Plan de l'Aiguille to le Montenvers - Grand Balcon Nord
Country - France
Region - Haute Savoie (74) - Chamonix Valley
Author - Lou Johnson
Length - 6.5 km / 4.1 miles
Ascent - 150 metres / 495 feet
Descent - 540 metres / 1782 feet
Time - 2.50 hours
The Chamonix Aiguilles dominate the view from the valley with the spectacular cablecar whisking you airily up to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi. The half-way station on the cablecar is Plan de l'Aiguille and this is the starting point for this route. This means the walk can easily be combined with a visit to the summit.
From Plan d'Aiguille the route takes you northeast along the 'Grand Balcon Nord' or the northern balcony path. Undulating around the 2000 metres above sea level mark, this path is a popular route due to the ease of access and the superb views.
The route is signed from the cablecar station and takes you beneath the soaring peaks of the Chamonix Aiguilles to the upper station of the Montenvers electric railway. The start of the route, although signed, is confusing although a look along the mountainside will soon reveal where the path is heading.
In early summer the route is a veritable rock garden with flowers and flowering shrubs providing a dash of colour. Once on the path the route is straightforward as it meanders along the mountainside. Across the valley there are good views of the Aiguilles Rouges with Chamonix in the valley below. Eventually you will reach a junction of paths near to Montenvers. The choice is straight ahead for the direct path to Montenvers station or a right turn for the preferred route over Signal Forbes. Assuming the latter option is taken the path climbs some 150 metres in a series of tight zigzags that make ascent a dream.
At the top of the path you reach a col and your efforts are rewarded with a superb view of the Aiguille Verte (4122 m). You might be tempted to head down into Montenvers but a little more effort will take you to the viewpoint of Signal Forbes from where you can gaze down over the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) far below. For the more adventurous you can climb further along the ridge perhaps gaining some solitude to enjoy the spectacular mountain views.
Things to consider - This can be a busy walk in good weather during the high season. The views are better lit in the afternoon and if you are a keen photographer then this is the time to walk the route. Ensure you leave enough time to catch the last train down to Chamonix from Montenvers. It is a tedious walk if you were intending to take the train! Early and late season may see snow across the path. This walk is perfect for combining with a visit to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi. This is a very busy cablecar in fine weather and an early start might be the best option if you want to miss the crowds.
- Carte de Randonnées "Sheet A1 - Pays due Mont-Blanc" published by Rando Editions. 1:50000 scale - Sheet A1
- Map of Mountain Footpaths in Summer - 1:40000 - Published by the Office de Tourisme
- IGN Carte de Randonnée - Chamonix - Massif de Mont Blanc - 1:25000 Sheet 3630OT
French IGN mapping is available in digital format by area and 'cut your own' maps. For more information and availabilty go to the Anquet website.
Walking in Corsica
This guidebook gives details of three long-distance walking routes in Corsica - Mare e Monti, Mare-Mare Nord and Mare-Mare Sud - which cross the island, and also describes 18 day-walks in prime spots both in the rugged mountains of the interior and the softer southern coastal fringe. Good local information.
The GR20 Corsica
Guidebook to walking the GR20 through Corsica's high mountains. A challenging trail between Calenzana and Conca that includes hands-on scrambling, the 190km trek can be completed by fit walkers in about two weeks. The guidebook includes high and low-level alternatives, plus extra mountain climbs, and all you need to know for this tough route.