So, yes the tram. The tram in Chamonix that takes you a good way closer to the top of Mont Blanc is the longest unsupported tram in the world. It climbs almost straight up in some places because it is climbing the Aiguille de Midi. Aiguille means Needle. Do a google image search and you’ll see all kinds of photos that will take your breath away… But this one really shows it in my mind…
The whole family was going to ride up this thing. I was going to stay down in Chamonix and be a tourist. I was scared out my mind. My brother wasn’t impressed. I knew that they would come home that evening and be talking of nothing else. I decided that my fear wasn’t based on anything other than primate instinct and that I wanted to share this memory with my family. I will overcome my fears and be a stronger better person for it.
I am not really afraid of heights. Really. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Cascade and Olympic mountains here in my state. I live in the city with the Space Needle, I’ve been up it many times. But here’s the deal. My feet must be able to touch the ground. And I do mean ground. The Mama. Planet Earth. Terra Firma. As long as my feet are on solid ground I can look down high cliffs. But hanging from a frikking cable? That isn’t the size of my wrist? Are you frikking kidding me?
We buy our tickets and we’re standing in line waiting for the tram to arrive and I can look straight up our path. My heart is in my throat. My brother wasn’t very nice that day and was telling horror stories of tram accidents. How a plane had been flying too fast and razored the cable line, all were lost in the little metal box as it exploded on impact. Like a seagull dropping a clam.
We get on the tram, mostly windows, and start the ascent. While this includes the longest unsupported tram, there are supports. And every time we go over one the tram swings wildly. The longest section is the one that is at about 85% incline.
I’m wearing my sunglasses, luckily no one thought a thing about it because it was actually sunny. And I’m crying. And I’m praying my ass off. Please don’t let me go like this… Not like a sardine in a can dashed upon a rock 3000 feet below. I was a mess. Everyone else was having a great time. There must have been about 30 people in this little metal box hanging from a string and they were laughing and smiling, talking about their trip on the other side. You can cross over into Italy at this point and ski down. Lots of climbers take off from here too. All these gorgeous European athletes, suntanned and smiling about their trip. And I’m a mess in tears. What a waste.
This is a two part ride. So it isn’t like I get to go up and go down. I get to go up, get off, go up some more and then come back down twice. OMG. There is a cool rock and ice tunnel that you go through between trams and that was a boon for me as I needed to have my feet on solid ground. And I had no idea that at the top I would not get to do this. There is very little solid ground at the top.
We were headed towards the squat rock on the right. You can climb stairs to get to the actual needle on the left.
We make it to the top. Whew! At least I won’t fall 3,000 feet. Right? Uh. Maybe. The first place we walk to is the observation deck. I follow my brother and my dad and step on to the platform only to discover that the floor is open work grating. Like on a draw bridge. I can see all the way to Chamonix, over 3000 feet down. And I drop to my hands and knees just like that. Didn’t even think. Pink Monkey business. In front of everyone. I turn over onto my butt and scoot off that frikking death trap. I have no idea if people are talking or laughing about me. I see nothing but my goal of 3 feet of rock to stand on. I need to get to the building so I can sit in the middle and not look out any windows until we can go home. Oh god. I have to get on two more trams to get down. Oh god.
Okay, where is that cafeteria? Well it’s over there but you have to climb down these outside stairs and then up that box of stairs hanging on to the side of the cliff. Oh Goddess. Why? What was I thinking? But it was true, I would have a story to tell.
See the glass windows on the top right? That is where the stairs are going. Yes, right along this cliff face. Oh god.
I honestly don’t know how I made it. But I did make it. They had a gift shop. Oh good. I can get a little retail therapy. I spent a some time there looking at little ceramic thimbles and edelweiss keychains. When my mom stopped by I told her I couldn’t find a t-shirt that said “I peed my pants on the Aiguille de Midi.” I think they’d make a fortune. I still want one. (Mom refused to go in the caves we visited later in the trip, claustrophobic, which none of us knew until then, she was smart.)
I spent the rest of the time sitting at a cafeteria table as far from those windows as I could get.
The observation platform and accompanying buildings really are quite impressive if you get over the fact that they reside on the top of a rock needle. How they managed to even get the building supplies up there to build the top of the tram is mind boggling enough. But the metal girders and wood and other stuff? And this contraption is really only just bolted onto the rock and carved into it.
Not much else to tell about being up there since I sat in the same stupid chair for the entire time.
On our way down, while waiting for the tram, a teen boy was overcome by altitude sickness and collapsed right in front of us. I’ve never seen a person just turn to jelly. Luckily they already knew he was sick, someone was already holding him when he passed out, and they were at the first aid station. But boy did that kid need to get down fast.
We got down the mountain with no further mishaps. Until we got to the very bottom and were exiting the tram. I felt something tight on my back. I tried to reach back to feel (and stop) what it was but couldn’t reach it. I’m shifting around and can barely turn. Why? Because a Japanese tourist was behind me, so scared that she had grabbed me by the back of my coat and had me in a death grip. She finally released me and walked past us, hanging onto her travel partner, and freaking out in Japanese about the scary ride.
France has been very very good for deflating my ego. Pants around my ankles, crawling on my hands and knees, buttwalking, what more is left for me?
And you know what I really discovered? One need not overcome every fear they have. Some fears are just fine right where they are.