Three Gore-Tex–clad mountaineers are making their arduous slog up Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s tallest peak. Its 15,771-foot summit looms still some 3,000 feet above them. Their top-of-the-world vista takes in a snow-dusted Alpine massif that spans France, Switzerland, and Italy.
My friend and I share nearly the same epic view the climbers have, but not the same foot blisters or crevasse hazards. Unlike them, we have arrived at 12,395 feet via a 20-minute cable car ride from the French resort town of Chamonix to this observation deck on Aiguille du Midi, a peak neighboring Mont Blanc.
Gondolas have ferried passengers to surrounding heights from Chamonix since 1924. The Aiguille du Midi gives them a taste of what it’s like to be an alpinist—but without the need for expensive hiking boots. It’s bright, cold, and blustery, though, and we still need warm layers, sunscreen, and sunglasses on the observatory walkway.
We pull up Instagram to capture our obligatory “step into the void,” a glass cube off the walkway that thrills with the spectacle of a sheer Alpine drop below our feet.
While the mountain climbers are refueling on energy bars, we enjoy strong coffee and chocolate cake at Le 3842, one of the highest restaurants in Europe. The Aiguille du Midi also has one of the world’s highest museums. Located in a rocky chamber deep in the mountain, the Musée de l’Alpinisme Pointe displays photos and memorabilia from the early days of extreme sports—such as BASE jumping, for which Chamonix has historically been considered a top spot.
We hop on the cable car back to town, with a new appreciation of Alpine peaks and the adventurous people who explore them.