The Station des Glaciers is a very prominent building in an open location on the north-facing mountainside just above Chamonix. Once noticed it seems to attract your attention and you keep spying it from many different places. It is an old, no longer used, lift station; I have previously written about it in a blog post and have intended to visit for years. Motivated by friends J&C, who raved about the walk just days before, I just had to give it a go.
The Mont Blanc Tunnel is intimately linked to the walk because a car park, directly by the tunnel entrance, provides a convenient starting point and the walking route follows almost exactly the same line as the tunnel; you are essentially walking on the top of the tunnel, and the traffic noise diminishes and grows as you ascend/descend and provides a motivational prompt during a fairly demanding walk.
I parked just before the tunnel entrance proper, on a track marked Cerro; a buvette over the Les Bossons glacier. I had to walk back down the track from this car park to join the road and cross the bridge over the Creuse torrent to find, on my left, a finger post indicating “Para 1 hour, Des Glaciers 3 hour”. For a short while the path goes along the bank of the impressive torrent ravine but soon enters the forest and zig-zags steeply upwards. The path in the woods goes between two streams; a small one on your left and the torrent on your right. As the sound of traffic diminishes and you zig-zag, the sounds of the torrent roar and the gentler mountain stream alternate. You pass twisted metal remnants and some ruined walls but there is little to marvel at on this first stretch up to Para. There is one viewpoint, over the ravine, that confirms you are climbing a steep path but otherwise it is heads down, concentrating on safely negotiating boulders and tree roots. Just before you reach Para you might glimpse the building through the trees above you giving added impetus.
But by then you are virtually there.
Station de la Para is now a forlorn building with a cable car hanging on the cable in the station. seemingly ready to depart upwards.
The building stands, slowly falling apart and slowly being invaded by surrounding vegetation. There is one good view back down into the valley and the spectacle of this old building is noteworthy. But in truth, Para does not provide an adequate reward for the effort needed to climb there.
After a short break I set off once again, steeply up, in trees, on zig-zags. It was mid-September and with clear overnight skies it was definitely chilly so I was not surprised to find frost on foliage and, higher up, small patches of ice on the path. Some tall ice crystals had small pebbles perched on the top; no idea how that happens. At the very top there was more ice on stream margins and frozen puddles.
Thankfully, the trees quickly become less dense and views open out and there are ample remains of pylon poles and buildings so the path is much more interesting than previously.
The path criss-crosses under the power and lift cables still present. There are no path markers but there is really only one path to follow on the ground. Views become majestic and finally. in open rocky country just after passing an avalanche cannon. the Les Glaciers buildings are spotted. Despite this encouragement to arrive I had to stop and dwell over the sight of Les Bossons glacier.
I had my Smartphone monitoring this walk and it took me 2hour 29 mins from my car to the top. I walked a distance of 3.63km and climbed 1,200m. I was not trying to move especially quickly but was pleased to have made the climb rather faster than various guide times, including the finger post at the road. (As might be expected I was down rather quicker in 1hour 40 minutes.)
Les Glaciers is a collection of buildings seemingly in various states of abandonment. The top station building linked to Para also has a cable car at the ready in its entrance. It also looks to have a newish metal roof so it appears as though it is being maintained. There is a curious sloping topped structure with what looks like a railway truck base on it pointing upwards towards the Cosmiques Refuge. Presumably this is the base for the lift used to assist in the construction and maintenance of that building. There are also some completely abandoned and semi-derelict buildings that might have been offices, workshops or buvettes possibly.
Views from this place are exceptional and nicely complemented by the remains as I hope my pictures show, although pictures are a poor alternative to being there!
This is a stiff but, I think, worthwhile walk. It has inspired me to investigate the history of this lift system more. I know that the lift opened for the public in 1924 and closed in 1951 but I am curious about more detail. So watch this space!