Literally a sea of ice on the Alps’ largest glacier, the Aletschgletscher.
Seeing the Alps Glaciers
Glaciers are without a doubt one of the most spectacular features of the Alps. They are also one of the most clear indicators that climate change is very real. Where they once cascaded down into villages, now the Alps’ glaciers are primarily found very high or hidden in the deepest shadows.
As the very nature of tourism contributes to the problem, it seems hypocritical to recommend that you fly to Europe to see them before they’re gone. But while we are all part of the problem, tourism will continue and people will want to experience these rivers of ice while they still flow through the Alps. Perhaps seeing what is happening will encourage a change in our overall habits.
For mountain sport people, the beauty of the Alps is that these glaciers are relatively easy to access. If you enjoy hiking, mountain running or ski touring, you are going to be able to get up close and personal to these glaciers. This is a collection of images showing some of the better places to see the glaciers, and what is happening to them. The effects that their disappearance has is widespread, from watershed issues, altered weather patterns, erosion, to increased heating and retention. For recreation, the loss is causing access issues to peaks and huts due to terrain changes, erosion and rockfall.
Historical photos of the Alps often show explorers, climbers and even general Alps tourism revolving around the glaciers. There was a clear fascination with these magical forms. Today is not so different, but what will future generations get to see?
For a summary of what may be the most glacier intensive trip in the Alps, visit our Trip : Hiking the Chamonix to Zermatt Summer Glacier Haute Route.
It is highly recommended that you only get close to any glacier with a UIAGM Mountain Guide. Glaciers are deadly; they move, split open, come crashing down, have hidden crevasses and violent water flowing on them. While beautiful, they are full of hazards. Take them seriously.
Maybe no image better demonstrates the problem of melting glaciers than this… The Lauteraar Hut sits almost 250 meters above the glacier it once sat alongside, causing the Swiss Alpine Club to question if the hut is even worth keeping open. The hut is too far above what is left of the glacier for ease of access by hikers. To remedy the problem, a ladder is being installed to directly approach the hut. The hut is barely visible on the top left of the image, above the rock wall which was once within the glacier.
A group of ski tourers stand at the base of the stairs to the Konkordia Hut, on the Aletschgletscher. In the early 1900’s the hut sat just above the glacier, today it is about 150 meters to the base.
Hiking up the Rosegtal above Pontresina, outside the Engadin Valley of Eastern Switzerland, the Tschierva Glacier has left a huge empty space in its retreat up the mountain. The lateral moraines border a river valley now.
From the village of Bettmeralp in the Wallis region of Switzerland, there is a huge network of hiking trails alongside and above the Alps largest glacier, the Aletschgletscher. The glacier is about 23km long and up to 1000 meters deep. These trails offer superb hiking and running through what is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jungfrau Aletsch Region.
Running singletrack trails alongside the Aletschgletscher
Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps at 4808 meters, and it is covered in massive glaciers. One of the best viewpoints is the trail alongside the Glacier des Bossons where, at trail’s end, you go from rock to ice in one step.
Just outside Chamonix, France is the small village of Le Tour where a trail heads up and alongside the Glacier du Tour to the Albert Premier Hut
In Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region, the famous mountain trio of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau reveal the obvious rise in the level of Alps glaciers. Where there was recently ice, there are now slabs of exposed rock.
Hiking on the Aletschgletscher is an otherworldy experience due to the forms that the ice takes from movement and waterflow.
On the Finsteraarhorn Glacier from Switzerland’s Grimsel Pass, hikers sit on top of a rock pedastal stuck in the ice.
Zermatt, Switzerland is primarily known for the mountains rising above town, notably Monte Rosa, but especially the Matterhorn. However, flowing amongst these peaks are the Alps’ ubiquitous rivers of ice. Just west of the Matterhorn is the Stockjigletscher which flows east from the huge ice cap above where several glaciers originate. This glacier is full of frighteningly deep crevasses that are, hopefully, well covered for the spring ski touring season. “hopefully”, because this is also the final glacier for the famous last ski descent into town on the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route.
A serac zone on the Grand Combin’s Glacier de Cobassiere puts things into perspective above two hikers. Switzerland.
A hiker discovers a huge cave of ice on the Glacier de Zinal, outside the village of Zinal, Switzerland
Where glaciers go to die… at the terminus of the Rosenlaui Glacier in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland, above Meiringen.
For fascinating historial images of some of these glaciers, and side by side comparisons of then and now, visit: Gletscher Vergleiche or Gletscher Archiv