Glaciers: Going Going…

 

I went hiking this summer above Ferpècle in the Val d’Hérens to look at the Ferpècle and Mont Miné Glaciers. These are situated in grandiose scenery, with the mighty Dent Blanche towering above, yet are also quite easy to get to.

Mont Miné in the centre. The Mont Miné glacier is to the right, the Ferpècle glacier to the left. In 1960 they were joined together in the foreground

Mont Miné Glacier

I first went to see the Mont Miné glacier almost 15 years ago, and I have been returning frequently ever since. When friends come to stay I like to take them there as its easily accessible and rather special: you can get up close and touch the ice, watch the surface movement, and witness the shaping of the earth.

The sign at the end of the road indicates that the glacier is a 25 minutes walk away, though its more like 45 minutes now. According to this record, the glacier retreated 600m from 1989 to 2011. Its lost almost 200m since then.

Every year someone has helpfully been spray painting the location of the mouth of the glacier on a rock. Its now both scary and sad to see the retreat happening year on year – currently somewhere between 5m and 50m.

The 2010 mark, with the 2011 mark on the big rock 20m further on. The mouth of the glacier is hidden
Picture taken 20th August 2017 from the November 2016 marker point. The river is emerging from the mouth of the glacier

High above, there is an icefall where the upper part of the glacier is constantly breaking off, feeding the lower part. Whilst I was there several chunks cleaved off, creating a sound similar to thunder as the ice fell onto the glacier below.

But it won’t be enough – hot summers and poor snowfall are taking their toll. I chipped off a piece of ice to suck on and cool down, contributing further to its retreat.

The Mont Miné Glacier from across the valley. The upper part is feeding the lower part with ice

Ferpècle Glacier

Next I hiked up to see the Ferpècle glacier. In September 2015 a hole opened up in the glacier as it collapsed in on itself, and I went up there to take these photos.

Picture taken 12th September 2015
Picture taken 12th September 2015

I was intrigued to see what had happened since. At that time the hole was some distance back from the mouth, but by August 2017 it now formed the mouth. The thickness of the glacier has also shrunk, with rocks now visible further up. All in two years.

Picture taken 20th August 2017

The upper parts of glaciers across Switzerland are also suffering. According to a recent article in the Valaisan newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, mountain huts with access across glaciers are suffering a big fall off in visitors as it is getting more dangerous to cross the glaciers as crevasses open up.

For those interested in more information on these glaciers, and photos from further back in time, see here.

 

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