We headed to Chamonix by train this morning from Switzerland. We intended to visit the ice cave as well as take the aerial tram up to the approximately 12,600 foot tall Aiguille du Midi. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do all those things due to some unanticipated closures but still had a good time. We’ll have to come back to experience what we missed as well as other summer activities that weren’t available due to it being at the very end of the summer activity season.
After arriving at the Chamonix Mont-Blanc station, we crossed the tracks using a pedestrian bridge. We got our first look at the mountains from above the rails. It isn’t really clear which one is Mont Blanc. We think it is probably obscured by clouds, behind the tallest looking tree at the very left. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem very obvious which one it is when viewed from this direction.
Looking back towards the town of Chamonix before continuing across the bridge.
The station for the train that goes up to Montvers is on the other side of the bridge. There are some historic steam locomotives next to the station. These previously ran this route.
We were able to occasionally see the town of Chamonix as the train climbed up the mountain.
There were quite a few tight turns on the route. The train is only two cars long so despite the curves it is difficult to get a photo with much of the train in it. Unfortunately, the right side of the train is a bit harder to photograph from when going up. The left side has better views of the mountains on the opposite side of Chamonix as well as the town of Chamonix.
Upon reaching Montvers, we planned on taking a look around before riding the gondola down to the start of the “trail” to the ice cave below. The trail seems like it is essentially a metal walkway down the side of a cliff with 500 stairs. Unfortunately, it turns out that the ice cave was closed for the day. And as today is the last day before some required maintenance, it will be closed for awhile. So no ice cave for us.
Montvers is above the Mer de Glace, or sea of ice. It a glacier that is the combined output of many other glaciers. Unfortunately, the sun was in this direction during our visit and there was construction equipment obscuring the view. This entire area is being renovated and redesigned with a planned completion date in 2025.
As the ice cave was closed, we decided to spend some time walking around the Montvers area.
There is a hotel right where the railway begins its steep descent down to Chamonix.
A short path leads to the other side of the mountain with a view of the mountains to the north of Chamonix.
A nice view of Dent du Géant, or Giant’s Tooth. The name is pretty self explanatory upon seeing it!
There is a hiking trail that goes up the mountain behind the Montvers station. It begins by the hotel. We decided to hike the trail for a bit as we now had some extra time. We got a nice clear view of the Dent du Géant from the initial portion of the trail.
The mountains north of Chamonix from the trail.
We decided to hike just far enough to go beyond the construction equipment that was blocking the view of the Mer de Glace. We found a nice big flat rock area to sit on. Unfortunately, the sun was still there making photography of the overall scene more difficult.
We heard a helicopter and noticed it hovering over what appeared to be a structure on one of the mountains on the opposite side of the Mer de Glace. We switched to the telephoto lens to take a closer look. The structure appeared to be encased in snow and ice. It might be one of the many refuges that are present in the area. As for the helicopter, it didn’t do anything interesting other than hover for a bit before moving on.
We also took a close look at the Dent du Géant. Looks like a crazy thing to climb!
Of course, we pointed the lens at some of the other tall mountains that we could see.
Not sure if this is just a bunch of snow or another glacier.
We eventually decided it was time to go back down as we had more to do! On the way, we took this photo of the Dent du Géant, again, though with a construction crane visible in the frame.
And, again, looking to the mountains on the other side of Chamonix.
Finally, back to the hotel!
The path that runs from the hotel to the train station is next to the tracks. These trains are cog trains, they use a rack and pinion system to allow the train to climb and descend steep grades. The rack in the middle of the rails is clearly visible here. These sorts of trains are very common in the European Alps.
The station area at Montvers. There is the closed gondola station as well as a large viewing deck and a little gift shop and restaurant.
Time to go back down!
This time, we sat on the opposite side of the train!
Plan de l’Aiguille
After arriving back at Chamonix, we walked to the aerial tram station. When we bought our day pass at the start of the day, the saleswoman told us that the tram to Aiguille du Midi was down for maintenance. We decided to buy a day pass and take the risk of the tram still being disabled for the rest of the day.
Upon reaching the aerial tram station, we noticed these beautiful red trees! Fall colors are just starting to appear in the area and these, along with a few others that are around this station, were the only bright red trees that we saw! The brightest one of all was actually on the far side of the station.
We saw something that said Aiguille du Midi was still closed but there seemed to be people entering the tram station building. We decided to go in and queue with the people already there. We saw one group enter a tram and go up. Eventually, it was our turn to enter as well.
Then we heard an announcement that Aiguille du Midi was closed. We weren’t sure what would happen but stayed in the station along with everyone else. After a short wait, they let us in and away we went.
The aerial tram windows were pretty terrible for photography. The glass was in good condition but they placed plastic, or perhaps plexiglass, on the glass to protect it.
Upon reaching Plan de l’Aiguille, we figured out that the second tram up to Aiguille du Midi was closed. At least we made it half way! We saw some maintenance personnel working atop the tram that was at the lower station. They seemed to be removing ice in addition to doing whatever it is was they were doing.
The upper tram station at Aiguille du Midi is visible in the photo at the top of the tall pointy mountain. There are actually two tram stations up there along with a tunnel in the mountain and an elevator that goes to the very tip of Aiguille du Midi. The other station leads to Italy. Unfortunately, that connection stopped for the summer season already.
We decided to take the short hike to the Lac Bleu, or Blue Lake. It is somewhere in this general direction.
The view changed rapidly as clouds moved in and out.
While clear skies are of course beautiful, the presence of clouds is pretty nice too!
The trail was pretty rocky with many ups and downs. Not particularity easy when hiking while still recovering from ACL surgery. Even after hiking for awhile, it didn’t seem like we really made it anywhere!
Sometimes, we could see the town of Chamonix down in the valley below us.
We eventually reached some snow!
There was some water on and near the trail in a few places. But no lake visible anywhere.
The tram station looks further away now.
For more of our hike, Aiguille du Midi was obscured by clouds. Every once in awhile, it came into view.
Finally, the lake! It was more of an emerald color than blue though. We were also starting to get a bit of shade from the clouds above us. The weather was slowly getting worse.
We got a bit of sun again! After seeing some clouds coming up the valley, we quickly walked over to get a better view of the lake. Very beautiful!
There were a few individuals who decided to take a quick swim in the lake. It must have been ridiculously cold! None of them stayed in for long, perhaps a minute at most!
We started hiking back as the weather was getting worse. Luckily, it seemed to be just clouds. No rain.
It got pretty cloudy at times! It was impossible to see very far. This was the only real snowy portion of the trail. Luckily, the snow was slushy and not too slippery.
We didn’t stay encased in cloud for long!
We could even see Chamonix again!
The tram station is supposed to be somewhere in front of us… Luckily, the trail is marked with yellow markers. One is visible on the large stone on the right.
More of the valley became visible again.
Finally, the tram station was visible again!
One last scene before we became encased in clouds again. We returned to the tram station and took the next one down after resting on a bench for awhile. We didn’t take any photos on the tram as we didn’t get a place directly next to the windows.
After arriving back in Chamonix, we went to eat at a restaurant in town. On the way, we passed over this river full of glacial runoff! The fine glacial silt gives it this unique color.
This building on the left had an interesting mural painted on it!
After eating, we walked through town on our way to the Chamonix Mont-Blanc train station to return to Switzerland.
Is that another glacier running down one of the mountains?
We returned to the station in time for the 6:28 departure. A end of a great day at Chamonix!