UKC

/ Chamonix and Alltitude Risk

Alistair - on 09 Jan 2018
HI

I am taking my young family to Chamonix (summer trip) and non of us have been before. I would like to make the most of the cable cars/trams etc. and get some good alpine experience.

I am absolutely paranoid about altitude sickness. Maybe I am over reacting however I understand this can kick in anywhere from around 3000 ft + and as I understand it most of the "mid" way stops on the lifts are way beyond this. So I have a few questions;

Are we likely to be at risk as soon as we step on to any of the cable cars, or are there some that will get us into the mountains at a lower altitude?

If we do start getting headaches etc. I'm guessing its immediately back down - or can we tolerate them for a while before descending.

Any suggestions of places we can visit (2 children 13 and 9 - little bit of lake district experience but that's it) - that will give us the "alpine" mountains experience.

Thanks
Alistair
paul_the_northerner - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

You are definitely overthinking this one, get yourself up to the aiguille du midi station you will be completely fine, you notice the altitude if you start shuttle running up and down stairs but other than that its nothing drastic.

Its worth saying that the passes are expensive but if you get a day pass you can use any lift (and the Montenvers train) in the valley on that day, so get going early and do a few in one day, the midi station is gets you amongst some amazing mountain scenery. and the Montenvers train would be fun to do with kids which gets you to the foot of the Mer de glace which is an eye opening experience.
Rigid Raider - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

Did you mix up your feet and metres? A healthy fit person won't begin to be bothered until about 6000 feet, although I have seen elderly unfit tourists going blue around the lips at the top of the Cairngorm funicular.

The highest I've taken my son was the Midi top station at 3,842m or 12,605 feet. He wasn't bothered by the altitude at all but he was a bit spaced out by the sheer exposure and airiness, never having been as high in his life. We went back down to the halfway station, got out and strolled along the Grand Balcon to Montenvers, which was a super and easy walk although I think he was a little nervous all day; don't underestimate the effect of the landscape on your children.

Apart from exposure I reckon dehydration affects climbers as much as altitude; the air is so dry at altitude that you need to drink plenty but water is often not plentiful.

ClimberEd - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

Hi,

I used to live in Cham and also find it difficult to adjust to altitude, so a few thoughts (not entirely comprehensive and as a caveat, I am not a doctor)

- Chamonix is 'in the mountains'. If you mean 'up' the mountains then you can always just walk straight up and out of the valley.
- There is the Montenvers train which will take you up to look at the Mer De Glace. Which only goes up to about 1800m or so.
- I have no idea about young kids, I don't want to speculate, sorry.
- As an adult I am sure you will be fine to the midi mid station. At the top you might well notice mild symptoms (slightly out of breath, a little dizzy, mild headache), or none. If you experience symptoms you can either put up with them for half an hour or just descend until they disappear.
- You are highly unlikely to have any kind of significant acute altitude related problem on any of the lifts in Chamonix. (i.e. I have never heard of it, which doesn't mean it is impossible, but must be rare.)

greg_may_ - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:
With Chamonix already being at 3,396' you should probably already be worried.

You're overthinking it.

Unless any of you have COPD or other issues, you'll probably be perfectly fine, if moving at a slightly slower pace and maybe being a bit more thirsty.
Post edited at 13:15
RX-78 on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

'Millions' go skiing in the alps every year with no thought of altitude sickness, we have taken our kids skiing la Grande motte at 3456m (was that height picked on purpose for the lift??) In the Alps, they were probably a little older than yours.
Robert Durran - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to paul_the_northerner:
> You are definitely overthinking this one, get yourself up to the aiguille du midi station you will be completely fine, you notice the altitude if you start shuttle running up and down stairs but other than that its nothing drastic.

One of the most ill informed and irresponsible posts I have ever seen on UKC.

It is possible to get pretty severe altitude symptoms at 3700m. Without the easy escape available on the Midi, going straight to this altitude would be very dangerous without previous experience of how you cope. Yes, most people will be ok, but a significant minority will, at best, feel crap.
Post edited at 13:58
MG - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:
> If we do start getting headaches etc. I'm guessing its immediately back down - or can we tolerate them for a while before descending.

