Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Chamonix ~Traversée de la Mer de Glace

I rarely add this, on image to enlarge (because it's worth it!).

As we bid goodbye to autumn and settle in for the snoozes and surprises that winter brings I thought this old postcard would get us used to looking at (or for) snow in the days ahead:

Chamonix. Traversee de la Mer de Glace (Crossing the Sea of Ice)
The Mer de Glace, the Ice Cave and the Montenvers Train are one of the biggest attractions in the Chamonix valley. The Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in France, 7kms long and 200m deep. In the winter, thousands of skiers follow the glacier down to the Montenvers Railway station after skiing the famous "Vallee Blanche".

To access the Mer de Glace and the Ice Cave in Chamonix, you should take the little train of the Montenvers. The Montenvers train leaves from Chamonix town center (Gare du Montenvers). 
Brief Chamonix History

In 1741 two Englishmen, Windham and Pococke, discovered the 'Chamouny' valley and its glaciers. Their expedition was met by a rural population of mountain farmers. This community lived off animal husbandry and a sparse harvest of oats and rye.

Windham and Pococke explored the valley and visited the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). The stories of their exploits, published in literary journals throughout Europe, started a craze to find out more about Chamonix. . .[Source:]

Also from, here is a new video "snow report" dated Dec. 13, 2011, shot at the Grands Montets valley of Chamonix Mont Blanc.  It is one of the most natural ski videos I've ever seen.

(Video runs 1:32)

This is a panorama view that will give you an idea of the proximity of the Mer de Glace (in the old postcard) to Mont Blanc (in the video).  Mer de Glace is almost center, Mont Blanc over to the right.

I acquired the gorgeous panorama from another website featuring the wonders of the area,, which is where the following background information comes from:
Chamonix offers exceptional viewpoints, which can be reached either by use of the lifts or the hiking trails. The different panoramas are situated along the length and breadth of the valley, in the heart of the Mont-Blanc and Aiguilles Rouges mountain ranges. An extraordinary panoramic trip, accessible to all. Just a few minutes cable travel or a few hours on foot for the hardy and you will find yourselves immersed in the beauty of this majestic site.
Mont Blanc

The “roof of Europe”, the world’s third-ranking most visited natural area, continues to attract millions of visitors and thousands of mountaineers every year. Conquering Mont Blanc is a dream shared by many amateur mountaineers and enthusiasts. This dream is possible as long as one does not underestimate the apparently easy slopes of this legendary mountain.

The last measurements of Mont Blanc: September 2009
New measurements of Mont Blanc’s altitude: 4810.45 m, unfailing stability!

According to the measurements taken in September 2007, Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps and Western Europe, had an altitude of 4810.90 metres, i.e., an increase of 2.15 metres in relation to 2005 – a record altitude since the first GPS measurements in 2001. On 12 & 13 September 2009, Haute-Savoie’s land surveyors performed the 5th operation for measuring the altitude of the roof of Europe, as part of Annecy’s candidature for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
According to the first analyses performed, Mont Blanc measures exactly 4,810.45 m, and the volume of ice above 4,800 m is 21,626 m3. Due to the prevailing winds, the summit has moved 26m to the East (following the axis of the top ridge), towards Italy.

Glaciers in the Chamonix Valley
Covering a surface area of 125 km2, the glaciers are omnipresent in the Chamonix valley and contribute to the outstanding beauty of the site. Since time memorial, these ice giants have inspired fear, incredulity and admiration.

The Mer de Glace

« A sea, stirred by a strong breeze, then suddenly frozen to ice » Windham (1741)
The Mer de Glace is one of the worlds most visited natural sites. This enthusiasm began in the 18th century when wealthy and learned travellers, in quest of discovery and knowledge, began to show an interest in the glaciers and in particular this unique spot. Since 1908 the Montenvers-Mer de Glace cog railway enables enthusiastic visitors to follow in the footsteps of those illustrious pioneers: Rousseau, Hugo, Nodier, Sand, Goethe, Shelley, Liszt and so many more...

