The Montenvers Glacier or Mer de Glace resides below the peak of Mont Blanc and is accessible via railcar from Chamonix, France.
While snow and storms prevented a trip to the peak of Mont Blanc, we found the Montenvers railway still running, taking us over the giant mountain and through the fog to the socked-in mountain railway station. From there we took a five minute gondola down to a viewing platform where the glacier below became visible. From that platform it was another 485 steps down to the glacier itself and the caves carved into the ice.
Every year the number of steps from the platform to the glacier increases as the glacier shrinks in size. On the rocks along the steps there are signs indicating the height of the glacier in previous years and as you descend, you begin to comprehend the massive amount of ice melt that has occurred in the last 20 years and continues to accelerate. Yet the glacier is still so massive and so heavy that it moves 300 feet a year, more than a foot per day during the summer.
The glacier expanded rapidly during the Little Ice Age that lasted from the 16th to 19th century and even extended all the way into the Chamonix Valley. The glacier was a large source of tourism for Chamonix with painters, poets, historians and scientists flocking to one of the world’s easiest accessible glaciers.
Visiting the glacier today is still pretty cool. Even in the cold rain and fog the massive sheet of ice was overwhelming in size. And there’s a fantastic Glaciorium nearby (the best Glaciorium I’ve ever seen) that explains the formation and life-cycles of glaciers. But the descent to the man-made ice caves is what makes the trip so memorable. The carved out entrance gives you the opportunity to stare into the clear blue ice and see just how solid it is and within seconds you are suddenly in a small cave completely surrounded by glacier.
But moments later the serene and awe-inspiring is replaced with electronic music and colorful flashing tube lights and you realize that although you’re in a completely unreal enviroment, you’re still in Europe.