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Argentière & Saas-Fee
June 2011
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Our first stop, Argentière, in the Chamonix Valley a few miles east of Chamonix proper. The view from the lawn outside my hotel room.
The view towards Mont Blanc from the 600-meter climb to L'Aiguillette d'Argentière.
Another view towards Mont Blanc from the trail to L'Aiguillette d'Argentière.
Looking back towards the eastern end of the valley from the climb to L'Aiguillette d'Argentière.
Mont Blanc, right of center, amidst clouds and contrails.
Nearing our destination for the day.
L'Aiguillette d'Argentière, a collection of rocky needles high above Argentière.
A rock climber tackling one of the needles. To the right, the lower end of the Mer de Glace, on the opposite side of the valley.
Jack and Irene find a suitable spot for a picnic lunch.
On the far side of the valley from the needles.
A happy marmot finds a warm rock to perch on.
A young ibex eyes us...
... and explores an escape route.
An older ibex - the size of the horns is a good guide to his age.
The Mer de Glace.
Which way to the beer?
The Glacier du Tour looming above Tre le Champ.
The Glacier du Tour, seen from the valley floor.
We took a relatively easy hike up to the lower end of the Mer de Glace. The markings on the valley walls give some indication of just how far the glacier has retreated in recent years.
The rocky peaks above Argentière.
Starting at Le Tour, at the eastern end of the valley, we climbed 750 meters up a very consistent grade.
A good trail.
Reaching our destination, the Aiguillette des Posettes, we're treated to a view of Mont Blanc.
Our hikes almost invariably led to spectacular spots for a picnic at midday. Sandy, Paula, Phil, and Carol take a well-deserved rest.
Fred gives his knees a break.
Cyndi takes in the panorama.
Hikers perch in a high meadow at the Aiguillette des Posettes.
The entire valley is a paradise for paragliders, who launch themselves from the surrounding peaks and catch thermals.
A small pond near the Aiguillette des Posettes.
We took a two-stage cable car to the Aiguille du Midi above Chamonix, at 3842 meters. On the horizon to the left of center, Monte Rosa on the Swiss/Italian border and, just barely discernible, the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
The Chamonix Valley, seen from the Aiguille du Midi. Chamonix proper is directly below - our temporary home of Argentière is towards the right-most end of the valley.
Dead center, the Aiguillette des Posettes, which we had climbed the day before.
A long-lens look at the Aiguillette des Posettes, left of center, and just right of center, the long zig-zag trail that had taken us back down to Le Tour.
On the snow fields next to the Aiguille du Midi, I noticed some activity, just right of center in this shot...
... which proved to be another paraglider launch. A second paraglider waits on the snow.
Heading for Chamonix.
Heading for Chamonix.
Heading for Chamonix.
Dwarfed by the mountains.
Truly dwarfed by the mountains. Somewhere in this image, there's a paraglider!
We took the cable car part of the way back down towards Chamonix, hopping off at Plan de l'Aiguille (2317 meters) to start our traverse. The French Alps don't boast the abundance of mountain cafés one finds in Switzerland, but there are a few choice spots.
Cyndi and Phil surveying the Chamonix Valley.
Looking back up to the Aiguille du Midi, the highest spot in this view.
Blue Gentians.
The rocky trail approaching Forbes Signal, above Montenvers, dominated by the Aiguille Verte, the Aiguille Sans Nom, and Les Drus.
The trail to Forbes Signal.
The Mer de Glace and the Grandes Jorasses, from Forbes Signal.
The Aiguille Verte, the Aiguille Sans Nom, and Les Drus.
Jack at Forbes Signal. Naturally, this was our lunch stop.
The Mer de Glace and the Grandes Jorasses.
Another day, another hike, this time a traverse from La Flégère to Planpraz.
Between La Flégère and Planpraz, another paraglider appears.
Paraglider.
The cable car from Planpraz to Le Brévent.
The paraglider appears to be flirting with disaster, but is actually well clear of the cable car. In the background, the Glacier des Bossons and the Glacier de Taconnaz spill down from Mont Blanc.
