It Just Got Easier to Visit a Vanishing Glacier. Is That a Good Thing?

Claude Folmer was about 40 years old the first time he visited the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in the French Alps. He remembers enjoying the panoramic view from the observation platform, then taking a short hike down to the ice, where he toured the ice cave that’s carved into the glacier’s surface.

Four decades later, on a mild, sunny morning in early February, Mr. Folmer — now 80 and accompanied by his adult son, Alain — was taking in a view of the same glacier. He was shocked by the change.

“The difference is enormous. The glacier used to be just below,” Mr. Folmer said, gesturing to the gravel-covered river of ice that now lies more than 800 vertical feet below the viewing platform. “For someone who doesn’t know how it used to be, it’s a beautiful scene. But when you know the difference, it really is sad,” he said.

Mr. Folmer, who lives near the French city of Albertville, traveled by train to Chamonix, the mountain town from which visitors can easily visit the glacier. He and his son happened to be there on the opening day of a gondola that transports visitors between the viewing platform and the ice below. The Folmers weren’t aware of the new lift — which replaces an older gondola built in 1988 — but when they learned of the news, neither was pleased.

“At some point, you have to leave the glacier alone,” the younger Mr. Folmer said. “There’s big machinery being installed. Where will it stop?”

Tourists gather on the observation deck overlooking the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in the French Alps, and one that has been dramatically affected by climate change.Credit…Darren S. Higgins for The New York Times

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