The Aiguille du Midi is situated at 3,842m above sea level and is the closest point you can get to Mont Blanc (4,810m) via the cable car Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi. The cable car was built in 1955 and for 2 decades held the title of the world’s highest cable car. The cable car consists of two sections. The first section starts from Chamonix town rising to the Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,317m. The maiden voyage on this section was made on the 24th June of that year.
The second section then traverses up alongside Les Pelerins glacier before rising up the North Face. This final section has no pillars supporting it and rises to the upper station at 3,777 m. The maiden voyage for this section was also in the same year in August. Once in the building at the top, there is an elevator which then takes you the last 42m to the highest point on the Aiquille du Midi.
The cable car took five years to construct and cost a massive 500 million francs. It has become a great success with visiting tourists and carries over 80,000 skiers up each winter to ski through the famous and longest ski run in France, the Vallee Blanche and 22km in length. During the peak summer months it also carries up to 5000 people per day to visit the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc. The current return cost for an adult to the peak of the Aiguille du Midi is €52.20.
Once up there during the summer months, there is also the opportunity to take the Punta Helbronner cable car across to Italy, The cable car is 5km in length and gives you a unique viewing point over the Mont Blanc Massif range. The Helbronner cable car is available from the 30th June until the 2nd September. To include this with a return to the Aiguille du Midi, the total cost in 2012 is €70.
The history of the Aiguille du Midi is not without incident. Four men lost their lives during the construction and five guides were relied on to string out the main cable over 3km and then make the longest abseil in the history of mountaineering to the Plan de l’Aiguille. Once the lift was open it wasn’t long before disaster struck. This incident occurred, just a few days after opening, when one of the drive cables broke, stranding 21 passengers. In 1971 a lift operator was killed when a strong wind blew the cabin he was in from the cable. Ten million Francs were embezzled by the chief account from ticket sales in 1999, but the most damaging act, financially, occurred in 2004 when a cabin crashed into the station affecting the lift company, its insurance and the town of Chamonix.
Even with the incidents that have surround the Midi, you can’t fail to be impressed with the construction of the building, in such a high and remote area. The view from the top is truly stunning and there are several terraces to enjoy the views overlooking France, Switzerland and Italy. On a clear day you can even see the Matterhorn! At the top there is also a café and a gift shop.
In the first section of your climb to the top, you will travel from 1030m to 2317m in ten minutes arriving at the Plan de l’Aiguille. The cabins on this section hold up to 75 passengers and travel at 10 m/s. This section gives you an excellent view of the valley below and the Mont Blanc Massif. You also have a great view of the Glacier du Bossons and the summit of the ever impressive Mont Blanc.
At the Plan de L’Aiguille you change cabins.The cabins on the second section hold up to 65 passengers and you reach a height of 3777m. On the second leg of the journey to the top, you can get an up-close view of the mighty seracs, the suspended glaciers and the north face of the Aiguille du Midi. You can also spot the old lift station that was closed down several years ago.
For a return trip to the top of the Aguille du Midi, you should allow between 2 and 3 hours. It is well worth a trip when visiting Chamonix, either to simply take in the magnificent views or, if you are feeling adventurous, it offers some challenging climbs, hikes and off-piste skiing.