You would be fantastically unlucky to have anything worse than headache and nausea anywhere in Chamonix served by cable-cars etc., Going down is the solution in this case but there is no need to panic or abandon a trip due to a slight headache. Some medical advice here covering children

http://www.theuiaa.org/uiaa/children-at-altitude-essential-advice/
Post edited at 13:57
K Farrell - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

Everyone reacts to altitude completely differently but don't let the worry stop you doing things, just be aware of it. Stay well hydrated, wear sunglasses (the stronger sun can give you a headache on its own - especially with all the snow around), eat plenty of food. If you're just planning on going up to lift stations, having a walk around and taking some pictures I wouldn't worry too much, and like you said if you or your kids are affected in a bad way get the next lift down to the valley and the symptoms should disappear.

If you're looking for a bit more that just walking around outside lift stations I'd suggest getting the bus up the valley to Le Tour - from here you can either walk up to the Albert Premier Hut which is a steep walk out of the valley to the top of a chair lift and then a meandering gentle path up to the hut, or get the chair lift up the hard part and walk along to the hut. There will be plenty of folk about and it really is a nice walk and you can get yourself a hot chocolate at the end before you head back down. https://www.chamonet.com/walking/routes/refuge-albert-premier-le-tour-685159

toad - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

There are loads of good walks round there. I don't think you'll have altitude worries with something like walking from the bellevue lift at Les Houche or out to Lac Blanc from Flegere. There is loads of valley walking in and around Chamonix, but you'll be missing a proper alpine walk - I've done the Flegere to Lac Blanc walk with a babe in arms (who these days is over 6' and appears to be climbing all sorts of hard nonsense) and we had no problems at all.

The only time I've ever noticed the altitude was going straight up to the Aguille du midi on the cable car from Chamonix. It's pretty, but blimmin expensive, so if you are that worried, you could easily give that a miss
Mark Haward - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

Most sightseers would be fine going up the Midi as long as they do not exert themselves too much, different story for an unacclimatised walker / climber intending walking out from the station to do a mountain route. However, as has been stated, a small number of people can be affected. So being aware and keeping an eye on each other is important.
A suggested plan if you are hill walkers that don't want to expend too much effort that my children enjoyed ( youngest was about 7 at the time but obviously all children are different) :

-Spend a day or so in the valley - great family cycling with bike hire. Ropes courses around the valley, great rock climbing instruction for kids at Gaillands, luges, mountain zoo down the valley, try a burger at Poco Loco in town.
-There are fantastic walks in the Aiguilles Rouges with awesome views of the main Mont Blanc Massif. For example take the Flegere / Index lift ( 2,300 metres ) and there is a lovely walk to Lac Blanc mostly downhill with a little up hill at the end. You can then walk downhill to the Flegere mid station and get the lift back down.
-The Brevent lift takes you a little higher with beautiful down hill walks and areas to explore. A favourite is watching or joining in with the parapenters at the halfway lift.
-For a real close up view take the Midi station lift to the half way point. From there a fairly horizontal and then downhill walk takes you to the Montenvers station where you can walk down or catch a train back down. Awesome views of glaciers and you are right under some mighty peaks.
-A lift system at the head of the valley, Le Tour, takes you to a steady uphill walk to the Albert Refuge with great close up glacier views and refreshments in the hut. You can walk on right to the edge of the glacier if you wish. There are other lovely walks around here too.
Just ensure you check the walking route conditions in the Office de Haute Montagne ( website info too ) because depending on the time you go ( I'm assuming summer ) and weather conditions there can be some snow patches on some walking routes that can be very icy / slippy in the mornings.
All these routes have options for a bit of boulder hopping, scrambling suitable for kids, lakes to dip feet in, opportunities to see Marmots, Ibex and eagles too.
The top Midi station, unless you are glacier equipped and experienced, is sightseeing only. A possible alternative adventure is to go through the tunnel and take the lift on the Italian side to the Torino Hut area. From there it is possible to get onto snow without being involved with crevasses.
Beware, alps and big mountains are seriously addictive! My son loved Chamonix when he first went aged 7, aged 17 he has climbed his first Himalayan peak...


Chris the Tall - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

First of all, ignore those people who say you have nothing to worry about, you are right to be concerned

When I was 15 - and a pretty fit fell walker - we went on holiday to Interlaken. And up the train through the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch (3466m). And on reaching the top station I passed out, spent an hour or so on oxygen before being sent down on the train. And was right as rain as soon as we came out of the tunnel. I believe a few other kids of my age had similar problems.

Even now, as a regular skiier, I know I have to be careful with altitude, even as low as 1600m. But at the same time I have been up to the Aig du Midi (3842m) without problems. Key thing is to acclimatise, don't overdo the skiing (or drinking) on the first few days, and watch for the warning signs - in my case when I start yawning I need to call it a day. I don't pass out these days, but I do end up with a killer headache and vomiting.

