There and back again, Tolkien style. This was a mission, a quest if you will, big enough to make us feel as small as hobbits. The plan was as simple as it was grim; climb up to Chamonix's derelict lift station at 2400 in time for last light. Rideable? Heck no. Pushable? Err sorry, not in the most part. 1200m up does mean one thing though; an unsurprising, but sometimes forgotten, 1200m down. In this case I did partially sabotage the descent by insisting we time our adventure with sunset. Apologies to my athlete friends, Juliette Willmann and Martin G Brännström for that detail. Headtorches only ever add to the fun, Gandalf does mention.
The Gare des Glaciers and the lower, La Para, lift stations were built to access the Aiguille du Midi, on the shoulder of Mont Blanc, for the 1924 winter Olympics. They were abandoned and left to rust in the harsh elements since the 1940s with the start of the Second World War and the eventual construction of the present-day cable car. Today these old buildings are still accessible on foot and just as magnificent. Although in partial disrepair and full of graffiti, their setting is of course as stunning as ever, next to the ice of the Bossons Glacier.
In winter the top station acts as a vital landmark for skiers coming down from Cosmiques Couloir and Glacier Ronde. The original cable car remains hidden inside and incredible hand-painted adverts for Rolex and Dubonnet have survived the decades. To top it off, the upper sections of trail get the very last slivers of orange-pink light and with the winter white already overdue, it was a mission we had to tick off, now or never.
The trail begins out of town at the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel and wastes no time turning the steepness up to 11 as it twists up through the forest up to the first station. From there things start to open up and the tree line thins. The path becomes looser and rockier and forgiving loam turns to brutal boulders and gravel, just as the views become really epic. On foot or otherwise, it could be one of the most under-visited, for sure under-rated spots in the Chamonix valley. Until now you say. Well the snow is already with us unfortunately, and if on the off-chance you make a note to come by and swing your bike over your shoulder next summer for these 1200m of partially rideable punishment, then I say fair play to you. I don't think we can expect much of a queue to drop in.