A spectacular loop from Argentière (near Chamonix) up to the even more spectacular Lac Blanc in the Aiguilles Rouges National Reserve, which features a stunning alpine backdrop.
The stunning Lac Blanc can be accessed relatively easily from the top of the Téléphérique de La Flégère cable car – which makes it a popular and busy destination. Ascending from the town of Argentière (about 9km north of Chamonix) is a longer route, but avoids most of the crowds and makes a very scenic circular walk. From Argentière, the Chemin des Grands Bois starts ascending immediately up the side of the valley, through tall and shaded pine forest.
The views get better as the path ascends: looking out to the east is the town of Argentière below, and the foot of the Glacier d’Argentière. The glacier, one of the largest within the Mont Blanc massif, has receded significantly (shrinking 1000m between 1870 and 1967, and currently receding by about 1.5m per annum). Above the glacier is the imposing summit of Aiguille du Chardonnet (3,824m).
Looking south towards Chamonix is Le Lavancher, a small town to the north of Chamonix. Above is a glimpse of the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”), the the longest and largest glacier in France (when you include its tributaries) at 7.5km in length and 200m wide). Above the valley are the peaks just below Mont Blanc – the Aiguille du Grepon, Aiguille du Plan and Aiguille du Midi.
As the path ascends it crosses the Grand Balcon Sud, which is part of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Below us and next to the Grand Balcon Sud track is the Chalets des Cheserys (1,998m) mountain hut. Behind the The Mer de Glace (glacier) is the Grandes Jorasses (4208m), a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif which is on the boundary between Haute-Savoie in France and Aosta Valley in Italy.
A little further, on the track starts to flatten a little, as it crosses a stream that flows down from Lac Blanc.
There’s a picture-perfect panorama looking across the valley to the Aiguille Verte (4,122m), Grandes Jorasses (4208m) and the Aiguilles de Chamonix.
The path then ascends gradually at first and then more steeply up the side of the valley. Just before reaching Lac Blanc and marked by a tall cairn (as well as official signage) is a junction with the track to La Flégère – the easier route to Lac Blanc from the top of the cable car.
We finally reach Lac Blanc (2,352m), after climbing about 1,100m from Argentière. Behind the lake is the north balcony of the Aiguilles Rouges, with the Aiguille du Belvédère on the left (the highest peak in the Aiguilles Rouges at 2,965m) and on the right the Aiguille de Lac Blanc (2,921m) and Aiguille de la Tête Plate (2,944m). Between them is the Col de Belvédère (you can continue up to the pass, which at 2,780m would be a fairly arduous one-day walk, but feasible from La Flégère).
It’s a stunningly picturesque mountain lake, regarded as one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the region. The reason for its popularity is obvious when you look at the view towards the south…
The lake frames an incredible panorama of the whole Mont Blanc mountain range, from the Aiguille Verte (4,122m) on the left, to the Grandes Jorasses (4,208m) in the middle and the Aiguilles de Chamonix and Mont-Blanc (4,808m) to the right.
Situated above the lake to the east is the Refuge du Lac Blanc. The mountain hut sleeps 40 people in dormitories (bookings essential), providing breakfast and dinner for guests as well as lunch and light refreshments for day-trippers.
From Lac Blanc, we’re descending via a different route, which heads to the Lacs des Chéserys and Tré le Champ.
We’re soon descending towards the first of the Lacs des Chéserys (there are a total of six alpine lakes).
The lake also reflects the surrounding scenery and peaks – from behind the lakes you can get similar a vista to Lac Blanc. We only pass along the front of the first lake, with the jagged Aiguilles Rouges (“Red Needles”) behind us.
The track passes above another of the lakes as is descends fairly gradually across the side of the valley.
The area is home to a large number of ibex (wild goats), referred to locally as bouquetin, as well as chamois – we spot a couple of chamois munching on low shrubs on the way down.
About a kilometre after the Lacs des Chéserys the path reaches the Tête aux Vents (2,127m), and starts descending very steeply…
Steps, ladders and chains are used to help with the almost vertical descent down the rocky crag.
After one last steep drop via a ladder, we reach the Aiguillette d’Argentière; the 50m high monolith is a popular climbing destination.
We’re then back in the pine forest for the final three kilomeres down to Argentière (for the the last kilometre we’re on the same track that we took on the way up).
0.0km Argentière - start of Chemin des Grands Bois (1,256m)
1.2km Junction with trail to Tré le Champ
4.0km Trail crosses Grand Balcon Sud (1,994m)
5.8km Junction with trail to La Flégèr
6.1km Lac Blanc and Refuge du Lac Blanc (2,352m)
6.9km Lacs des Chéserys (2,213m(
7.6km Tête aux Vents (2,127m)
8.5km Aiguillette d'Argentière (1,893m)
|Location||Argentière (about 9km north of Chamonix)|
|Grade||Moderate/Hard. 1,120m total ascent.|
|Season/s||May to October (depending on snow pack)|
|Map/s||AllTrails interactive topographical map
Swiss Topo interactive topographical map