I Can See For Miles

Panorama 9a

This is, I guess, one of the classic views of the French Alps. It is the view south, across the main Chamonix valley from just above Lac Blanc. From left to right, the main peaks are the Aiguille du Chardonnet, the Aiguille d’Argentiere, the Aiguille Verte, with the lump of Les Drus on its shoulder, the Grandes Jorasses, the Dent du Geant, the Aiguille du Charmoz, the Aiguille du Blatiere, Aiguille du Plan, and Mont Blanc du Tacul. The main summit of Mont Blanc is just out of the right of the shot.

I was on a long stay in Chamonix. Strange to say, it was an area that, up to that point, I had really neglected. Actually, lest that sounds like an act of indolent negligence, it was hardly that. I’d just had too much to occupy me to be able to fit in any satisfying amounts of time devoted to the area around Chamonix. Thus it, was for many years, that while my contemporaries were busy queuing for the summit of Mont Blanc, I was generally away in the Dolomites, enjoying myself. That’s unfair maybe, but only maybe. I used to hear tales from them of great suffering, interspersed with long periods of boredom waiting for a reliable and good weather forecast. Meanwhile I’d be fitting in a full month’s activities elsewhere. Every year there were friends who took two weeks in Chamonix that were mainly spent sitting out unsatisfactory weather.

I guess I’d developed a bit of an irrational downer on the place. I’d stopped by several times, on the way to and from other places and had probably racked up a fortnight in visits, when the opportunity to rent a Chamonix apartment very cheaply for more than a month came along, and I found myself committed to ridding myself of my Chamonix prejudices.

September and October are amongst my favourite times in the Alps. Many of the crowds have gone, but the weather can occasionally be better than you get at the earlier heights of the tourist season. It can do the other thing, too, of course. You see the landscape change to more muted colours, but less heat-haze generally means far better, crisper views of the mountains. I also love it that sunrise and sunset are at very amenable times for those, like me, who are partial to their beds. I arrived in Chamonix just after the real height of tourist time and stayed until almost everyone had gone home.

In the Dolomites, there is a point every September when you realise that the heavy rain of a wet day in the valleys is dropping the first proper snows of winter on the mountain tops. The ragged cloud curtain is occasionally pulled apart to show that your next few days up high might be “interesting”. I say “in the Dolomites”, but it’s like that in most mountain areas, of course. And so it was in Chamonix. I needed a day off to rest my feet from a week lugging some heavy camera gear up-hill and down-dale. I was treated to a day of noisy thunderstorms and incessant rain, spent on those time honoured pursuits of visiting the outdoor equipment shops, museum and cafes of Chamonix. The day also included a scary event I’ve written about here, and which I still find hard to come to terms with.

During the day, there were brief glimpses of the Chamonix Aiguilles from the town, clad in white armour. What was even better was the promise from the local weather service that the following day was going to be a real beauty. And so it turned out. There were only a few cable cars and chairlifts left working by this time around Chamonix. Most stop in early September. However, the Flegere/Index system remained in use and whisked me up to almost 2300 metres while I marvelled at the transformation around me. The snowline was down to around 1700 metres early on, but the day was bright, the sky almost completely clear, and there wasn’t the slightest breath of wind either.

Lac Blanc is a bit of a tourist magnet. It’s easy to walk to from a couple of points, and it has a mountain hut that was still open serving food and drink to visitors. The Chamonix and Argentiere shops are full of postcards showing the Aiguilles reflected in the waters of the Lac itself, including a few images of whose authenticity I was a bit suspicious. The place was already in full swing when I arrived at about 10.30 in the morning. 24 hours of rain and snow had disturbed the waters of the Lac, raising a mist of suspended rock particles in its (presumably) otherwise limpid depths. It is that material that usually gives mountain lakes and tarns the distinctive pale blue colour. As to photographing the Aiguilles reflected in it, no chance.

I sat for ages uphill from the Lac, wondering how it earned the name “white”, and just drinking in the enormous panorama of mountains before me. Immediately opposite was the Aiguille Verte, on whose slopes I had been teetering around at over 3,500 metres just a week previously. I could see straight to the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, over whose summit I had watched a big storm roll in ten days ago. From the lake shore itself the view is even wider and included the whole of Mont Blanc. I had Roger Daltrey’s song running through my head all day.

I’m not sure what purpose the stone pill-box of a hut now serves by the Lac. If it’s outlived its usefulness, it really ought to be removed. The far larger Chalet du Lac Blanc sits into the slope quite well and to the naked eye it is the only man-made intrusion into a huge vista of big alpine mountains.

Lovely place. If you go, go when it’s busy, please, and leave the quiet time to me!


About tomsprints

I am a Masters athlete and freelance photographer living in Kent, in Great Britain. I'm a sprinter. As well as competing, my camera and I work regularly for the British Masters Athletics Federation and the European and World Masters Athletics organisations. For pleasure, I'm (principally) a landscape photographer. I have been blessed with the chance of spending quite a lot of time in the European Alps in the last 30 years. My web site is a vehicle for a my photographic work, and is at http://www.tomphillipsphotos.co.uk I run two blogs. One is about what it's like to be an older athlete ( http://tomsprints.wordpress.com ) and the other is basically about my photography ( https://ablogscape.wordpress.com ), although they often overlap.
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