Chamonix: Red wine, huts and inspiring landscapes had been the essence of this unforgettable splitboard touring week at the maybe best known skiing resort of France.
Like at any splitboard touring week fine powder, little frequented routes and untracked descents had been on our wishlist. Just before the departure we contacted our friedns in Chamonix to check the current situation. Yes, it had recently snowed but the wind with more than 100 km/h had displaced or pressed the beloved white stuff. Now it is time to make the best of the situation and use our knowledge to find good touring even at shitty conditions. But anyway when we go splitboarding we always have great and unforgettable moments ;-)
Sunday evening we arrived in Chamonix, eat a french Pizza, talk shortly about our plans and of we go to the land of dreams, even if we are already there.
The next morning we wake up full of motivation heading to the cable car of Grands Montets. From here we want to ride down the Rognons Glacier to ascent via the Argentière Glacier to the Argentière Hut. Cheaper than expected the lift ticket was just €24.50 and after about two hours we had reached the summit of Grands Montets. Two hours for a cable car ride? We would have been faster skinning. True, but the ascent to the Argentière Hut leads through the ski area and the gondola when working smoothly arrives in just 20 minutes. As always splitboarders need a bit longer. So we began our first touring day, waiting at a cable car. There was no door signal and accordingly, no trip to the summit of Grands Montets. Some back and forth, unscrewing the "gondola electronics" and then it goes on. At noon we ride in shadows on icy and in the sun on wonderful spring snow just to the starting point to ascent to the hut. Impressed by the glaciers we split comfortably over the glacier, take some photos and after a while we sit down in front of the hut, sunbathing.
At the Argentiere Glacier
Bea the cheerful warden checks our documents (Alpine Clup Certificates) in accordance with regulations at the check-in. Then she introduces us personally to the life at Argentière Hut. Our Splitboards are stored outdoors, or in a small anteroom where ski tourers also can leave their material. Boots and safety stuff (ropes, harnesses, carabiners, ...) so the entire "Christmas tree accessories" can be kept in the first antechamber. Then, the second room is for the backpacks and in the dormitory we are just allowed to take the personal things like the stripped-down toilet bag and camera stuff. For the guides there is a private, not quite fragrant drying room. On the high-alpine French huts there is no water in the winter season, only the fine drops of drinking water for 5-7 Euros the bottle. Some people have a stove and melt snow. For us it was important not to spend the whole evenings melting snow but to sit with other mountain enthusiasts to talk about touring options, experiences and to check the conditions. Fred, the landlord can provide information, knows the conditions well and was felt by us, contrary to some rumors, as very friendly, even when he looks sometimes a bit grim. After a moderate dinner a bottle of wine and water we straight jump in the bed to be fit for our first route. The night was great, no snorers and the room only half full, we never expected that at Easter time. Well, the breakfast next morning was poor. Instant coffee and tea, cornflakes, bread with jam and that was all, enough for a tour day at the Argentière? No! But fortunately we have the excellent home made power bars from Aick. As always with our route selections we are a little shy and so we start at 7:00 am to the Col des Cristaux. Perfect, just the four of us, although it is a steep wall classics in Chamonix. All others go to the classic tours (names and figures below).
In concrete hard snow we flounder from the cottage to the moraine, positively thinking we are happy about low risk of avalanches. We continue with the boards in hike-mode, gently rising above the Argentière Glacier towards the east and after about one hour we reach the upswing to the Bergschrund. Hmm, looks constantly steep and the morning sun is already here soften the snow for us so that we can enjoy a pleasant descent. The announcement of Fred was that the weather will hold only until noon, so we keep an eye on the not yet existing clouds and start the ascent. The rope we let down, because where we can ride, we don`t need a rope and also Bergschrund is reasonably friendly on this sunny day. Boards on the back, crampons, the ice axes in the hand and off we go. Step by step we climb upwards. We arrive at a few rocks and think, above the rocks, we will have a snack to thereafter reach the summit. Think again, the steady incline of the Col des Cristaux reveals no breakfast space, so we keep on an take turns bootpacking up and further up. The field pulls apart and at 11:15 we say OK, time's up. Annoying, because we lack about 50 altimeters to the summit, but we don't care because the conditions already are hard and when the shadow of the cliff comes in the snow will quickly be transformed into ice, and this will be dangerous. I am building a platform to strap in, stow the crampons, take the ice axe (even when it is just a mental ancor) in the hand and start the quite technical descent, not at powder but with solid hardpack, honestly the 400 HM had been a good challenge, to ride it clean.
Col Des Cristaux
At the bottom we meet four other people who want to start the ascent at about 12:00, we tell them how it went and they start the ascent. The shadow moves further in and we think our part. On the way back to the cabin we find a beautiful crevasse and make a few exercises in crevasse rescue before we ascend back to the hut. So, now we are optimally prepared for the week, meanwhile, the helicopter had brought new food and we expect a delicious dinner. While we were served a good three-course bolognese menu Aick, the vegetarian of the crew, was getting great tuna pasta ;-).
