Tré la Tête Glacier, return by the gorge
Summer hike
Tré la Tête Glacier, return by the gorge
Les Contamines Montjoie

Tré la Tête Glacier, return by the gorge

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A day loop on different types of terrain for a variety of landscapes, a pleasure to the eye.
From the forest to the edge of the glacier, this hike runs through varied environments which will reveal different aspects of the highest nature reserve in France.

20 points of interest

Mixed mountain forests

In the mountains, landscapes and vegetation change constantly according to altitude. This is called " elevational zonation". Natural areas between an altitude of 800 and 2000 m - depending on the slopes characteristics - are considered as mountain zones, the kingdom of forests...

You can observe beautiful mixed forests, in which coexist deciduous trees, which have their leaves falling in autumn (such as beeches) and evergreen species (such as spruces or firs).

Be discreet and pay attention, you might have the opportunity to hear a Woodpecker or the Hazel Grouse which very difficult to observe!
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the Sycamore Maple

"Sycomore maple for sledges"... A typical expression from Savoie!

This tree can be recognized by its 5 smoothy lobed leaves, as well as by its fruits called ‘samaras’; their forwards bended wings spread them by a helicopter drop!

Some maples have an arche shaped trunk because it grew under the weight of the snow. These were used to make "sledges" which were once used to transport hay in the mountains...
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The Hazel Grouse

It is the smallest and most discreet of the mountain Galliformes species.
It is much less known than the Black Grouse or the Rock Ptarmigan because it lives exclusively in the forest!
But it is as important as the others from a biological and scientific point of view: it is an indicator species of environmental changes. Its specific demands in terms of vegetation and diversity of tree species ask for an adapted forest management. Bad preservation management of this habitats is one of the main causes of regression of the species.
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The Chamois

Its Latin name means "goat of the rocks". This ungulate is a high-level athlete, perfectly adapted to its natural environment: it has pincer-shaped hooves, excellent for rock climbing as well as for carrying its weight on the snow!
When danger overcomes, it can flee on the steepest rocky slopes thanks to this equipments.
And thanks to its cardio-respiratory capacities, this species is able to gain 1000 m of altitude in 15 minutes when a human does it at the average speed of 350 m in 1 hour!
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The Alpine Accentor

This little ball of feathers weighing less than 50 g is a typical bird of alpine habitats.

Present in the mountains all year round between 1800 and 4000 m altitude. It nests in rock holes and comes down to milder altitudes during the winter.

Its diet varies according to the season: it feeds mainly on insects in the summer, seeds in the fall and knows how to take advantage of the resources available around the cabins when winter comes!

It is not very shy, and it is not uncommon to see it come nearby humans.
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The refuge of Tré-la-Tête

This refuge, located at an altitude of 1970 m, has a century long history.

Created in 1907 to welcome mountaineering pioneers, it now brings together all mountain cultures. Alpinists heading for the summits, hikers doing a stopover for the day or on a itinerant journey, this is the location where your paths may cross.

Ideally located, it offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding peaks and the village, settled 900 m lower!
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A glacier and humans

The Tré-la-Tête glacier is a mountaineering spot.

It is indeed surrounded by the mythical peaks of the Mont-Blanc massif such as Dômes de Miage or Aiguille Nord de Tré-la-Tête, the highest point of the nature reserve with an altitude of 3892 m.

It is the crossing point for many classic high mountain or ski mountaineering routes.

Since the end of the nineteenth century this place witnesses the evolution of mountaineering activities.
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A water intake under the glacier

In 1939, engineer Max Waeber achieved a world first by building a water intake under the glacier. This intake is still used to supply an artificial lake (Lac de la Girotte in Beaufortin) for hydroelectric production purposes thanks to a ten kilometers underground tunnel network.

In 2011, the nature reseve, in partnership with EDF, carried out a program to dismantle the industrial infrastructures (dormitories and cable cars)linked to the creation of this water intake.
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The glacier of Tré-la-tête

This giant, whose name means ‘beyond the head’, is the fourth largest French glacier! It is monitored on climate change aspects.

Its health, monitored by the nature Reserve since 2014, is determinated by the volume of ice gained or lost. This is called the mass balance.

8 km long, it spreads its tongue of ice from the mountain pass Infranchissable at the Italian border at 3300m of altitude, to the place where you are standing!
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The Golden Eagle

It is a predator, armed for hunting! Thanks to large and wide wings, it glides high in the sky in search of prey.
His exceptional view can locate groundhogs (his favorite meal), hares, foxes or ptarmigans and sometimes even young chamois or ibexes!

