Travelling to Chamonix is always the opportunity for me to chill and take great photos of the peaks around. It brings me back to the days when I started climbing the impresssive routes of the valley. Tones of memories often overwhelm me and there’s always a few friends to catch up with.
Leaving the high routes behind, I enjoy taking the train to the Montenvers station at 1,913m altitude for a 20mn journey through tunnels and the forested slopes to see the Mer de Glace. The glacier is an imposing 7 km long tongue of ice surrounded by the Drus, the Grandes Jorasses in the background and the Aiguille du Grepon.
The Montenvers station is facing the majestic pics and offers amazing sceneries. The Glaciorium or “Galerie des Cristaux” boasts a collection of rocks and crystals from all over the world; a pretty amazing geological travel in time through the dark tunnel.
Skiers can reach the glacier either from the Valley Blanche (accessible from Aiguille du Midi) or through the Pas de Chèvre when skiing from Les Grands Montets, getting down via a vertical craggy slope that requires an abseil on the steepest part of the glacier’s flanks.
Back in the late 19th the glacier could be seen from Chamonix but the impressive glacier is now thinning and retreating. Since 1820, the ice has thinned of 150 meters and the signs that the glacier is quickly receding are clearly visible. Maps indicates a 500m retreat between 1994 and 2008!
I am leaving the panoramic terrace that overlooks the glacier to take the cable car down to the feet of the giant. Another set of stairs to finally reach the glacier below. The thinning of the ice requires a constant adjustment of the stairways, that now have more than 350 steps and a monitoring of the glacier to follow the movement of the ice (about 100m per year).
The biggest attraction is the Grotto, or Ice Cave that is hollowed out of the last portion of the glacier to form a long tunnel of smooth and translucent ice. The cave is nicely illuminated with changing shades of blue, pink and green that reveals trapped bubbles of air and insects.
From there, the train brings you back to the valley. But with sufficient snow (and if you have the strength of the legs), you can decide to ski back to town. A long hike through the forest (with trekking boots) is also a good way to slowly reach the valley… to spend the rest of the evening in the bars and restaurants around.