The ice grotto: takes you into the heart of the glacier where you may discover the astounding colour of the ice, beautiful carvings and models in period clothing, witness to bygone mountain life, as if frozen in time. Every year (and for the past 50 years) a new grotto is meticulously sculpted in the ice as the previous work of art is slowly but surely transported down the valley by the glacier.

Have a beautiful and safe winter, Everyone.



Don't Feed The Pixies said...

The picture in your postcard reminded me that we have recently passed the centenery of Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. It's ironic that Scott, who was woefully underprepared and unprofessional remains more famous than Roald Amundson - who actually made it.

"In 1741 two Englishmen, Windham and Pococke, discovered the 'Chamouny' valley and its glaciers." - this reminded me of a Terry Pratchett quote where he said that effectively the locals had been discovering the valley on an almost daily basis for hundreds of years, but of course they didn't count because they weren't explorers :)

Love the postcard and love the post

Kim said...

I don't like the physical activity that this journey would entail, but the views would be totally worth it. :)

mythopolis said...

I notice the climber is not on rope assist...just depending on his ice pick and likely spiked crampons on his boots. It would be a long slide down if he slipped!

hedgewitch said...

Just fascinating, Lydia. (The idea that they recarve the grotto every year, in particular.)There are lots of tales of 'lost valleys' in the Himalayas and so forth, but this is the first I've heard of one in the heart of Europe. Really enjoyed the journey over the sea of ice.

Anonymous said...

beautiful! I wonder how this glacier is responding to climate change. I've always wanted to visit a glacier...

David hilson said...

Postcard photo reminds me that we recently passed centenary doomed expedition of Captain Scott's South Pole.

postcard printing and mailing

susan said...

The scenes and particularly the old postcard are very beautiful. I must admit to preferring to visit snow rather than having to live with it for the better part of three months.

Owen said...

Amazing postcard, and so much information here I'm wondering if you are planning a trip to Chamonix ??? It's a beautiful destination, I camped there once for a week, and hiked up to the Mer de Glace, the blue in the ice cave is out of this world...

Thanks for the memories, and happiest of holidays Lydia, I've been a bit absent, but the crazy time is almost over... I hope.

Lydia said...

Pixies~ Good point regarding the irony on Scott getting the fame (a later comment mentioned Scott also). You make me wonder if I might have missed a good documentary on the expedition on public broadcasting...I will go to the website to see.
That Terry Pratchett quote is perfect! Thanks. :)

Kim~ For those of us not into scaling icy slices into the sky, the train trip does sound like a lovely idea!

mythopolis~ I know! What nerve he had! I could barely detect a very serious expression on his face when I enlarged it....glad he was paying attention. :)

hedgewitch~ I enjoyed the journey with you! The info about carving the grotto yearly was outstanding in my mind as well. Thank you for visiting OPW and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

Amber Lee~ Your question certainly came to my mind when I was selecting material. But I decided to not even look in that direction, and to instead check out info later if I think about it. And I probably will think about it the next time there is news on our Glacier National Park's shrinking glaciers.

David hilson~ Yes, you and the first commenter both thought of that and I thank you for the topical and timely reference. Appreciate your visit.

Susan~ Three months...yes, I guess that is how long you have to live with it. No wonder you say you'd rather visit. Do not despair, Susan. If you come back to Oregon for a visit I promise to take you to lunch at Timberline!

Owen~ Such fun,,,I just left your blog (had a marvelous time there) and then came to mine and here was your fun comment. Am I planning on a trip to Chamonix? Oh. I. Wish.
Alas, no, but I loved this postcard when i saw it for sale and now knowing about your trip there it seems all the more special. Thanks for sharing about it and the sweetest of holidays to you, too, Owen.

Chalet Rental Chamonix said...

A unique write-up! Thank your for letting us know how old postcards began.



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