The Aiguille du Midi is the highest point that can be accessed by cable car in the Chamonix valley. The station stands at 3,842m and is situated directly across from Mont Blanc.
The Aiguille du Midi is the closest most non-climbers can get to Mont Blanc and offers unrivalled views over the massif, the glaciers and Chamonix valley, not to mention a large chunk of the Alps and surrounding countries.
The cable car holds the world record for the highest vertical climb and is a two-stage journey originating from the valley floor at 1,035m. The first leg rises sharply over dense forests before the tree-line slowly gives way to tundra and the cable car plateaus into a gentle amble to Plan de l’Aiguille at 2,317m. Here visitors can optionally exit and hike [in summer] to the top station of Montenvers railway, located at the foot of the Mer de Glace, with views of the Glacier des Bossons, Aiguille Verte, the Drus and the Aiguilles de Chamonix. From this point you take the second car to the summit.
First constructed in 1955, the two stage cable car takes passengers from the valley floor to its dizzy heights in around 30 minutes.
The second stage of the journey, from the mid-station at Plan de l'Aiguille, is a ridiculously steep ascent to the top station of Piton Nord at 3,778m, a ride made all the more impressive by its lack of supporting pillars. A single cable lifts visitors in a seamless flight over Les Pelerins glacier up the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi to the terminus, impossibly perched on the Piton Nord.
It’s difficult to convey just how impressive this cable car is. Viewed from below it seems to hang in a void, suspended in nothingness as the cable lines merge into the distant granite face. You feel an overwhelming sense of awe as you traverse effortlessly up the Aiguille, ancient glacial flows spilling down the vertical sides below you, ears popping more than once on the climb. From the mid station to the summit is 1,461m – an elevation greater than the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis at 1345m – yet the cable car soars to the top station in just ten minutes.
Stepping out at the top you’re faced almost immediately with a narrow supporting bridge which connects the Piton with the Aigulle itself, spanning high above the 55 degree Cunningham Couloir. Sufferers of vertigo, take note – this is the first of many challenges you’ll encounter on this trip. Also worth noting is the wind. Nine times out of ten it’s incredibly windy and you’ll also notice a marked difference in temperature from the valley floor. Temperatures drop 1°C per 150m and with Chamonix at an elevation 1,035m and the top of the Aiguille at 3,842m, there’s a palpable chill at the summit. To save you brain-strain arithmetic, this equates to a temperature change somewhere in the region of 19°C from the valley floor. And this is without factoring the effects of wind chill. Wrap up warm, it's cold up there even in summer (-31.2°C was the coldest recorded temperature at the summit). Visitors should also take appropriate eye wear as the sun’s strength is amplified greatly at altitude and compounded by reflection off the snow and ice.
Who should go
This is high mountain terrain and those with breathing difficulties, heart problems or other significant medical issues are not advised to take the trip. Consult your doctor if in doubt.
|Elderly Access||✓||Up to mid-station (unless against medical advice)|
|Babies||✓||From 24 months to mid-station (unless against medical advice). Summit not permitted for children under three years|
|Disabled Toilets||✓||At base-station and at the summit. Not available at Plan Praz|
|Parapentes||✓||Not during July/August|
|Car Parking||✓||Paid - at Grepon|
|Reservations Required||✓||Recommended during peak season|
|Sports & Activities||✓||Walking from the Plan de l'Aiguille (Aiguille du Midi mid-station), Alpinism and access to the Mont-Blanc from the summit|
History of the Aiguille du Midi & its cable car
The old cable car
The very first lift for taking tourists to the Aiguille du Midi was originally proposed in 1910 and then when Chamonix won the bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1924, the plans were confirmed and completed in time for the event. The base station was in Les Pelerins and linked to a second station call 'Para' and eventually a third station called 'Les Glaciers' which was completed in 1927. There would have been three more stages of lifts to take visitors up to the Col du Midi and on to the Aiguille du Midi, but these were never completed. The section between Les Pelerins and Para was actually used in the Olympics to get competitors to the start of the bobsleigh track. This track is no longer visible as it was destroyed by an avalanche in the 1980's, but you can still see the remains of the two lift buildings and hike up to them if you like.
The current cable car
Although the old cable car system continued to be used until 1951, it was superseded by the current two-stage lift system, the first stage of which entered public service in July 1954. The cable connecting the Plan d'Aiguille to the North Piton of the Aiguille du Midi was in place the year before, but building work was still going on at this time to drill out walkways and create galleries. The top station was finally opened to the public on 24th June 1955 and at the time, was the highest cable car in the world.
Things to do at the Aiguille du Midi
Lots of people head up the Aiguille du Midi purely for the views over the glaciers towards Mont Blanc, although it is also a hugely popular start point for many mountaineering and skiing routes. Walking onto the glaciers from the Arête of the Midi or the Helbronner side of the mountain is not advised unless you have the proper equipment and are preferably with a high-mountain guide.
Arriving at the top
Another thing that strikes you as you arrive at the summit (aside from the sheer size and vastness of the massif) is just how much development has been done on this peak, which means that peaks that would otherwise remain the preserve of skilled climbers and mountaineers, are now accessible to a great many visitors.
The top of the Aiguille du Midi has been pretty much hollowed out to form an intricate labyrinth of rooms and corridors that weave their way through the rocky, mainly granite peak. This in itself is impressive enough but it also allows space for multiple exhibitions, displays and viewing platforms which greatly enhance your time at the top.
The views over Mont Blanc and the valley are breath-taking, giving you an up close vista over age-old, splintered ice flows which have cracked to form huge crevasses as they’ve edged their way down the mountainside. It feels almost as though you’re at the epicentre of the Alps, enormous peaks spilling in all directions punctuating the horizon as far as the eye can see.
