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On the Vallee Blanche glacier, 12 1/2 miles and flu to conquer

The prospect of skiing the mythical glacier proved greater than fever, sore throat and nausea. Even with rented skis.

December 13, 2009|By Benoit Lebourgeois

Anticipating an alfresco picnic, I rejoiced when our lunchtime spot appeared on a precarious perch. The Refuge du Requin is a magnet for skiers who file ant-like on its uphill approach trail for meals prepared by caretakers Annick and Gilbert Pareau. The mountain hut stands 4,100 feet below the Aiguille du Midi upper cable car station, about halfway down the Vallée Blanche in distance and elevation.

Replenished, we continued, now on the Mer de Glace, the sea of ice that is an extension of the Vallée Blanche. The sun broke through the overcast skies to give sharper relief to the glacier's broken crust. Without trees or vegetation, the scale was hard to measure. As the glacier collapsed against moraines, our path contoured the many mounds.

In the distance, the far side of the Chamonix valley reappeared. Uneven snow cover, Greber said, would force us to walk quite a bit before we could ski the rest of the trail to town. We chose instead to take the Montenvers cog railway.

Skis on the shoulder and poles in one hand once more, we puffed our way up the nearly 300 steps of a steel staircase carved into the Mer de Glace to catch a lift to the tiny train station perched on the mountainside. Even cut short, our ski run down the Vallée Blanche spanned 10 miles and dropped about 6,000 feet. I dozed, rocked to sleep by the motion of the train and the warm sun through the window.

That evening I watched the alpenglow caress the high peaks. I walked around town, mixing with the cosmopolitan crowd that spilled from the hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. My eyes wandered to the serrated ridges that struggled to hold the sun's last rays, my thoughts dwelling in the white valley beyond them.

travel@latimes.com

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