Tagged chamonix

Chamonix – autumn colors + brushes with taxidermy

From Paris we hopped on the TGV and headed southeast to Chamonix.  This was another place where I had lived back in the last century. Not long after I left, I ended up buying a miniscule apartment with what was my life savings at the time. I assumed it would be my nest egg.  Said nest egg was sold when N and I bought our first house in Tahoe. That was the only wise investment decision I have ever made.

Chamonix in 2011 is both same same and different different to the place I left twelve years ago.  Like many mountain towns, there are plenty of people I know who are still there.  They might have spouses and kids and mortgages now, but they stay for the same reasons I wanted to.  The mountains.  In the past decade the town has certainly changed and grown. There’s a MacDo now, a few more roundabouts getting into town, underground parking and a Chanel boutique. For me the most revelatory difference was the receding glaciers.  They were quite a bit smaller than I remember.  And I heard that they’ve even covered one.

We were in Chamonix to see friends and do some exploring.  I’d found a small flat in Cham Sud, ironically in the same block as my old studio.  The views of the rental were much better though, looking out towards the Aiguille du Midi.

Views from the bedroom in Chamonix

The mild weather was perfect for hiking, so I took N up to the Lac Blanc, which used to be my favorite hike.  It’s a lot easier when the trams are running, as that shaves off 3000 feet of hiking.  Alas, the off-season meant that the trams were closed, so we ended up climbing 4600 feet up and down.  But the views were well worth it, even if I had difficulty walking the next day.

Lac Blanc's amazing views
Descending from Lac Blanc to Argentiere
Hiking down from Lac Blanc to Argentiere

The following day my friend H suggested we hike up to the top of the Montenvers Tramway, which is on the other side of the valley from Lac Blanc.  It was a great way to see where we had been the day before, but the highlight of that hike was encountering this incongruous sight at the top – a golf cart filled with haphazardly stacked taxidermied creatures.  H’s suggestion of a photo ended up being my favorite photo of the trip.

Dead animals in golf carts at the Montenvers
Dead animals in golf carts in the Alps - bien sur!

And really, after a photo like that, that’s pretty much it.

While it was a brief trip that didn’t include skiing,  it was nice to be in Chamonix during the ‘intersaison’. It was less crowded and much quieter. Which I didn’t mind at all.

The “Wow” Factor

I was talking with some acquaintances the other day about Lake Tahoe and what makes it different from other mountain destinations.  The point of differentiation that kept coming up was the ‘wow’ factor, that point when you see the lake and the Sierra range coming over Spooner Summit, which is truly awesome.

It made me think about the other place I’ve lived at – Chamonix – and I realized that it, too has that same factor.  When you drive up the valley, as you come around a bend, you’re greeted with this immense vista of huge mountains and glaciers on either side.   And our other favorite local escape, the Eastern Sierra, has the ‘wow’ factor in spades.

Knowing that I’ve had the good fortune to live and play in these glorious places makes me realize why I could never move back to a major metropolitan area or an exurb or suburban area.