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The Aiguille du Midi and Grand Balcon Nord

October 16, 2022
View from Aiguille du Midi

The north side of the Chamonix valley is accessed by a large modern gondola called the Aiguille du Midi. This is the really dramatic side of the valley with the biggest mountains including Mt Blanc which at 4,809m is a giant (for Europe) and the second most prominent peak in Europe. All of the glaciers – which are such a prominent feature of the Chamonix valley – are on this side (facing North).

View from Aiguille du Midi

The Aiguille du Midi lift has two stages. The first takes you to the Plan du L’Aguille at 2,317m which is a perfect launchpad for hiking this side of the valley. The second stage of the cable car travels right up to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m. This is the highest mountain peak in the world serviced by a cable car.  At the top,  is a visitor centre with viewing platforms and a restaurant  as well as another cable car travelling across to Point Helbronner in Italy. The Aiguille du Midi is the starting point for the famous skiing descent of the Vallee Blanche and for glacier hiking. However most tourists just take in the views.

Glacier exploration at Aiguille du Midi

From the Plan du L’Aguille there are two directions you can take. The classic hike from here is to travel East along the Grand Balcon Nord (although on the south side of the valley it faces North) via the lookout point at Signal Forbes to the rail station at Montenvers which is the main access point for the Mer de Glace glacier. The train can be taken down from here meaning a high altitude hike is possible with very little elevation gain.

View of Mer de Glace from Signal Forbes

A small detour at the start of this hike can take you to a small mountain lake (Lac Bleu) which is slightly above the Plan du L’Aguille gondola station.

Lac Bleu

The views of the Mer de Glace from Signal Forbes are stunning and all along the Grand Balcon there are great views across to the Aguille Rouges range on the other side of the valley and of Chamonix itself.

Valley Views

Turning in the other direction from the gondola, there is a path leading under a small glacier and its moraines and then up the mountainside to a disused cable car station. The old route runs across the glacier and involves climbing the moraines. This is no longer used and is very dangerous as the moraines are very unstable. I made the mistake of returning this way and am very grateful that I managed to exit unhurt. Don’t be foolhardy like me, the path around is the safe way to do this.

River to cross

There is a glacial river to cross which is possible with a couple of jumps from rock to rock but the river runs fast and this is not a place to slip.  The cable car is the Gare des Glaciers which was built for the Olympics in 1924 and was taken out of operation in 1951.

Gare des Glaciers

A path runs past the Gare des Glaciers and continues up to the very edge of the Glacier des Bossons.

Glacier de Bosson

The views across the glacier from this path are amazing. The path does continue across the glacier and up to the summit of Mont Blanc but this is only for the well-equipped and experienced.

Glacier de Bosson

The Aiguille du midi cable car is open year round and is the only lift in the valley that remains open all year. This is an expensive lift but if you are feeling thrifty (and fit) paths do lead up to the Plan d’Aguille from the valley floor, one to the Montenvers train station through the forest largely following the train line and one via the Cascade du Dard and Gare des Glaciers.

Train from Montenvers to Chamonix
One Comment leave one →
  1. Susan Hann permalink
    October 16, 2022 6:17 pm

    Stunning photos and a geography lesson as well

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