Problem is that Chamonix is quite low - 1000m - which makes it harder to acclimatise. So leave the Midi trip towards the end of your holiday and maybe do some smaller trips first. However these places are well geared up to fainting tourists, and the vast majority of visitors don't have problems. And the lack of oxygen doesn't seem to have done me any harm, but others may disagree
Alistair - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to All:

Thanks everyone - lots of great advice there

I think the approach I will take is to start low and progressively increase altitude until we either run out of holiday, or reach the foot of a glacier!

Thanks for all the great comments
Alistair
drunken monkey - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

A trip up the midi is a truly amazing experience. Its a pretty high place for the average punter to have easy (if expensive) access.

I've found that Altitude affects people very differently. I've seen a tourist incapacitated at the top of the midi a few years ago, and I've also had friends get severe headaches at huts at a lower height than this. The vast majority of folk will be fine other than a slight breathlessness and maybe a wee headache.

If Chamonix is where you are off to, I'd recommend a trip up into the Aguillie Rouge to begin with and see how that goes. Its a good bit lower, but still with tremendous views and situations. If all goes well, then you could consider a trip higher.

Robert Durran - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to drunken monkey:

> If Chamonix is where you are off to, I'd recommend a trip up into the Aguillie Rouge to begin with and see how that goes. Its a good bit lower, but still with tremendous views and situations. If all goes well, then you could consider a trip higher.

A trip up the Grands Montets might also be sensible before the Midi. Although only a few hundred meters lower, it can make a big difference. If I go straight up there, I get breathless and headachy, but I know from experience that going straight up the Midi could make me pretty ill.

duchessofmalfi - on 09 Jan 2018
OP:

Your are way over dramatizing this. For the vast majority of people nothing bad will happen. If you have particular vulnerabilities (eg heart / lung problems) this may be a factor in CHX but otherwise don't worry.

Do expect to find hard exercise over 2000m, especially over 3000m tiring on the first few days and work up to it. Leave a big hike at altitude until later. My experience of young kids (albeit the sort that are quite fit and up for these sorts of things) is that they fair way better than adults.

The most common problems are headaches, dehydration and sun burn - the latter most likely the biggest problem for most people and the most likely thing to serious injure you in the long run.

Remember every year millions of sea level dwellers regularly go up to 2-3000m and partake in heavy exercise (skiing) with altitude rarely being a problem.

Obviously if you feel crap, descend, but going up to 3000m on day one and feeling breathless hiking up a steep hill is simply normal.

The way to spot altitude-exercise related fatigue is simple: if you get knackered, sit down and catch your breath and stop feeling knackered and then get up and repeat it is altitude. Solution is to slow down 20% until you can sustain the pace.

If you have to have a medical emergency anywhere in the mountains you couldn't really do much better than Chamonix, it is excellently geared up to recover you - just make sure you have the right insurance.


duchessofmalfi - on 09 Jan 2018
Also small kids at altitude seem to burn a <huge> amount of energy - take double the amount of food you'd normally expect...
Rigid Raider - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

To those who say the Midi is expensive I'd say yes, it is, but everybody who loves the outdoors ought to do it once in their life. The ticket covers the Montenvers railway so you can go up, get out half way down, walk to Montenvers and take the train back to Chamonix.
John Stainforth - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

Should be fine. Most people are not badly effected until 12000 feet plus. The only time I have ever had problems was the first time I went up the Aiguille du Midi cable car - with a head cold - I got a really bad headache, my ears popped badly coming down and I couldn't hear much for many hours afterwards! (All other times up there I have been absolutely fine.)
Robert Durran - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to John Stainforth:

> Most people are not badly effected until 12000 feet plus.

The Midi is 12000ft plus.......
The key word here is "most".
In reply to Robert Durran:

I very nearly fainted at the top of the Midi last week and it came on suddenly with no warning, having had days at altitude in the past and been fine. Possibly due to staring out of a window long and freaking my brain out, but I do also remember feeling a bit hungry while up there. I'd recommend eating and drinking properly beforehand and having some snacks with you!
Carless - on 09 Jan 2018
In reply to Alistair:

If you and the family have no problems with the altitude and can stomach the cost of the Midi, also consider the Telecabins Panoramic Mont Blanc that traverse the valley to Helbronner and back

Of course, it's impossible to say before you do this whether the kids would be too nervous about the height & exposure

This can be useful https://www.montblancnaturalresort.com/en/infos-live