C’est le propre des longs voyages que d’en ramener tout autre chose que ce qu’on y est allé cherché – Nicolas Bouvier
It is the characteristic of long journeys to bring back anything other than what we went there for – Nicolas Bouvier
Chamonix is a complete package of experiences. On one hand, robust Mont Blanc dominates the scene with its omnipresent snow-clad persona. On the other, the green cape of the Alpine forests renders gentleness. Add to it the man’s undying curiosity to discover more and to reach far off. Mix these elements and voila! A cocktail of astonishing experiences, a kaleidoscopic Chamonix experience awaits the discerning explorer.
Train du Montainvers
Built and operated since 1908, Train du Montainvers is a little red, cogwheel train that runs on the rack rail track. It climbs its way up from Gare du Montenvers station in the valley at an elevation of 1035m to Hotel de Montenvers station, at an elevation of 1913m on the sides of Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain, in just 20 minutes.
Chugging, the train travels through rock tunnels, viaducts, and mountainside passages offering breathtaking views of the valley and the mountain peaks of Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses mountains.
Don’t forget to visit a small animal and crystal museum once you are up there before getting enthralled by the sight of the Mer de Glace and its tributaries!
Mer de Glace
Mer de Glace is a glacier. It means ‘sea of ice’. Its surface is marked by many irregular ridges and deep chasms thus giving the impression of the vast sea which got frozen in an instant of a time, million years ago! But is it really that huge, to be termed as “mer (sea)”, you may ask. For now, the answer is yes.
Originating at an elevation of 2100m at the North face of Mont Blanc, it is 7.5km long with an average depth of 200km (maximum:400km). Its ranges from 700m to 1950m in width. Add to this its tributaries and you get the largest and longest glacier in France. If we consider it from its source to the tongue, it is actually 12 km long. It has been moving at speed of 70 to 90m/year.
Perched at an altitude of 1913m, the glacier lies above the Chamonix valley. Till recently, it was visible from the valley. Climate change has dealt a heavy blow to it. The glacier is shrinking at an alarming rate*. Hotel de Montenvers station was built to reach the glacier by train from the valley. Back then, one could reach the gigantic Mer de Glace from the station itself. Not anymore though. Why? Let’s find out…
Grotte de Glace
Grotte is a French word for cave. Grotte de Glace (cave of ice) is one of its kind tourist attraction at Mer de Glace glacier. It is the only glacier museum in France.
Each summer a new 100m cave is dug in the heart of Mer de Glace, as the glacier keeps moving at a speed of 70 to 90m/year. The cave showcases the ice sculptures that are entertaining and educative. The cave also fills you with information about the glaciers, the impact of climate change on them, and how further loss could be prevented. One needs to descend about 500+ steps to reach the cave after taking the gondola connecting Hotel de Montenvers station. This is a striking reminder to be responsible toward nature. However, breathtaking views of the Les Drus and Les Grandes Jorasses mountain peaks provide the saving grace.
Today I want to stop here with a question for you to ponder… are we doing enough to save nature?
*To learn more about the impact of climate change on the Mer de Glace glacier, click here
Click here for posts so far in the “Exploring l’Hexagone” series