Mer de Glace and its ice grotto…

I have been very fortunate to have been able to see glaciers several times in my life. Had always wanted to see one when I was studying Geography … waaay back … in Secondary 1 (or was it in Secondary 2?). But didn’t get to see one… not until I was in my early 30s, when I visited New Zealand. In fact, I got to see 2 glaciers at the same time…Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. I think this is what the Chinese would say….double happiness!! hehehe….They were beautiful and I was happy that my dream of seeing glaciers and fjord was finally realized in New Zealand.

But… never did I expect that I would have the opportunity to see more glaciers after that. But saw them I did… after I met the hubby. With him… I got to see the equally impressive Aletsch and Les Diablerets glaciers in Switzerland and of course… the famous Mer de Glace, in France. The last time we visited the Mer de Glace was in 2004….so that makes it 7 years ago lah. Wahhh… times flies, no?

Okay, here’s some tiny bit of info about Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). It was originally known as Glacier des Bois. But the name was changed after two Englishmen came to Chamonix in 1741 and climbed up to the glacier. One of them by the name of  Wyndham, then described the glacier that they saw as “a sea, stirred by a strong breeze, then suddenly frozen to ice”. And since then the name “Sea of Ice” has remained until today.

Now…..Mer de Glace is not the only glacier in the Chamonix valley (there are a few)… but.. it is THE largest (and in the whole of France, too!))… about  7km long and 200m deep…and of course, the most famous. According to the Chamonix website, it is the fastest moving glacier and also one reacting most rapidly to climate change. And in this other website that I read, it was said that “until the late 19th century, the Mer de Glace was visible from Chamonix”. But every year it shrinks. And…it has shrunk so much… that we now have to take the rack-rail train to Le Montenvers (and pay 25 Euros) in order to see it!

But still… it was worth it, to pay that much to see it. After all, this place has inspired so many writers, painters and poets. In fact, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) actually wrote the story in 1818….2 years after she visited Le Montenvers and the Mer de Glace. In the story….Mer de Glace and the ice grotto was mentioned. (I supposed I will have to try to read the book itself to find this out for myself lah!!)

Hmmmm…given the current problem of global warming which is unlikely to be resolved any time soon…one cannot help but wonder how much longer some of these glaciers would last. But while they are still around….should you have the opportunity to visit…I would encourage you to do so!

But if you really cannot…..well…never mind lah… you can just enjoy these photos of Mer de Glace…that the hubby and I took… 🙂

The Montenvers train station which is about 3 – 5 mins walk from the Chamonix Mont-Blanc station (you can click here for the previous entry on Chamonix town) . The ticketing booth is outside… but to get on to the train… you have to go in through the station. The train schedule is the white and blue board that you see in between the two doors.

The rack-rail train of Mer de Glace as it looked from outside….(soooo red!)

and as it looked inside…on that very sunny afternoon!

a view of the Chamonix valley as we made our way up to Le Montenvers station…

located at the foot of Mer de Glace.

And then ….

voilà! …

the mysterious Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice)….

the viewing platform at Le Montenvers…

the view taken further up from near the train station and restaurant-café area. You can see how tiny one is (the group of people on the right side of the photo) against the majestic Sea of Ice…

Although I might not look so tiny, here 🙂

Les Drus mountains…as seen across…  from the restaurant-café.

An open museum is located just beside the railway station and the restaurant-café … showing photos of the valley and the people who helped to build the area and the infrastructure in the old days. Quite interesting.

And then, after we had our fill of taking photos of the Mer de Glace (especially since the hubby’s camera had gone kaput while he was busy taking photos 🙂 )… and a tour of the pictorial museum, we decided to make our down to the ice grotto.

But….not until after we had a cup of hot drinks at the restaurant-café. Well….actually we went to the restaurant-café because we were hoping to find a socket where we can re-charge the battery for hubby’s camera (unfortunately their electrical outlet is not the same as in Switzerland). We also wanted to rest the camera and keep them warm …hoping that they would work after the short rest in the warm café.

Well, mine did, thankfully….but not the hubby’s … 🙂

The cable car station a few metres away from the train station…… it’s a free ride since the price of the cable car is already included in the train ticket…

Only two cable cars making their way, each time…but each cable car can fit up to 15 passengers… (or maybe less if some of them are carrying their skies and snowboards!!) It’s a standing only, by the way…

The station below where we got off. Err… is not quite at the bottom of the glacier nor near to the ice grotto.

One still have to walk down several flight of stairs….to reach the entrance to the ice grotto!! This basically means that the ice grotto is out of bound for those who are physically challenged… unfortunately.

Going down to the Ice grotto

Yours truly….all smiley…making her way down to the ice grotto…at the foot of the glacier.

The same cannot be said…when making her way up… after visiting the ice grotto!!! hehehe…. Had to stop several times to catch her breath before finally making it back to the cable car station!! Aiyoh…..why can’t they have escalators, huh???

See….how far down one has to walk down the flight of stairs??

But the view is beautiful, no? And noticed the group of people on the left of the entrance to the ice grotto? Errr….they were not visitors to the ice grotto but…

were skiers who had skied down the glacier. The ice grotto is the end of the ski track…where from here they, too, have to make their way up the flight of stairs to the cable car station to go back to the Le Montenvers train station…where they can take the train back to Chamonix. Can you imagine how tough it is for these skiers…having to carry all their skiing gears, not to mention the fatigue after doing the sport….having to make their way up the stairs? I don’t envy them…

The ice grotto somehow seemed much smaller than I remembered when the hubby and I visited it, 7 years ago. But I guess it’s understandable because the ice grotto does not remain the same. It had to be re-dug and re-carved every year due to the movement of the glacier.

Inside the ice grotto, Mer de Glace

Going through the ice grotto….

dug into the heart of the glacier.

Nice colour…of the ice….no? They have some exhibits inside the ice grotto to showcase the life of the mountaineers in the early 19th century.

The tools they use to  carve out the ice grotto, every year…which unfortunately is a bit blur lah!

Looking out towards the entrance….from inside the ice grotto.

Not forgetting….another attraction near Le Montenvers… which is also free…

… the Galerie des Cristaux (Crystals Gallery).

Crystals gallery, Le Montenvers

The entrance to the Crystals Gallery. This is not a crystal mine….

but a museum carved into the mountain showcasing the collections of crystals and semi precious stones which are  found from du Massif Mont Blanc area…

Very pweety lah…… 🙂

Other entries on glaciers on this blog:


5 thoughts on “Mer de Glace and its ice grotto…

  1. Pingback: Saddened by the inexorable death of these Alpine giants « à la mode de chez nous

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