When the rest of group spent the second full day boarding at Lognan – les Grands Montets (3295m) Argentiere, I was getting a lesson on glaciers and witnessing the affects of global warming first hand. At 7km long and 200m deep, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is the largest glacier in France, one of seven major glaciers in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, and is one of the biggest attractions in the Chamonix Valley.
How to get to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice)
To access the Mer de Glace and the ice cave, take the little red vintage train from Gare de Montenvers (train station) in the Chamonix town center to the foot of the glacier at an altitude of 1,913m.
The train ticket is €31 and includes a return train journey, the cable-car at the top, and access to the ice cave.
Shrinking ice in a change of climate
Having melted and shrunk so fast in recent years, the glacier is also the most visible symbol in France of climate change. To access the ice cave and penetrate the glacier, visitors descend halfway in a cable care and then climb 440 steep steps each way to get there – many more than the just three steps it took in 1988. The experience is literally breath-taking – think aching knees and a major cardio workout.
The Ice Cave
A small cable car allows visitors to descend from the train station onto the Mer de Glace glacier where they can enter a man made ice grotto. The ice grotto is cut into the living glacier.
The grotto has to be dug out every summer since the glacier moves about 70m every year.
Ice sculptures and caves are inside, under the glacier. And, the Gallery of Crystals features a collection of the finest crystal specimens in the Mont Blanc massif.
A lesson in glaciers
The Glaciorium features an entire exhibition dedicated to glaciology, with interactive and educational presentations all about glaciers, how they form, their history. It also answers questions related to climate and the environment.
Lunch with a view
When the clouds are at bay, the Grand Hotel du Montenvers is the perfect spot for lunch with a panoramic view of the valley below. The hotel was built in 1880 and features a large historic dinning room with roaring fires.
Bar des Glaciers et la Boutique du Montenvers is a fast food cafe and souvenir shop that offers a more budget-friendly lunch option.
On a good day, the Grand Hotel du Montenvers offers visitors free snowshoe loans so they can enjoy the snowshoe circuits (easy to difficult) through the forest. Depending on the conditions, the circuits are groomed and signposted every morning.
Sadly, on the day I visited, the cable-car was shut because of the wind, the ice cave was closed, and the dense cloud and snow caused a whiteout so that I was unable to see the famous glacier and panoramic view of the valley below. But I did get to learn about glaciers at the Glaciorium!