Our last day in Chamonix started with bright spring sunshine and stayed that way all day. We were very pleased since our plans included going back into the nearby mountains for some high altitude Adventures.
This time our mode of transport was a cog wheel train that took us up 2,900 feet of altitude in about 20 minutes. It was the Chamonix valley’s first tourist attraction, opened in 1908. Steam engines were replaced with the electric ones we used in the 1950s.
We’d spied this bright red train climbing along the side of the mountain yesterday so it was good to see back to town on our way up this morning. Visibility was much improved versus two days ago so our cameras were clicking wildly at the views.
The Montenvers rail line was built to take visitors to the Mer de Glace or the ‘Sea of Ice’. At 7.5 km long and 660 ft deep, this is the largest glacier in France and second largest in the Alps. It used to be very visible from Chamonix but since the mid-19th century has been shrinking. This photo from 1909 shows the terminal station for our train with the glacier snaking through the valley just to the left.
Today, we arrived at that same station (with a gift shop addition) and the glacier is still on the left, but several hundred feet down into the valley.
We enjoyed the spectacular views after we left the train.
Then we started our decent – first via a short cable car ride and then by about 400 steps down to the ice.
Tiffany had visited the Mer de Glace in 1988 and remembered descending less than 100 steps after the cable car, they posted a helpful sign from about where she would have stopped.
The hillsides exposed by the receding glacier are gravel-like so they fall and cover much of the glacier’s surface. We were a little disappointed it wasn’t blue and white ice like glaciers are in photos. But we kept going down down down.
Our reward for making the trek was an ice cave carved into the glacier. The cave is a significant tourist draw for summer crowds. They carve it new every year because the glacier moves at least 200 feet annually. Today was the first day of the ice cave season so we were lucky the weather was on our side.
The tunnels of the cave were about 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide – all smooth ice. It must have been made by heat torches.
Inside were sculptures in the ice. A polar bear and even some furnishings. The kids thought that it was awesome. So did the parents.
Inside we finally got our blue ice – it was really cool.
After our trek back up the steps we continued to soak in the views and enjoy the sunshine and then eventually caught the train down to Chamonix.
Once we got back to town we grabbed some lunch and enjoyed the weather some more. We spent the rest of the day enjoying clear sunny views of Mont Blanc.