Mer de Glace Ice Climbing


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1 day

Maximum Ratio
4 climbers per guide

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Alps Advice

Matt Croy on the Mer de Glace.

The Mer de Glace is the lower section of a group of large glaciers flowing down from the high alpine valley in the heart of the Mont Blanc Massif. These glaciers, all with various names, merge at about 2100 meters, and snake down between the high peaks of the Grepon and Charmoz to the west and Les Drus and l'Aiguille Verte to the east.

The ice walls of the lower glacier have long been use as the local "École de Glace". Even those not so interested in the "école" part are drawn to descend from the viewpoint of Montenvers simply to hike up this immense river of ice. It is a spectacular setting.

The approach to the Mer de Glace begins with a ride on the cog railway up to Montenvers. There is an old hotel here (great lunch!) and the jumping off point for all sorts of alpine adventures. A popular hike leads from the mid-station of the Aiguille du Midi across to Montenvers, under the tower peaks of the Chamonix Aiguilles.

From Montenvers, easy trails lead quickly to the ladders. With the retreat of the glacier, these ladder sections have become longer and longer, as the edge of the glacier melts back a little bit every year. The glacier has thinned over 70 meters in the last 20 years, resulting in another 200 feet of ladder construction. Once down the ladders, we crampon up and hike up-glacier to our training spot.

Because the glacier changes from year to year, the exact spot for the best practice walls also changes. In recent years, the best area seems be about 1.5 to 2 km up the glacier.

At the end of our day, we walk back down glacier, climb back up the ladders, and ride the train back into Chamonix.

Typically the skills we cover include cramponing, both flat-foot technique as well as front-pointing, use of the ice axe and screw placement. We normally set up top ropes on the longer and steeper walls.

Looking up the Mer de Glace
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First steps on steep ice.


The Mer de Glace is suitable for everyone. You don't need previous climbing experience to reach the glacier. In fact, many hikers stroll up the glacier to view the ice walls and moulin (where streams of surface water plunge into seemingly bottomless black holes – think Samuel Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan!).

Crampons are usually necessary for the walk up the glacier to the practice area, it is ice, after all. But for most folks new to climbing, it is the ladders that are the most memorable. With children and adults with a modicum of bravado, we often rope up for the ladders, "just to be sure..."


None. You'll need only an adventurous spirit and a head for heights for the ladders.

The Grand Flambeau, Aiguille d'Entrèves, and Tour Ronde above the Géant Icefall,
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The ladders on the approach to the Mer de Glace
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Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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All images, layout and text ©2015 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved

The Mer de Glace, seen from Montenvers
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