The Gorner Glacier revisited

Anyone who has visited Zermatt and travelled up to Rotenboden or Gornergrat on the Gornergratbahn will have seen the Gorner Glacier, even if they didn’t know it’s name. It’s the second largest glacial mass in the European Alps after the mighty Aletsch Glacier.


The Gorner Glacier, Monte Rosa (Lt), Liskamm – centre

It stretches for nearly nine miles, firstly as the combination of the Gorner and Grenz glaciers that flow either side of Monte Rosa; and progressively it is joined by a number of tributary glaciers. I’ve written about this Glacier before, click here to visit an earlier post.


Three tributary glaciers, from Lt: Schwarze, Breithorn, Triftji

We have an idealistic view of glaciers as ribbons of white – and indeed in winter this is what they may look like, but in summer the reality is very different. As the surface snow melts, the bare ice of the glacier is revealed, riven by giant slits or crevasses. These occur principally where the ice is subjected to uneven stress: where there is a change of direction, and most commonly when there is a sudden change in the slope of the underlying terrain.


Crevasses in the upper Grenz Glacier. Liskamm centre frame

The warmth of a summer’s day melts the surface of the ice: some of this melt water flows across the surface of the ice creating channels, which become deeper with time. Some of the melt water funnels deep into the interior of the glacier. Research into the Gorner Glacier has found vertical shafts as much as 65 ft deep into vast caves deep within the ice. Click here to see the article. A few weeks ago I posted a close-up image of the glacier showing a small glacial lake and giant holes punched in the surface of the ice. click here to view.

When you look closely at the surface of the Gorner Glacier it is possible to identify a recurring pattern of surface markings.

_DS70306These are I presume created by melt water over a period of years as the glacier slowly moves downwards. The repetition is quite noticeable.

_DS70308This final image shows a number of features. Firstly the deep channels burrowed into the ice by melt water. In places there are likely to be deep sink holes, obvious ones in the image can be seen at the right edge. You can see the stratification in the ice walls of these scooped out hollows – each layer like a tree’s annular rings – each stratum represents a significant snowfall. The surface of the glacier is pock-marked by ice that has been through countless freeze/melt cycles. You will find often that each pock mark contains a rock fragment that has concentrated the warmth of the sun and accelerated local melting. Finally the snow is yellowed in places – a combination of wind-blown local dust and also snowfall that was coloured yellow when it fell because it was carrying Saharan dust.

Finally, I must mention Glacial retreat. I first saw this glacier over fifty years ago and somewhere, but I can’t find them currently, I have the postcards from that visit. There has been clearly visible fundamental retreat of this glacier. Perhaps the most obvious is the drop in width and height. The route to the Monte Rosa hut even twenty-five years ago across the glacier was straightforward: a path from Rotenboden led down to the edge of the glacier. Now the surface level of the glacier has dropped considerably and the final descent to the glacier is only possible with the use of ladders.

About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'.
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23 Responses to The Gorner Glacier revisited

  1. Wow, very impressive Andy! Amazing place 🙂


  2. oneowner says:

    Beautiful photos and interesting read about glaciers, Andy.


  3. Fantastic images Andy. I love the first one excellent leading lines.


  4. says:

    Man that is amazing !!!


  5. I didn’t know anything about the Gorner Glacier – but judging by your photos it’s quite an amazing glacier. Well, any glacier is really a fascinating animal, in my mind. As always you have captured some stunning images, Andy.


  6. Mike says:

    I have put my winter coat on. Nicely done, Andy.


  7. John Linn says:

    I love these images… makes me want to return to this extraordinary area again.

    I have always been fascinated by glaciers… what appears to be inanimate objects actually move! Of course there really is no mystery… they are frozen rivers and rivers move, Yet the slo-mo of tons of ice does not seem to logical especially when they are capable of gouging out the earth and rock.


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks John. The forces at work in a glacier are beyond our imagination. There’s another post to come about the glaciation of the landscape crated by this glacier. Might get that done next week


  8. What an absolutely wonderful image, Andy!


  9. Well, after I saw the first one and commented, I came to the blog. WOW. They’re all fantastic. I am particularly taken with the last one. And, of course, you always write so interestingly about the places. Thanks for a real treat! 🙂


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, George. Glaciers are extraordinary and very foreign to most people, which is why it’s good to share a little of my experience and knowledge of them.


  10. Chillbrook says:

    Fascinating post Andy. These beasties have carved such wonderful landscapes in their time. The forces at work are mind-boggling. Smashing photos as always.


  11. Len says:

    This is absolutely a killer place to shoot Andy. Your images are stunning (my favorite is the first).


  12. Jim Nix says:

    those are just gorgeous Andy, nicely done!


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