After our sensational ride up to the top of Aiguille du Midi, it was time to board the gondola and head back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m/7,602 ft) for our afternoon hike. The day before we had hiked to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we wanted to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.
We boarded the gondola at Aiguille du Midi and were taken down in roughly ten minutes to a much more pleasant temperature. It was freezing up top at Aiguille du Midi as we were mostly covered in the clouds with a fierce wind blowing off the peak of Mont Blanc. I am glad we weren’t strapping on a pair of crampons and hiking up there!
The clouds had finally lifted and the sky was as blue as can be. It was going to be quite a hike!
Once we got off, we headed along the well-marked Grand Balcon Nord trail which zigzags along a rocky path affording exceptional views of the entire Mont Blanc Valley.
We walked for about two hours admiring the views until we reached the trail sign where we had to the option to take Le Signal for another 30 minutes up to catch a view of the Mer de Glace from above. We had heard that the hike was worth the extra effort and after we did it we agreed.
It had been many years since I had last seen the Mer de Glace and the first thing I noticed was the dramatic change in its size. Like most glaciers on this planet, the Mer de Glace has been receding rapidly and tragically you can see the remains of where it once flowed. My 14-year-old son was so upset he didn’t even want to get his picture taken by it. It was still of course magnificent yet I too felt a deep sadness at seeing how much the “Sea of Ice” had shrunk over the years.
I still had to pose for a photo while my son and father hiked ahead. I remember being at this exact same spot when I was a mere 13-years-old on my first trip to Europe. If only I had a photo to show how much this view and myself have changed.
When we reached the Montenvers station, we were too tired to keep hiking down to Chamonix. Instead, we used our pass to take the train down. Visions of riding this exact same train up to the Mer de Glace decades ago and again decades later with my husband flashed before my mind. I sure hope a glacier remains for future generations to see. Only time will tell.
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