10 Extreme Summertime Experiences in the Chamonix Valley You Can’t Miss

Chamonix is the world’s capital of extreme sports. It is the birthplace of mountaineering. And it is full of crazy, adventuresome people who are drawn to its vibrant and eclectic culture from around the globe.

If you’re planning a trip to the Alps, don’t miss these 10 things to do in the Chamonix Valley.

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1) Take the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car to Stunning Heights

Ascend this world-famous cable car to the highest museum on earth at 12,605 feet. According to the official Chamonix Tourism website, the Aiguille du Midi receives almost half a million visitors every year – and for good reason.

The Aiguille du Midi Station is also one of Chamonix’s popular starting points for multiple mountaineering routes, including those shooting for the summit of Mont Blanc (more info below).

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2) Rent a Bike and Cycle Chamonix

The stunning backdrop, challenging grades, and world-class accommodations make the Alps one of the most popular places for road biking in the world. Chamonix in particular caters to cyclists with limitless rental and gear shops, not to mention its draw for the Tour de France every year. One of the most popular and accessible routes for road biking is the Col des Montets route, a half-day excursion from Chamonix central.

If you’re looking for something a little more rugged, mountain biking in Chamonix is a must-do for adventure seekers. Most cable cars and ski lifts accommodate bikes, making it all the more easy to pick up a map and hit the trail.

3) Visit the Mer de Glace

Translated as “Sea of Ice,” the Mer de Glace is the largest and longest glacier in France and just a quick daytrip out of Chamonix using the Montenvers Train. From the train station, visitors can walk across the glacier, through an ice grotto, and even follow a trail all the way back to the valley floor. This is another popular place to practice mountaineering skills and climb all the way up to the cozy mountain house of Plan de l’Aiguille.

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4) Go paragliding

There isn’t quite a more thrilling way to see Chamonix than by flight. On a clear summer day you’ll see dozens of paragliders coasting along the valley walls above you.

Visit the Tourism Center for more information on paragliding. Or, if you’re brave and experienced enough, see what it’s like to paraglide off of the top of Mont Blanc.

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5) Try Out Ice Climbing, Rock Climbing, or Classic Mountaineering

Because of its convenient accessibility, guide options, and limitless routes, Chamonix is the perfect place for climbers of all experience levels to explore the mountains. Both beginners and avid alpine mountaineers will find high-altitude routes suited just for them.

If you’re interested in rock climbing, check out the Aiguilles Rouges range to the north of the valley (like the Aiguille du Crochues route). For a more intense ice climb or to enjoy a classic mountaineering experience, visit the south side of the valley on the Mont Blanc Massif (like the Aiguille du Midi-Plan route).

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6) Trek the Tour du Mont Blanc

If you have the time, completing the Tour du Mont Blanc is the ultimate way to experience trekking in the Alps while seeing the evolution of culture and scenery through France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Eat and drink your way through 3 countries, 100+ miles, and 33,000+ vertical feet over the course of 6-12 days. The wilderness alpine environment and cozy mountain villages create the perfect balance between an exhilarating outdoor adventure and a safe, enjoyable experience.

7) Enjoy Classic Savoyard Cuisine

This list wouldn’t be complete without a nod towards Chamonix’s famous gastronomical charms. Savoyard food is rich in potatoes and cheese, the staples for some of their most popular dishes of fondue, tartiflette, and of course, French onion soup. Pair with a glass (or liter) of Savoie wine for a truly deluxe experience.

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8) Hike to Lac Blanc

If you’re looking for a short hike to fill you time on a rest day between an adrenaline-fueled schedule, Lac Blanc can provide a relaxing and scenic break. At an elevation above 7,000 feet, this high-altitude lake sits in a picture-perfect position below skyscraping mountains and across from Mont Blanc for panoramic views of the entire valley. You won’t want to forget your camera on this trip.

9) Try a White Water Sport like Canyoning, Rafting, or Riverboarding

Jump, slide, and rope your way down waterfalls and through alpine pools on an epic canyoning trip like nothing you’ve seen before. Or try white water rafting in a mountainside Alps environment – glacial cold water included.

If neither of those get your heart racing, kick it up a notch and don a wetsuit, flippers, and a helmet for the ultimate white water extreme sport: Riverboarding (known as hydrospeed in Europe). Having difficulty picturing this? Click here.

