Monday, with the days of fine weather growing shorter, we decided to hike at the mid-level of the mountain from the Aiguille de Midi lift (not the second lift that takes you to the needle, but the first lift) across to the Montenvers train at the Mer de Glace glacier, taking the train back down to the town.
Had to dress a little bit more warmly.
Mark went to buy the sandwiches, and I went to buy the tickets. Being in France is a little bit weird because we often have to reverse our well-worn roles. For years it has been my job to keep a passel of children quietly waiting while Mark does things like stand in line to buy the tickets. Here, though, since Mark doesn't speak French beyond well-practiced useful phrases, I have to go buy the tickets. There is no problem with this, it just continually surprises me.
"What? I am supposed to go buy the tickets? Again?"
"You want me to order the pizzas? On the telephone?"
Anyway, I went to the ticket window (passing on the way a woman who warned us that it was bad for the 3yo's ears to go up on the gondola) and worked out that I needed to buy a family pass plus an extra adult pass for the 17yo because only kids under 15 could be included on the family pass, and also that the 3yo needed a ticket even though it was free, and bought the tickets. The cashier warned me about the 3yo's ears. I said, in French, I know, I know, everyone says this, and she repeated the warning.
This also happened last time, when he was eight months old. The only one who had in the end had ear trouble had been the then-14yo. I got a lollipop for the 3yo out of my shoulder bag, intending to brandish it as proof that I was prepared to defend his ears against the dangers of what is essentially a big ski lift. But nobody else bothered us about it.
Up we went, crammed in tightly. When the gondola went past one of the support towers, it swung deeply, and a gasp and a "whoooaa!" went up from the crowd.
At the top it was much colder, and we put on extra layers. I took the 3yo off my back so I could go to the bathroom, and the 17yo put him on his back; we decided we would switch again after lunch.
We hiked around a bit till we found the trail we wanted, beginning above this refuge (Mark has spent the night here:)
The trail is narrow and rocky, and on either side there are many myrtille bushes. The berries are very much like blueberries, perhaps a little more tart.
At lunch we ate our sandwiches. Tuna again for the 11yo, also for Mark and me, and lyonnais for the teen boys. The little boys ate homemade sandwiches on pain de mie again.
Orange-colored processed cheese is working pretty well for the 3yo, and butter-and-jam for the 7yo, and I won't complain.
The trail turned more rocky as we got up into the cloud layer.
It was amazingly well-maintained, almost a pavement or a staircase of broad flat rocks. It was eerily beautiful, but I couldn't help feeling nervous about the weather. I knew the forecast called for clouds and no rain, so it was exactly as expected. But the quality of light was so much the sort that, where I come from, heralds a coming rainstorm, that I could not shake the feeling that we ought to get down to the treeline.
I knew better, but it made me anxious.
Finally we arrived within sight of the once-magnificent, still-pretty-impressive Mer de Glace.
The clouds lay spread heavily over everything, but we could see sunlight up the valley.
We found a leftover trail race marker, from the UTMB, I think, its little flag flapping wildly in the wind.
And eventually reached the Montenvers refuge.
There were a series of historical illustrations of the glacier.
It hardly looks like a "sea of ice" anymore at this point. Really, it is sobering how much it has shrunk and retreated.
Rather than spend money in the restaurant, since we were so tired, Mark passed out Snickers bars to everyone. And then we took the train down.