Explore an Ice Grotto
Snaking, cracking, shimmering a brilliant blue in places and revealing mystical frosts in others, the Mer de Glace displays nature in all its force. France’s longest glacier stretches 4.3 miles and is over 650 feet deep. Quite literally a sea of ice, this mammoth wonder continues to move under its own weight; its surfaces break up, crevasses appear, and pointed columns of ice known as seracs burst from the surface. Though this glacier still amazes the senses, it’s slowly being decimated by climate change: In 1988, you only had to climb down only three steps to reach the ice grotto, which is carved out every spring, inside the glacier; now, the ice has receded so much you have to tackle 430 steps.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
It's Melting Fast, So See It While You Can!
All environmental debates aside, this amazing glacier really is melting, and melting fast. As you walk down to it from the pathway above, there are signs with years written on them, and as you descend to where the glacier now is, you see where the glacier used to be ... and it's sobering. Still, there it is, and it's well worth the train ride from town (just a 20-minute ride on a tourist train that's quite cute and fun) to get to it. Once at the end of the train line, you can choose to hike down to the glacier on fairly easy paths (sturdy walking shoes are more than sufficient) or you can take a gondola down if walking isn't your thing. Once down at the bottom, you will find the entrance to the ice cave. They call it a grotto. It's quite something. You get the sense that you're inside the glacier itself. After your walk down, which, if you aren't especially fit as I am not, your thighs will have remarked upon in stern terms, you can then choose to take the gondola back up or walk if you like the exercise. You have choices. Back at the top, try the restaurant, which has old-school French mountain fare and both indoor and outdoor seating. The food was excellent, the price acceptable, and the sipping of wine with friends while surrounded by Alps on all sides just so invigorating. If you are pressed for time but need a quick nosh, you can grab a quick something at the cafeteria right at the train station. The hot chocolate is excellent.
Cable Car to Mer de Glace Ice Grotto
You can take this cable car to the Ice Grotto and then explore from there. The cable car leaves from Montenvers; a funicular railway takes you there from Chamonix. Great hiking summer and winter, cross-country skiing for the very fit.
By Robin Simon
Mer de Glace, 74400 Chamonix, France