Mont Blanc and Mer de Glace Part 2

LINKS to other pages in the Annecy and Mont Blanc website and to the Travelling Days series:

1 : Introduction and Index
2 : Setting Out
3 : Beaune
4 : Annecy
5 : Mont Blanc and Mer de Glace
6 : Aix-les-Bains and Lac du Bourget
7 : Homeward Bound
8 : Paris


Montenvers Railway or 'Chemin de fer du Montenvers' is a mountain railway line running from a connection with the SNCF in Chamonix to the Hotel de Montenvers station (altitude 1913 metres or 6276 ft) at the Mer de Glace.

The line is 5.1 kilometres (3.2miles) long and has a rail gauge of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3½ in). It is a rack and adhesion railway, using the Strub design to overcome a height difference of 871 m (2858 ft).

Except for the terminal stations, which are operated in adhesion mode, the line has a gradient varying from 11% to 22% and is equipped with rack rail. The line is electrified using a 11000 volt and 50 Hz overhead line. The service is provided by 6 electric railcars as well as 3 diesel locomotives. Trains run at between 14 to 20 kilometres per hour and each journey takes 20 minutes.

The line is operated by the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc which also manages the Mont Blanc Tramway and many ski lifts in the Mont Blanc region. The first section of the line opened in 1908 and the line was completed in 1909. The line was worked by steam locomotives until it was electrified in 1953. one of the first locomotives is preserved at the station and is pictured below.

On 25th August 1927, the locomotive derailed on one of the viaducts killing 15 people and injuring 40 others.




    "All Aboard !"......



The train arrives at Montenvers Station and it is only a few metres walk to the restaurant platform overlooking the Mer de Glace (below).


The restaurant platform attached to the side of the cliff overlooking the glacier (left) and a view of a waterfall on the opposite side of the valley (below).


A cable car provides access to the glacier (left).


The Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is 7 kilometres long and 200 metres deep and is the longest glacier in France. Its origin is 2,400 metres above sea level where it is fed by the confluence of Glacier du Géant, Glacier de Lechaud and Cascade du Talèfre, north of Mont Tacul, and it descends to 1,400 metres. The flow is north-north-west between Aiguille du Moine on the east and Trélaporte on the west. It was once easily visible from Chamonix, but has been shrinking and is now barely visible from below.

The Mer de Glace, like all glaciers, is constantly renewed through the effect of two phenomena: accumulation, notably due to snowfall, and ablation, essentially due to melting. The Mer de Glace flows permanently under the effect of its own weight. As soon as the tensions within the glacier intensify, the glacier becomes deformed and crevasses appear. These are notably transversal.

The glacier's speed, although not perceptible to the naked eye, is considerable. From more than 120 metres a year in its upper part, the Mer de Glace moves about 90 metres per year in the region of Montenvers, which is about one centimeter per hour.

John Tyndall explored the glacial tributaries feeding Mer de Glace in 1857. In the 18th and 19th centuries the glacier descended all the way down to the hamlet of Les Bois where it was known as Glacier des Bois. At that time the river Arveyron emerged from the glacier under a grotto-like vault (grotte d'Arveyron) and attracted painters and later, photographers. Joseph Mallord William Turner's "Source of the Arveron in the Valley of Chamouni Savoy",for example, was painted in 1816. The position of the front end of the glacier fluctuated over the years but its maximum extent was reached in the mid 1800s.

Because of the rapid glacier movement each year a new tunnel into the glacier has to be made for tourists. The entrances made in previous years can be seen to the left of the picture below.


A crowd of tourists is visible standing on the glacier (right).


View towards the origin of the glacier (left)........


.......and below Montenvers(right).


A museum of crystals discovered locally is situated close to the station at Montenvers (above).
The visit to Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi continues on the next page.