Chamonix is renowned for its amazing hiking opportunities for all levels. It doesn’t matter if you are novice, or an expert attempting to reach the summit of the Mont Blanc, you will find the right fit.
As someone of average fitness and hiking experience, I set my sights on the two Grand Balcon trails on the North and South side. Having completed the Grand Balcon du Sud two days earlier (read all about that experience here), I decided to complete the similar trail of the Grand Balcon du Nord two days later. This hike of just under 8km takes about 2.5 hours to complete with a detour through Signal Forbes (2198m). It connects the Plan de L’Aiguille funicular station with the Montenvers train station. It can be completed in either direction, but I recommend walking towards Montenvers for a slight descending elevation.
Visiting l’Aiguille du Midi
This hike connects two of the most popular attractions in Chamonix: the Aiguille du Midi and the Mer de Glace. Too visit both attractions and do the hike in between you will need to get an early start. I began the day by taking the furnicular all the way up to L’Aiguille du Midi before going on the hike. The ride to the top of the mountain is not cheap (66 Euros), but the views more than make up for the cost. L’Aiguille du Midi provides spectacular views of the snowy Mont Blanc mountain and a panorama of the French Alps. You can also ‘step out into the void’ with a glass box the juts out from one of the observation points. Be warned, it gets quite chilly up on top so bring layers to keep warm.
After completing the visit to l’Aiguille du Midi, I headed back down to the midpoint station and set off on the path in the direction of Montenvers. The hike begins with a descent towards the Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille where you can stop for a snack or meal while taking in the landscape. I found the path to be very well labeled and you can see up ahead where the path is heading. The Balcon du Sud had narrower paths with one side giving to a sharp drop off the cliff. By contrast, this trail was much wider and less precarious. As i winded through the mountains, there were small creeks from melting ice and a number of picnic spots to sit in shadow of the looming Alps. Also make sure that you keep glancing back, as the views of the Mont Blanc will be behind you.
Signal Forbes enroute to Montenvers
As I neared the end of the hike, there were two paths to continue to Montenvers. One is a steep descent while the other is a detour to Signal Forbes that has an upwards climb before descending back down slowly to the Mer de Glace. Following the recommendations I had read online, I took the longer, scenic route to the Mer de Glace and was well rewarded. I will admit that when I started the upwards climb I was re-considering my decision. I had to stop and catch my breath a few times. However, after the first few minutes it levelled out and the views were absolutely beautiful.
At the top is a collection large boulders that you cross before following the trail down to the Montenvers train station. Once at Montenvers, you can take the gondola down to see the ice cave. As noted on their website there are 400 steps to reach the ice cave from the gondola. By the time I had completed the hike it was late afternoon and I was too tired to make the trek down.
If you want to combine the two activities than an early start is a must as I mentioned previously. I also heard that in the peak of summer it can get very busy to get onto the gondola, therefore you will need to consider additional waiting time as well. At Montenvers you can continue to hike down back to Chamonix, or take the train (included if you bought a return ticket at L’Aiguille du Midi). I did the latter and was happy to have leisure ride through the forest.
Additional Hiking Tips
For the most part of this hike you are fully exposed, therefore it can get hot and windy at time. Make sure you bring sunscreen and water. As far as footwear, I did both hikes with my road running shoes and managed fine. As always before heading out check the weather as sudden changes are common and verify for any trail closures with the Chamoniarde (link here).