In the evening the usual, we are talking with other mountaineers, ice climbers and ski mountaineers, exchange our experiences and inform us about the next days weather. Gust of wind up to 100 km/h is predicted. Not what we wanted because our plan was to do a longer route. Well let's see what the weather will be tomorrow. The crew who wanted to climb Col Des Cristaux after us had canceled because the shadow was coming in. Sometimes the early worm escapes the bird.
Good morning, it has 100 km/h wind speed and you can already see long snowdrift at the ridges and also in the protected area of the glacier basin you can feel it. Nevertheless, we are on the way - towards the Col du Chardonnet passing the Aiguille d`Argentière. At the junction, we decide to do a hike at the Rognons glacier with ropes and crampons to improve our Glacier Skills and remove the dust. Said and done, after crossing the Argentiere glacier we stand at the foot of Rognons. Here we go, and we ascent through crevasses and seracs. Every time I cross over from solid ice to maybe a crevasse, I have many different thoughts in my mind because it is the first time that we are in this group constellation.
Cool Like Ice
The clouds come up and up and we are preparing for a descent in Whiteout, checking the direction, mentally orient ourselfs at landmarks, in case of some visibility and watch the height ... we remember the Mullerhutte at New Year's Eve and cannot resist a grin. Suddenly the wind changes and there can be a chance that the dense clouds remain in the valley, yet we gather again. This time, secured with a screw at an ice tower, below us a perhaps 100 meters deep crevasse and about one meter in front of us a block of ice on which we can walk and stand, of course, it is used to feel more comfortable. We don’t want to risk, so we turn around and get to a safe place from where we strap in and ride the beautiful Argentiere glacier, toward Grands Montets valley. As soon as we reach the end of the glacier, we are forced to take a break to enjoy the beauty and to take a few pictures. When the mountain speaks to you ... take a break and listen.
We take the time, we are already close to the skiing area and even if the wether “whites out” we will get back savely. Anyway the predicted weather change doesn`t take place and we enjoy a great photsession and a good run down the slope almost straight to our cars.
Next stopp is the supermarket, tasty baguettes to go, because those should be particularly good in France ;-), a few cheeses, ham and wine something for dessert and of course an appetizer. Now we go to a viewpoint, not a classic tourist panoramic spot, but a place where we see potential Lines, and where we can philosophize about the accessibility. In short we enjoy late lunch outdoors, with beautiful and windy weather.
It is Wednesday and we had planned to meet the guys from Plum Splitboards, but Tal was unavailable. So a bit more free time and what is better after a few long touring days than going to the pool or the sauna? We head on to the direction Refuge Conscrits, which will be our next destination. While driving we pass a public swimming pool. This should give us a special experience. No Gangbang Party, but it will remain in our memories, because in this swimming pool no board shorts are allowed "only tight pants, Speedo Style". Almost shocked, we are faced with the friendly lady at the entrance, which shows us a machine in which there is a small but unwearable selection of tight pants and bikinis. With 10 € for swimming pool and sauna admission the price is low but with additional 15 € for the sexy tight pants the price turns into not beeing economic. Short time thinking and then we go to the car and get our merino and Calvin Klein "swimwear". The lady at the entry asks incredulous "These are swimming shorts?" and with a resounding “YES, tight pants Speedo Style” we get in. Maybe you can imagine how funny the whole situation was, if not, go and try, it's worth it.
Only Tight Pants Speedo Style
Meanwhile, we are clean and the sauna was good for us. A pasta menu prepared in the Splitboarding-Van, and we fall asleep. The route to Conscrits hut is not particularly difficult but relatively far. In the morning at about 8:00 o’clock we start at the car park in Le Cugnon Go at approximately 1150 meters. Early afternoon we reach the Tré la Tête hut at 1971 M, eat a tasty chocolate cake and around 15:00 we sit with a super delicious omelette and a few drinks on the terrace of Refuge Conscrits. Overall, we have needed solid 7 hours but stress-free and with breaks. The setting is mega and the touring possibilities enormously, with corresponding conditions you can find everything the splitboarders heart needs to keep on pumping. Touring possibilities at all expositions and at the exposure you like.
The food is not cheap but good. Now we have our first "Down Day", a day with bad weather. No matter, we just get out and walk around towards Aiguille de la Bérangère. Just before the last uphill to the summit, we quit, because the clouds are getting thicker and the ascent will not be very tasty. Ice water troughs of previous warm days. At 9:30 AM we are back at the cottage again and relax all day long. Hard to imagine that the weather should be sunny tomorrow, because now you can hardly see your hands in front of your face. We are preparing for the traverse of Dômes de Miage to Armancette Glacier, not difficult, but a nice exposed ridge to cross and huge crevasses on the way down. At bad weather and without local knowledge it will not be very handsome. We deal with the matter, look at the map to get some better understanding of what we will do, how to orient in case of fog, we try to get a gps-track, talk to a guide… etc. Just to be prepared.
