and from its position when viewed from Chamonix: it approximately indicates noon when the sun passes over its summit. 

The cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, was built in 1955 and held the title of the world's highest cable car for about two decades. It still holds the record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, from 1,035 m to 3842 m. There are two sections: from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille at 2,317 m and then directly, without any support pillar, to the upper station at 3,777 m (the building contains an elevator to the summit). The span of the second section is 2,867 m (1.781 mi) measured directly, but only 2,500 m (1.6 mi) measured horizontally. Thus it remains the second longest span width, measured directly. The tramway travels from Chamonix to the top of the Aiguille du Midi – an altitude gain of over 2,800 m – in 20 minutes.

The Aiguille summit contains a panoramic viewing platform, a café and a gift shop. The Vallée Blanche ski run begins here, and the nearby Cosmiques Refuge is the starting point for one of the routes to the Mont Blanc summit. From the Aiguille another cable car (summer months only), the Vallee Blanche Aerial Tramway crosses the Glacier du Géant to Pointe Helbronner (3,462 m) at the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Pointe Helbronner is served with a cable car from La Palud, a village near Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley (Italy).

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