24 HOURS IN CHAM
By: Victor Major
There's no place in skiing, or at least ski mountaineering, history like Chamonix, France. At the end of April 2022, I was able to venture across the pond to this storied ground to climb, ski, and spread some of our dear friend Sam Coffey's ashes in one of his favorite places. This was my second time in Chamonix after a trip with him and our friend Baker in April 2017.
Although the 21/22 winter had been particularly bad for Cham, two large dumps in April mostly salvaged the snowpack. Myself, Morris Hogan, Fritz Carpenter, Beau Seguin, Jake Saxon, and Morgan Boyles were lucky treated with much better than anticipated conditions and fewer than anticipated crowds.
Below is a recap of particularly memorable 24 hours following the clearing of a substantial storm (ok like 30 hours). When conditions are good, you've got to make the most of it, so we packed in all we could.
Sunset from the top of the Chéré.
10:00 AM - It’s still storming and blowing up at the top of the Aiguille Du Midi. It’s snowed over 1.5m in the last 3 days. We caught the first tram and it's supposed to go blue at some point today, but the storm hasn’t quite cleared. We’re stuck in the cafe at the top, waiting to see if more is going to reveal itself while lingering clouds tease skiable windows.
11:00 AM - Fighting the temptation to drop into crowded runs that could whiteout at any time, we make the call to download the tram and then come back up in the afternoon to stay at the Refuge De Cosmiques. We'll miss the chance to ski today, but we'll skip the powder panic the next day and still beat everyone out.
Packed for the hut while lingering clouds cling to the Midi.
2:30 PM - Fritz and I are coming back up the tram Midi for the second time of the day. The weather looks like it’s clearing from the valley and Fritz and I are hoping to squeeze in a climb in the afternoon.
Venturing into a whiteout on the glacier.
3:30 PM - Still completely socked in at the top of the Midi, we’re able to make it over to the Refuge. We stash gear and head back out into the void, confident that even if it doesn’t clear, we’ll be able to use GPS breadcrumbs to navigate to the route and back.
4:30 PM - Fritz and I have made it to the bottom of the Chéré, one of the most popular ice routes in Cham, with no one else in sight. While we were completely entombed in foggy cloud on the glacier approach, it starts to break up as we stash our skis and start our ascent.
6:30 PM - With Fritz leading, and me following, we’ve cleared the steep ice pitches. Since we only brought one rope, we decided to take it to the ridge with the hopes of an easy walk-off. The sun has come out brilliantly, and we bask in the rays linking crampon steps and tool placements.
The Chéré is the small gully in the far lookers right of the Triangle Du Tacul.
8:00 PM - A little more involved than we’d like (thin ice and loose rock), we get to the ridge and realize we’re in for a mini-epic. The route off the backside is nearly all exposed glacier ice and the sun is starting to descend, fast. We’re treated with one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen, however we have little time to enjoy it as we move as quickly as possible to stay warm and maximize the remaining light.
11:00 PM - Hustling on the descent, we’re able to sneak by the seracs and crevasses and get to our skis as the light fades. We only burn one screw in the ice, we’re too cold and it’s too exposed to take the time for a v-thread. We ski and then skin back to the hut by headlamp. We long since missed dinner, the sandwiches we brought will sustain us enough.
A spectacular sunset during a hasty descent.
7:30 AM - Breakfast of cereal, bread, and coffee at the Refuge. I didn’t get much sleep with the altitude and an elevated heart rate, but my weariness is secondary to the spectacular conditions outside. A fresh blanket of snow across Mont Blanc and a cloudless sky welcomes the rising sun, completely reversed from where we witnessed it disappear last night.
Breakfast awaits in the morning at the Cosmiques.
8:15 AM - Taking care to leave early enough to beat the first morning trams, we embark onto the Vallée Blanche. There's a fresh coat of snow with no tracks to be found. What a novelty to be opening up one of the most famous ski runs in the world.
11:00 AM - We head for the Capucin Couloir on the Col Du Tacul. Too deep to boot, we skin nearly to the top of the col. Other parties come and go behind us, but no one is immediately breathing down our necks - a benefit of our early hut start.
An untracked Vallée Blanche, a rare and beautiful sight indeed.
Cracked glaciers fill our views on the ascent to the Capucin.
11:15 AM - Congregating at the top, far ahead of any other groups, we spread the late Sam Coffey’s ashes at the top of the line. A friend, visionary, and wannabe Cham local, we were honored to ski with him again in one of his favorite places.
12:15 AM - One 60m rap, some rather tight hop turns, and then some steep, double fall-line shaded North-facing pow, we’re finished with the crux of the line.
Beau Seguin makes the abseil and is ready to drop.
Morris stares down the top steep section of the Capucin.
1:00 PM - We milk the rest of the line with great snow all the way to the bottom. We take a well-deserved break on the Lecheaux Glacier, basking in the sun beneath the enormity of the Grand Jorasses, grateful for a safe and joyful descent of our line.
2:00 PM - We catch the Montevers train back to town and head straight to Elevation for a beer and snack. I'm thrilled after an incredible 24 hours, where I managed to get in an alpine ice climb, a stay at a famous hut, and a classic couloir. I’m totally cooked, but with high pressure in the forecast for the next few days, we’re already starting to think about tomorrow.
Morris enjoys the good snow on the lower flanks.
Self-congratulatory snack break at the bottom of the Capucin before heading back to town.
On this trip we were testing new gear for Winter 22/23, including a new Nomad Kit, new Cham Kit, and new insulators. We are excited to show them to you in Fall 2022.