Again good food in the evening, we pay our bill at the cottage which turned out a bit higher because of the long day at the hut and we go to bed. Uff, there is somebody snoreing through the entire walls, but after a short while fortunately all of us fall asleep.
RIIING RIIING the alarm clock at 5:00 AM a little breakfast and of we go at 6:30. Lucky us, we have a confrontation with non-adhesive skins – sure that everyone already experienced it, so not worth mentioning it, ducked-taped and on it goes, more or less well. We are the last crew reaching the Col des Dômes 3560 M. We want to cross the ridge to the second Dôme 3630 M and further on to the south / west Dôme with 3670 M until just before the Col de la Bérangère. Just to the point where you can begin the descent on the Armancette glacier. Impressed by the landscape and the mountain figures, we look at the Mont Blanc, thinking about a route where we can go "easily" over the ridges to reach the Mont Blanc. A project for the future? Let's see, now it's about crossing a quite narrow ridge with gusts of wind up to 70 km/h to reach our line for the descent. In the literature, the crosssing of the ridge is described with 2-3 hours, it took us about 1.5 hours. Perhaps our fear and the wind gave us extra power or we were exceptionally fit on that day. Exactly I can not tell, because when we were coming down from the ridge, we got overtaken by a couple of ski racers. They make it from the valley up to the to the Dômes de Miage and down to the valley again in about 2.5 hours. They wanted to do a new Chamonix record at that day. Thus our "heroic-deeds" had been put in the shade within minutes.
Anyway, the best mountaineer is the one feeling the most pleasure! Accordingly, we had been on the first places on that day.
At a sunny day the route over the Armancette glacier is clear and the orientation easy. With fog and without knowing the area it would have been completely different. If you don`t get the right junction you will end up in a sketchy rockzone. Basically this tour is not difficult but really beautiful. The ascent of about 50 altimeters in the middle is quickly overcome, and then we ride at heavy slush conditions. With powder, the avalanche danger is not to be underestimated and you should let the locals go first. With 2500 altimeters descent it was a big very varied run. Windpress and Zastrugi up to 30 cm at the top, finest snowdrift in hollows and protected areas beside the crevasses and slushy slush in the lower part of the route. The last few hundred meters we had to carry our boards and hike down through mud and on a muddy forest road.
That was Chamonix 2016, almost - after reaching the Valley we do another Baguette-Session, enjoy the sauna again, drink a few glasses of wine, eat delicious spaghetti (alla carbonara) and sleep like babies in the vans. The next morning one day earlier than expected we leave, due to bad weather. Stop in Chamonix in order to study the French consumer world and to get insights of the French mountain sports shops.
Thanks to our partners for the great Equipment: Amplid, Splitsticks, Rome, Venture, Völkl, Deeluxe, Fitwell, Spark R&D, Plum Splitboard, Kohla, CASCO und VAUDE
Thanks to Tal from Plum for the route suggestion.
Infos / Links / Literature
Here you will find some more information about the touring possibilities and some literature. Sure there is much more so we piced some nice ones we have seen at our stay.
The possibilities of traverses and touring from hut to hut are amazing. You need lots of experience and good averall mountaineering skills because you can end up in quite steep and challenging terrain. If you are not sure it is good to take a guide.
Bea und Fred Tel: 0033 (0) 4 50 53 16 92
Touring options: Height / Exposition / Ascent / Descent
- Aiguille D`Argentiere / 3900 M / Süd-West / PD+ / 4.2
- Col Du Chardonnet / 3323 M / Süd-West / F / 2.3
- Les Trois Col / 3323 M / alle / PD+ / 3.2
- Col Des Cristaux / 3601 M / Nord-Ost / AD / 5.1
The area around Refuge Argentiere is relativly easy to overview and you can find everything from mellow to extreme.
Christine: 0033 (0) 4 79 89 09 03
Touring options: Height / Exposition / Ascent / Descent
- Dômes de Miage, Traverse and descent at Glacier d'Armancette
- Aiguille de la Bérangère / 3425 M / Süd / F /3.1
- Pain De Sucre De Tondu / 3169 M / Nord / F / 3.1
- Les Blanche / 3697 M / West / AD / 5.1
The area at Refuge Conscrits is amazing and the touring options even more versatile than at the Argentiere Hut.
Toponeige: Lionell Tassan u. Pierre Tardivel / Mont Blanc (French)
Rother Tourenführer: Hartmut Eberlein / Mont Blanc Megève – Chamonix – Val Ferret (German)
IGN Map: Chamonix - Massif du Mont Blanc 1:25 000 / 3630 OT
IGN Map: St - Gervais - Les-Bains, Massif du Mont Blanc 1:25 000 / 3531 ET