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The Glaciers of Chamonix

October 23, 2022

The Southern side of the Chamonix Valley has a number of large glaciers.

From the top of the valley at Le Tour is the Le Tour glacier, the Argentiere glacier, the Mer de Glace and Glacier de Bosson. There are also a handful of smaller glaciers.

All of these glaciers are easily reached by ski lifts in the summer. Outside of the summer season it becomes a harder proposition involving significant hiking.

Glacier du Tour

The face of this glacier is visible from the hamlet of Le Tour at the Eastern end of the Arve valley. The glacier itself is over 5km long and around 3km wide at its widest.

The Glacier du Tour can be reached from Le Tour (accessed by route 2 on the Chamonix Bus). From Le Tour there is a lift, the Charamillon, which links with the Autannes chairlift that connects to the Col D’Balme. From here only 500m of climbing will get you to the Albert Premier hut which has a commanding position above the glacier. Alternatively, there are two paths that lead directly up to the glacier itself, one via the Charamillon lift and the other straight up the lateral moraine of the glacier from La Tour which is very steep.

During 2022 the lifts in Le Tour have been closed for refurbishment so the only option has been to walk up and that involves at least 1300m of climbing.

I chose to take the much longer but less steep route up to the Col D’Balme first and then onto the glacier itself. The hike was made significantly more difficult by deep snow on the last 200 vertical metres of the journey. Each step was a lottery and every so often I sunk to my thighs in the snow.

Moraine to climb to reach Albert Premier Hut

The final push to the Albert Premier hut involves some easy scrambling up a rock face to the hut itself. The very modern main hut is summer only but there is also a winter shelter for up to 30 hikers/climbers.

Albert Premier Hut (Winter hut in the front)

Argentiere Glacier

The Argentiere Glacier can be seen from the ski village of Argentiere which is up the valley from Chamonix. The glacier is one of the largest in the Mont Blanc massif and is around 9km long with its face at the top of a steep slope.

The glacier can be easily accessed in summer using the Plan Joran lift which leaves only a short walk and climb of around 300m. There are two main viewing points, one of which is directly in front of the face of the glacier and another higher viewpoint above the glacier itself.

The walk up from the valley is around 1,100m of climbing and leaves from the Chosalets stop on the Chamonix bus network. The path switchbacks through the forest before emerging into the ski terrain above the tree line. After this a rough path climbs alongside the glacier leading to a viewpoint called Pointe du Vue or alternatively there is a path that dives down onto the glacier itself.

Mer de Glace

The Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is the glacier that is the last section of the famous Vallee Blanche. It is 7.5km long but when its tributary glaciers are taken into account it is the longest and largest glacier in France and second only to the Swiss Aletsch glacier in the alps.

This is the most easily accessible of the Chamonix glaciers by virtue of a train station right above the glacier. The Mer de Glace train runs from its own station next to the main station in central Chamonix. It is also considered to be part of the lift system so any area ticket covers this train. The train station complex is currently being refurbishment and is expected to be completed in 2024 but in the meantime the trains are still running.

From the Montenvers train station at the glacier there is a short gondola ride down towards the surface of the glacier. In the past, this used to reach the glacier but as the glacier has receded a staircase with around 500 steps is now used to access the surface. Each year here an ice cave is dug in the glacier and it is also possible to try ice climbing in this area.  The refurbishment of the Mer de Glace complex includes a new gondola which will remove the need for the 500 steps and make the glacier itself more accessible again.

Alternatively, a hike from the Planards ski area parallels the train line or there is a beautiful hike from the Plan D’aguille over signal forbes from which amazing views of the glacier can be seen.

Bossons Glacier

The Bossons glacier is clearly visible from the town of Chamonix and is right underneath Mont Blanc. It is the steepest glacier in the Alps and is around 7.5km long.

Access to the Glacier is either by hiking up to La Jonction – a 1500m vertical gain on the Western side of the glacier or via the Gare du Glaciers on the Eastern side and then traversing across.

The easiest way to get up close to this glacier is by taking the Aiguille du Midi gondola to the Plan D’Aguille mid station and then heading to the Gare du Glaciers from there.

One of the routes to the summit of Mont Blanc begins with a traverse of the Bossons glacier – the Grand Mulets route. Unbelievably this route was used for the fastest speed ascent/descent of Mont Blanc which was only 5 hours. The upward journey of 3,800m taking only an incredible 3 hours 33 minutes.

The glaciers of the Chamonix valley are beautiful and awe inspiring to view. Unsurprisingly however, climate change is having a huge impact on this amazing place and all of the glaciers have retreated over the last 100 years. This retreat has been speeding up and at the current rate the Alps is sadly predicted to be ice free by 2100. This just highlights the impact of global warming on our world.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Susan Hann permalink
    October 24, 2022 9:30 am

    Wow well l am exhausted after all this climbing through this magnificent landscape!!
    Truly wonderful photos and l am enjoying your voyage

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