Saturday, 28 August 2010

Camping at Chamonix

Last weekend we packed our little car full of camping gear and drove to Chamonix, which is only about an hour and a half from Nyon - a very convenient distance considering it is one of the major mountain resorts in Europe!
We had found a camp site in our Cool Camping book that looked nice, and were quite happy when we arrived that it was arranged into quite small allotments - so it was quiet and peaceful (not at all resort-like, which is how many campsites in Europe can be).
After quickly setting up our tent we drove into Chamonix itself for supplies and some equipment shopping. I have to say we are probably the best equipped campers around, swapping and receiving various pieces of gear as gifts over the last couple of years. This time around I bought myself a new hiking bag and a we also bought a double camping bag (it gets cold camping at the base of these big mountains).
Aside from gear, we also bought some local bread, cheese, ham, some apricots, and a small bottle of wine for dinner.
We cooked ourselves up a fantastic omlette on our little camp stove, eaten off our camping plates with our camping sporks and washed down with wine from our camping cups. Then we washed up out of our camping bucket.
We had a fantastic night's sleep, despite the occasional rumble of an avalanche somewhere in the valley (we were camped at the foot of a glacier, so this was initially a little alarming).
Breakfast was just as good, finishing off the remaining bread, cheese, and ham from the previous night. So good we almost weren't up to the task of packing up our tent, but we managed it in the end.
All this meant we were a bit slower getting started than planned, and by the time we reached the Aigle du Midi station to ride up the mountain it was after 11am and there was a huge queue already formed. You see this weekend was the first we'd had in a while with perfect weather, and it seems everyone had the same idea to head into the mountains to take advantage of it.
Our plan was to catch the panoramic telecabine from Aigle du Midi to Punta Helbrunner, which is on the French/Italian border at 3462m. The last time we'd been to Chamonix the lift had been closed and we'd resolved to come back in Summer to do it properly.
The ride was amazing - taking you 5 kilometers over the Vallee Blanche, one of the major glaciers from Mont Blanc. The valley was full of hikers either looking to summit on Mont Blanc, climb one of the surrounding cliffs, or just to camp or hike across the valley.
We arrived at Hellbrunner without too much bother - though to be honest the station itself is not that interesting. This feeling was probably made worse by the fact that we were now on the return journey and the queues were getting enormous.
At least they gave you a ticket at each station so you didn't actually have to queue up the whole time, but could come when your number was called. Still, the round trip from Chamonix, Aigle du Midi, Punta Helbrunner and back took us about 8 hours!
So in the end we didn't get to do any hiking, which was one of our main objectives of going to Chamonix in the first place, but the ride up and across the mountain was amazing and the weather was absolutely perfect.
Anyway, with Chamonix only 1 & 1/2 hours away, we know we'll be back (in fact we're off there again this weekend!)

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