Paraglider silhouetted against the Glacier des Bossons.
He's caught a thermal, and rises quickly.
The highway leading to the Mont Blanc tunnel (just off-camera to the left). On another day, we would hike 900 meters up the forested finger of land between the Glacier des Bossons and the Glacier de Taconnaz, dead center.
Looking east from Le Brévent.
The cable car approaches Le Brévent.
On our "off" day, the weather was dodgy. I took a cable car up to Prarion, at the western end of the valley, and watched the clouds swirling around Mont Blanc.
In late June, the summer season in Chamonix hasn't really begun, and things are quiet.
Near the center of Chamonix, the silty, glacier-fed Arve flows through town.
A little single-track railroad provides reliable transport along the length of the valley, and we made good use of it.
After a fairly gentle hike through forest, we arrived at the Sources de l'Arveyron.
Reaching Le Chapeau, we got a look at the area below the Mer de Glace, again revealing substantial glacial retreat.
Above the Mer de Glace, the clouds provide brief glimpses of the surrounding peaks.
Above the Mer de Glace, the clouds provide brief glimpses of the surrounding peaks.
Flora.
Flora and fauna.
The fauna turns, and gives me a better look.
We made another visit to La Flégère (the lift station to the right), and headed out on a traverse to the east, toward Les Chéserys, followed by a climb to Lac Blanc.
Carol on the trail to Lac Blanc.
Climbing towards Lac Blanc.
Looking across the valley towards the Mer de Glace and Mont Blanc.
Towards the east, the Glacier d'Argentière.
Everywhere we went, the wildflowers were in bloom.
Approaching Lac Blanc.
Fred does some scouting.
Lac Blanc, notable for not being the least bit white.
Taking shelter from the chilly breezes on the shores of Lac Blanc.
The start of the jaw-dropping trail down from Lac Blanc.
Starting at Les Bossons, on the valley floor, we hiked up between the Glacier des Bossons, seen here from about halfway up the trail, and the Glacier de Taconnaz.
The Glacier des Bossons.
The Glacier des Bossons.
Looking east, up the Chamonix Valley.
Spot the cable car going to the Aiguille du Midi, the highest point in the image. Hint - it's just right of center, against the clouds.
The limit of the lens.
The Glacier de Taconnaz.
Looking east, up the Chamonix Valley.
The Glaicer des Bossons, seen from the village. Our hiking destination for the day is barely visible as a silver dot in the forest, about three-quarters of the way up the forested ridge to the right.
The hike's destination, the silver-roofed retreat perched above the glacier.
A two-hour drive from Argentière, and we reach Saas-Fee, in the Valais region of Switzerland. The view from my room at the Waldhotel Fletschhorn, about a 20 minute walk through the forest from the edge of town.
Another view from the hotel, whose chef is listed in the Michelin Guide and was named the Swiss chef of the year in 2007 by the Gault et Millaut guide (with 18 points). Our dinners were 3-4 hour affairs - seven courses, with a different wine with each course, chosen from the hotel's 45,000-bottle wine cellar.
Preparing for our dinners required some serious hiking, of course. Here, the start of a traverse from Gspon to Saas-Grund.
Looking back towards Gspon.
Along the traverse, heading up the valley towards Saas-Grund.
Wildflowers.
Wildflowers.
On the trail to Saas-Grund.
The hillsides are dotted with rushing streams at this time of year.
Looking north along the Saas Valley.
A high meadow provides a good spot for lunch.
A cow attempts to take Cyndi's lunch.
Starting in Saas-Fee, Phil, Paula, Jack, Cyndi, and Fred start the climb to Hannig.
On the trail to Hannig.
On the trail to Hannig.
Typical wood carving of the region.
On the trail to Hannig.
On the trail to Hannig.
On the trail to Hannig. "I'd turn back, if I were you!"
Phil and Paula at Hannig. And to think we could have taken the cable car.
A precarious-looking trail across glacial runoff on the trail back to Saas-Fee.
The village of Saas-Fee.