Lift to the summit terrace
An elevator cut through the pinnacle of the Aiguille which gives access to a high viewing terrace surrounding the massive TV transmitter on the summit (the iconic metal shard on the peak, visible from miles around). Note, queues are common here so factor in at least a 15-minute wait to access (longer in summer months). The views are worth the wait though.
Le Pas dans le Vide / Step into the void (free)
Accessed from the summit lift and Terrace 3,842, Step into the Void is a 2.5m glass box suspended from the side of the Aiguille, 1,000m above the glaciers below. Vertigo sufferers should probably avoid.
Accessing La Vallée Blanche
A tunnel cut through sheer ice walls leading to the famed 'Ice Steps' allowing climbers and skiers access to the Vallée Blanche descent and beyond. At 20km long with a vertical drop of 2,700m, the Vallée Blanche is one of the most famous off-piste routes in the world. Expect to see hardened mountain types, bedecked with crampons and ice axes preparing to exit onto the glacier.
Countless viewing platforms
With 360° access around the summit, you are spoiled for choice with views that extend far into Italy, France and Switzerland. Were it not for the cold, you could spend hours up here.
The Panoramic Mont-Blanc gondola (open June to September)
A 5km gondola ride linking to the Pointe Helbronner above Courmayeur on the Italian side, over the Glacier du Géant. This glacier is a huge permanent icepack which feeds the legendary Mer de Glace and Vallée Blanche.
In summer mountaineers can choose to access various trails (including paths to the summit of Mont Blanc) and refuges from the roped ridge known as the Arête. During the winter, the narrow arete down from the Aiguille du Midi is the starting point of the famous 18km off-piste route, the Vallée Blanche.
How long does a visit to the Aiguille du Midi take?
An average trip on the summit lasts around two to three hours, although it can be closer to five if you're taking your time looking around. You can take as long as you like on a visit although in winter the last lift up is at 15:00 and the last decent at 16:30. In summer the last trip up is at 16:30 and the last descent is at 17:30 or 18:00, so plan your visit accordingly. Times for the first and last lifts of the day vary depending on the time of year, so consult the summer lift timetables before making any plans.
What to see at the Aiguille du Midi
There is a surprising amount see in the summit’s warren of tunnels, including:
An exhibition on the effects of altitude and hypoxia. The station has been used in multiple experiments to study the effect of mountain sickness, pulmonary oedema and humans’ ability to adapt to altitude. Above 3,500m is considered very high altitude so be advised, those with heart or breathing problems are not advised to take this trip.
A fascinating glimpse into the history of climbing and Alpinism on the Mont Blanc massif, including displays of modern and traditional climbing equipment, an interactive 3D map and various videos. At 3,777m this is the highest museum ever built.
Learn the history of the cable car construction including a view over the massive drive wheels, whirling as they lift visitors to the summit.
Espace Mont Blanc
A indoor viewing gallery with breath taking views over the Mont Blanc and brief history of notable ascents made on the mountain.
A new attraction which allows full 360° passage around the summit in a tube suspended thousands of feet above the glacier.
What to wear
Be warned, even in the summer months temperatures can be as low as -10°C at the Aiguille du Midi (without wind chill), so make sure you wrap up warm, wear non-slip shoes and don’t forget your sun cream. It's very easy to get sunburn at altitude.
Where to eat & drink at the Aiguille du Midi
Le 3842 Restaurant: One of the world’s highest restaurants serving local Savoie fare. Booking is advised as it only seats 26 people.
Summit 3842 Cafe: Open every day the cable car is running, this café is a good spot for grabbing a quick bite to eat and a drink whilst admiring the views.
Le Vertical Café and shop: Pick up gifts, souvenirs and snacks at the bottom of the lift station as you return to Chamonix.
Where to stay
The centre of Chamonix, where you'll find the base station for the Aiguille du Midi cable car, has a great selection of hotels, apartments and chalets. Mountaineers can also gain access to a great many mountain huts and refuges, some of which are used on the way to summit Mont Blanc or others to access the many climbing and mountaineering routes in the backcountry.
How to get to the Aiguille du Midi
Getting to the Aiguille du Midi is easy. You'll find the lift station in Chamonix Sud, which you can access easily on foot from anywhere in Chamonix centre. By bus, get off at Chamonix Sud and cross the road opposite the bus terminus. Head onto Rue du Lyret and keep walking. You'll find the base station of the Midi a few hundred metres along on the right hand side.
By car, it's best to park at the Grepon car park, just off the main highway - the Route Blanche. At the far end of the car park there's a tunnel taking you under the Route Blanche, which leads you towards the back of the Midi lift station. Head round to the main concourse at the front to buy tickets.
By train get off the Mont Blanc Express at the Aiguille du Midi stop and descend the road which leads you directly to the front of the Aiguille du Midi base station.
When to visit the Aiguille du Midi
Prices & Passes for the Aiguille du Midi
See all the Summer Lift Prices & Winter Lift Prices. You can buy lift passes at the ticket office once you arrive, or buy a pass in advance online. Even in the quieter winter months, it’s a good idea to arrive promptly as the queues can still be quite large. The cable car attracts nearly half a million visitors per year, so pre-booking is definitely recommended. If you're unable for some reason to use the online booking system, you can book in person at the lift station.
You can combine a trip to the Aiguille du Midi with a visit to the Mer de Glace and Montenvers Train in the same day if you buy a Mont Blanc Multipass. This also works out cheaper than paying for the two experiences separately. Buy all your passes at the ticket offices in Chamonix, which you'll find at the base of each of the lifts or the Montenvers-Mer de Glace train.