Aerial view of the Aiguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc massif, France
© Amazing Aerial Agency/Offset by Shutterstoc
Atop the Needle of Chamonix
With these dramatic clouds, the shardlike pinnacles of the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of Midday) resemble the spires of a ruined Alpine cathedral. This is just one of the many spectacular peaks of the Mont Blanc massif, the storied Alps range in eastern France that stretches across the border into Italy and Switzerland. It was here in France's Chamonix valley that mountaineering became a sport in the mid-1700s. This dramatic peak was first summited in 1818, a feat that helped to popularize mountain climbing throughout Europe.
Skilled mountaineers still climb the Aiguille du Midi, but these days the rest of us can choose to reach the top the easy way. A cable car to the summit went into service in 1955 and is still considered the highest vertical-ascent cable car in the world. Visitors can climb aboard in the valley town of Chamonix and ride to the top of the Aiguille du Midi—more than 9,000 vertical feet—in under 20 minutes. The cable cars and viewing platform were upgraded in recent years, and a new feature called 'Step into the Void' was added in 2013. It allows courageous tourists to stand in a glass room jutting out from the mountain and look down through the glass floor with more than 3,000 feet of free air under their feet.