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10) Climb Mont Blanc

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc bears the name of Western Europe’s tallest mountain for a reason. While not officially one of the Seven Summits, reaching the top of this peak is a noteworthy and challenging effort.

The Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix is the oldest, largest, and one of the most reputable guide companies in the world – let alone France. Trust them for your summit attempt and you’ll be in good hands.

Mt. Shuksan (9,131 ft.) Summit Climb via Sulphide Glacier

Climb the Crown Jewel of the North Cascades up to 9,131 ft. for stunning mountain views, challenging rock and ice climbing, and vertigo-inducing heights.

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Approach hike, above Shannon Ridge.

Overview: 16 miles roundtrip, 6,600 ft. elevation gain

The Sulphide Glacier is the easiest and most popular route to the summit of Mt. Shuksan, and is a great beginner’s glacier + rock climb. More experienced climbers may enjoy the Fisher Chimneys route. The route described here makes for a very long two days because of its gradual, drawn-out approach (you’ll want trekking poles for this).

I joined Mountain Gurus for this climb and can’t recommend their services enough. As part of a 4-day Intro to Mountaineering Course, we spent each day learning the fundamentals of glacier travel, crevasse rescue training, ropes and rock climbing techniques, and general mountain safety guidelines.

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You’ll begin at Shannon Ridge Trailhead, which is pretty easy to find and accessible for any type of vehicle. To get there, exit I-5 at Burlington and head east on Highway 20. Turn onto Baker Lake Road and continue 23 miles until you reach Shannon Creek Campground. Turn left on Forest Road 1152, drive just past a 4 mile marker, and take a sharp right onto Forest Road 1152-014 to the very end of the road. The parking lot is wide and flat, as is the road leading there, no need for a high-clearance vehicle.

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To begin your hike, you’ll start out on an old road trail 2.5 miles up to Shannon Ridge, which will give you awe-inspiring views of the valleys and mountains around. Follow the ridge another 2 miles over a pass to your right, and continue on until you are at the southern wing of Mt. Shuksan with the summit pyramid in sight.

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We ended up making a higher camp than we were expecting, a little above 6,000 ft., because it was a low-snow year and couldn’t find access to running water lower down. In any event, plan to camp on the snow and to melt snow for water, though you should be able to find some runoff you can boil or treat. The campsite we chose was truly an amphitheater of the North Cascades National Park, surrounded by jagged peaks from every angle.

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On summit day you’ll slog across the (seemingly) never-ending Sulphide Glacier to the base of the rock pyramid, along the way passing the intersection of Fisher Chimneys on your left. You’ll want to be roped up to your team along the glacier as there are crevasse dangers on either side.

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The summit pinnacle is a 400 ft. tall rock pyramid that is pretty straightforward and decorated with numerous anchors and ropes from older expeditions. The easiest and most direct way up is through a class 3-4 gully that may be covered in snow or ice earlier in the season. Later in the season, this gully may become a “bowling alley” of loose rocks. Use your judgment and forego the summit if conditions seem unstable.

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Once you’ve made it to the top, take a few deep breaths and pat yourself on the back! Like so many places in the North Cascades NP, the higher you go, the more rewarding the views. A sea of peaks looks up at you from below the summit of Shuksan, and hidden from view until the top is Mt. Baker looming to the west.

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As always, begin early (alpine start ~ 3 or 4am) so you have the advantage of hard, frozen snow for your crampons to grip into. This is a particularly popular climb so the later you begin, the more chances you have of running into a bottleneck up the summit gully or crowds at the top of the rock pinnacle.

Astonishingly, there is a pit toilet about 200 ft. downhill of the high camp overnight area. It is very exposed (both for the user and for audiences above), so be prepared to use your blue bags if necessary.

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Packing List:

  • North Cascades National Park Permit
  • Trekking poles
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Crampon-compatible mountaineering boots
  • Helmet
  • Alpine harness
  • Ice tool, snow pickets, ice screws, rope
  • Crevasse rescue kit
  • Headlamp + extra batteries
  • Overnight snow camping gear (tent, stove, cookware, sleeping bag, etc.)
  • Navigational gear
  • 2+ liters of water
  • Means to boil or treat water with iodine
  • Plenty of food
  • Blue bags for human waste
  • First aid kit, emergency GPS spotter
  • Emergency bivvy or shelter
  • Sun protection, storm protection, plenty of layers!