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After a visit to the Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m (12,605 ft), we descended by cable car half way to the Plan de l’Aiguille at about 2,300m (7,600 ft) to start our hike. The destination is the Montenvers-Mer de Glace mountain train station at 1,913m (6,276 ft). According to the official guide, this nature trail also known as the Grand Balcon Nord is of Diffculty Level 1 (easiest) and the estimated completion time is 2 hours 15 minutes. This is a view of the Massif des Aiguilles Rouge (Red Needles) across the valley.  (Sue:  that information is provided from people who hike to people who hike.  For people like me who hike once in a blue moon, difficulty level is mostly 1 with one little mountain that’s level 1,000 – good heavens, that was a real pain in the…umm…butt.  The completion time is about 3 hours and some minutes.)

Started our walk at 2pm, we first descended for about 10 minutes from the cable car landing to Refuge de Plan du l’Aiguille – which is a little house sitting prominently alone on an exposed point overlooking Chamonix. Someone lives there permanently I believe and it sold food and drinks. It had a green inflatable water storage unit which looked like a massive cushion or water bed from a distance.

View across the valley including the town of Chamonix where we are staying.

The trail traverses the sides of the Aiguilles de Chamonix and lies just above the tree line. The vegetation was mostly stunted shrubs, moss and lichen.  It must be a popular trail as we saw a lot of people mostly coming from the other side.

Because there were no trees at this altitude,  the views were unobstructed across the valley.

Looking back towards our starting point; one can just make out the Refuge du Plan du l’Aiguille

Now one can see more clearly the Refuge.

Met a hang-glider in midair.  We waved at each other.

Our destination is the train station at Montenvers (1913 m) from which we were planning to catch a mountain train back to Chamonix.

View of the hotel/restaurant from the trail – in fact, a red train is just visible amongst the evergreen trees.

View towards Aiguille des Grands Montets and Glacier du Nant Blanc – just above the Mer de Glace.

Along the way, there was a series of steep switchback leading up to Signal Forbes at 2,198m (7,211 ft ).  This section was a tough hike, truly aerobic exercise.  At this point, we had been on the trail for 3 hours.

Someone has been building this stone walls using piles of rock. Chamonix in the background below.

View of Aiguille vert (4122 m) from Signal Forbes.  This place was stunning as it afforded a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains, the valley, and a massive glacier just beneath you.

View of the Mer de Glace and Aiguille du Tacul, Aiguille du Plan, as we were descending from Signal Forbes.

After a scenic but longer-than-expected descent to le Montenvers, we found the place deserted.  Oops !  (Sue:  Oops!  No, it was more like crap!  But that’s not the word we used if you know what I mean.)  We did not know the time table and apparently the last train to Chamonix departed 10 minutes before we got there.  Since we did not expect to start so late in the day, we did not bother to check.

Stranded at 1900m, we were tired after 3+ hours of walking, and with no water.  As far as we could tell, there were no roads, no taxi, except the mountain train which left 10 minutes earlier. The adventure had just begun.  (Sue:  did y’all not see the movie The Blair Witch Project??  Except, we didn’t even have water because we drank it all right before arriving at the stupid train station thinking that we were done with walking.  Lord love a duck.)

We had to walk down to Chamonix (about 1o00m).  As we did not have a high res map of the area and although we followed the trail, we were not 100% sure that it would take us back to Chamonix. So we just walked – then we saw the sign, we were only about 2 hours 30 minutes from town !  Thankfully, we were not the only people stranded and met several small groups on this trail.  We leapfrogged each other as we rested and continued our descent.  We passed another refuge but it was closed – we were thirsty.

We crossed the train tracks twice on our way down and there were tunnels. I contemplated following the train track but it was electrified and what if there were tunnels – should we enter the tunnel even though the train stopped running?  The tunnels can be long and of course dark, duh. The danger outweighed the benefit of knowing that the train track would guide us back into town. The downhill trail was steep and very rocky.  We had to race down the mountain as the sun was setting behind the peaks and the valley was getting shady quickly.  We also descended below the tree line and we were surrounded by dense vegetation. It would be rather dangerous if it was dark.

We descended more than 1000m in the next 3 hours !  Going downhill is easy on your lungs but very hard on your knees and ankles. By the time we reached civilization, it turned out only to be the top of a ski slope and a tobaggan ride.  More walking. When we reached the bottom of the ski run, the couple in front of us on the trail were climbing over a metal gate.  The facility was closed for the summer, hence locked. We could barely stand and we had to climb over a stupid gate ?  (Sue:  I just stood there looking at the closed gate and thought : you have GOT to be effing kidding me!) Fortunately, we tried another gate nearby and it was not locked !  What a relief that was, we laughed and you have to see our faces. (Sue:  it was more like delirium.)  We reached town before dark but I missed my spa appointment. No taxi can be found nearby, so we had a quick pasta dinner (ordered and finished 2 liters of bottled water) at a restaurant in the town center and walked home slowly afterwards.  (Sue:  Chris says “walked” but I say limped.  After sitting down for dinner, my knees wouldn’t work.)

When we crawled into town, the smallest step or slope looked daunting as we did not want to use those parts of our legs.   Well, it was a memorable adventure – 6 hours of hiking in total and in 3 hours descended 1000 m.

The satellite map below shows the area we hiked.  The two blue square icons on the mountain roughly marked our start and end points (from bottom of map to top). The white streak to the right is the Mer de Glace. From there, we hiked down the mountain to Chamonix – the ski slope is just visible next to the word Blanc on the map.



  1. Wow..what an adventure! But I bet all those amazing sceneries worth it!haha.

  2. good story chris….glad you made it back!

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