Its brow line provides a natural sun shield when diving to capture its prey. It is fully equipped for these hunting technics, with claws called talons and a powerful, hooked and sharp beak for shredding flesh.
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The belvedere of Combe noire

Enjoy this natural belvedere to catch your breath. But be aware that the rock is slippery and the area unsecured!
You overlook the forest and the hamlet of "Combe Noire". Its name refers to the forest cover composed almost exclusively of dark colored spruces.
From this amazing viewpoint, discover the pastures of La Rollaz crossed by the hiking trail. From the left to the right, you can see Roches rouges, Roches franches, Aiguilles de la Pennaz, Col du Bonhomme, Rocher du Bonhomme and at the end Tête Nord des Fours.
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The Crested Tit

It is a small forest passerine that often lives in the company of its congeners, such as the Black-capped Chickadee or the Willow Tit, because they like the same habitats. Its presence is linked to that of old trees, whether dead wood or aging trees, which are also called "senescent wood". It particularly appreciates softwood forests (spruces, pines and firs). It is a little bundle of energy, lively and in constantly in motion, easy to recognize by its crest. It feeds on small insects, larvae and spiders but also of conifer seeds.
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The waterfall of Combe noire

Take a break on this bridge and enjoy the cool spray from the Combe Noire waterfall. Can you imagine that the glacier of Tré-la-Tête reached this exact location in 1870! Since then, it has lost a few hundred meters but you can still feel its presence through the torrential river which formed impressive sculptures called "giant's pots" by a deafening eroding process of the rock !
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The Sparrowhawk

Like a lightning, a silvery silhouette threads its way silently between the branches, accompanied by the alarm calls of tits and wrens... How lucky you are! You observed the Sparrowhawk!
This small diurnal bird of prey, is common but very discreet. It terrorizes passerines, an order including most songbirds, on which it feeds!

It is a predator using a special ‘surprising’ technic to hunt by flying as close as possible to the rock walls or hidden behind obstacles to startle its prey.
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The Alpine autumn Crocus

It's the end of summer... It's during this season that the Alpine autumn Crocus flowers. Its name refers to Colchis in Greece, the homeland to the enchantress Medea.

This plant contains a very toxic alkaloid: colchicine. According to alchemists, this substance, used in very low doses, would cure rheumatism and acute flares of gout.
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Hay meadows at la Laya

Once mowed and grazed, these natural meadows have slowly evolved into forest since all pastoral activity was abandoned. Shrubs and spruces have gradually colonized these old meadows. This encroachment of open habitats is threatening for certain species such as Golden Oats, appreciated by herds, or Alpine automn Colchic.
Since 2014, the Nature Reserve has carried out brush clearing and later season mowing in order to restore this environment for autumn grazing.
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Small patrimony

The roman bridge

Also called "Pont de la Téna", this structure dates back to Roman times! It is located on the ancient strategic route which made it than possible to reach the valley of la Tarentaise and Italy directly from Les Contamines.

This route, which has become the GR5 since, is a popular tourist destination.

The bridge overlooks the gorges of Bont Nant.

Admire the natural pools that the torrent has shaped slowly but surely!
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The round-leaf Sundew

It is a small carnivorous plant that lives in peat bogs, environments offering few nutrients. Don't worry, it feeds only on insects, which it traps and digests thanks to a sticky substance produced by the red hairs covering its leaves.

It is called "Rossolis or Sundew" because of the scintillation of this substance in the sunlight.

This species is fragile and protected, please do not touch it !
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The bogs at la Rosière

On your left are located the bogs of La Rosière, but be careful, admire them from the trail because these are fragile habitats with high biodiversity!

Originating from the ice age, this wetland was first a depression eroded by the glacier in which the melting ice stagneted. It’s a paradise for carnivorous plants such as Alpine Butterwort or the Round-leaved Sundew...
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The nature reserve

A few steps away from the true entrance to the nature reserve, a panel presenting the issues of this protected and regulated natural space.
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Go up the paved road that runs along the forest.

  1. At the intersection, take the trail on your right signposted "Refuge de Tré-la-Tête".
  2. Turn left on the signposted trail "Tré-la-Tête par les plans".
  3. At the junction, follow the direction of the refuge by the "Chemin Claudius Bernard".
  4. At the refuge, take the trail on the left towards the Glacier de Tré-la-Tête.
  5. You have arrived. The start of the return is by the same trail to the refuge.
  6. At the bifurcation, go down the left path.
  7. Turn left and cross the bridge in front of the waterfall.
  8. Turn right to go down towards Notre-Dame de la Gorge.
  9. Continue on the trail that runs along the torrent.
  10. Keep going on the same trail.
  11. The trail ends here. Go up along the paved road to reach the car park 150m further.
Departure : Parking « Tré la Tête », les Contamines Montjoie
Arrival : Parking Tré la Tête, les Contamines Montjoie
Towns crossed : Les Contamines Montjoie

Altimetric profile


This itinerary runs through a nature reserve, please consult the regulations.


Reach Contamines-Monjoie and at the exit of the village, cross the bridge over the Armancette torrent and follow the signs until the Tré-la-Tête car park.
The parking is located on the left of the road just before the town exit sign.

Access and parking

Reach Contamines-Monjoie and at the exit of the village, cross the Armancette torrent bridge and follow the signs to the Tré-la-Tête parking.
The parking is located on the left of the road just before the town exit sign.

Parking :

Parking Tré la tête

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