10:45PM | Chamonix-Mont-Blanc | France
Croissants and coffee on the pedestrian street in Chamonix, then a stop at the local grocery for provisions. We drive east along the valley floor — another perfectly clear blue day. At the base of a winter-only chairlift we park the car, and hike towards the base of the slope.
The first half of the hike is wooded switchbacks, cut into a remarkably steep forest-covered slope. We gain 2000 feet in an hour and a half, and are panting by the time we reach the plain. We lunch in the abandoned plaza of the sprawling Argentière ski center; we’re the only souls for miles on a deck that held hundreds of skiers just months ago. The final leg of the climb is up a dirt road to a lookout at the base of the Argentière Glacier.
Before us across a gorge is an extraordinary wall of jagged blue-white ice, hundreds of feet tall. Waterfalls and tiny flows of water stream from the massive face glacier, which is wedged between towering stone valley walls. With a periodic audible cracking sound, small chunks of ice fall from the wall and tumble down into the pile of snow below. From our perspective, it appears as much like a breathing giant as any geological force.
The hike back down is long, picturesque, and tiring. Dinner — even more satisfying than usual — is a hearty local dish called Tartiflette Savoyard, made with potatoes, bacon, and the local favorite Reblochon cheese. A nostalgic fromage blanc for dessert.