Glaciers in the Alpes are the remnants of the last Glacial Period, which roughly encompassed the period of 115000 years ago till 11500 years ago. Since the end of the Glacial Period the ice has been in continual retreat and only in high mountain ranges the ice still survives. Each year they grow a little in winter and melt a lot in summer, an overall they become smaller and smaller each year. Because of the global warming of the last decades the decline of the last glaciers goes faster and faster. Somewhere in the next 100 years or so, all the glaciers left in the Alpes will have melted and with them the source of a lot of the streams and cascades in the Alpes. Generally the Alpes will be a far dryer place than they are now. How that will effect nature and human sociology is anyone's guess.
In the present however, glaciers still remain. Generally they exist high up in the mountains and are difficult to reach. One has to climb up to around 3000 meters to have a chance of reaching one. There are however exceptions, and Glacier de la Meije, in the mountains near La Grave is one of them. And not because the glacier can be found at an lower altitude than other glaciers, but because in the 70's of the previous century a cable car was build to reach the glacier at an altitude of 3211 metres. The first half of it was finished in 1975 and brings one to a station at 2400 metres. The second half was finished in 1978 and brings one to the glacier at 3211 metres. There are even plans to build a third section to reach the Dome de la Lauze at an altitude of 3600 metres.
One of the things on our 'other-things-to-do-than-hiking'-list was to take the cable cars and visit the Glacier de la Meije. It feels a bit like cheating to get that high up in the mountains without hardly any effort at all, but it is a fascinating experience nonetheless and it helps placate the children. It is of course an option to take the cable cars on the way up and to walk back down again. However, with the express purpose to make it an easy day for the children (and for ourselfes, of course) we went up and down with the cable cars. Easy come, easy go.
The grandiosity of that world of ice and rock is difficult to capture in pictures. Even though the present glacier is but a glimpse of what is once was, the sheer mass of ice is incredible to fathom. It flows like a frozen river from the heighest top of the mountains to the valley below. It's crevices, cracks and large ledges give it the impression of a turbulent river frozen in midaction. Yet, on a sunny clear day as it was when we were there, it is also a world of great tranquility and beauty.
The glaring white of the ice and snow, make the rocks in contrast seem like painted in ominous black.
The upper parts of the glacier are in use for saying areas for the experienced. A ski lift leads the even higher parts of the glacier than the 3200 metres we were at. That lift is only in use in the winter months though.
A small part of the glacier is made safe to walk on for the casual visitor. Anyone who wants to go further does so fir his own risk and is advised to bring the proper gear, experience or a guide. As said, the glacier is full of crevices, often hidden under snow. And once you've fallen into such a crevice, it is virtually impossible to get put again. It is a beautiful world to see, yet a world full of hidden, deadly dangers.
Without proper precautions it is not so easy come, easy go at all.
Yet it is a fascinating world to look at and to wander a little around in. This high up, the view is magnificent. You can see the Vernon's in the South, and in the North East you can even see the Mont Blanc, some 100 kilometres away (in the next picture the tiny white dot in the range of mountains, a little left from the middle).
Probably this river of frozen turmoil will be there during my life time. It is a bit sad that future generations will only know it from stories, pictures and movies.
(All images were made by me)