Mountaineering & Expeditions

The High Life | Patagonia Film Tells The Story Of A Family Living In Chamonix’s Oldest Refuge

What's it like living in an old mountain refuge high above Chamonix Valley then?

With the world in its current state, with all of the economic and environmental stresses to worry about, there’s certainly something quite tempting about packing civilisation in for a solid chunk of time in a mountain refuge well above sea level in the Chamonix Valley. The High Life, a brand new documentary from Patagonia, follows a family living at Le Refuge de la Charpoua in the French Alps. It’s the kind of content that might just inspire you to get outside, and get away from *gestures at everything*, more in 2023. Yes, one wooden shack for me please. No news updates, thanks.

Refuge de la Charpoua was built way back in 1904. The planks of pine from which it was constructed were carried up on the backs of the Chamonix Alpine Sports Club. Over the years, it’s established itself as an essential stops for mountaineers taking on the legendary peaks of Les Drus. The tiny hut, which serves as a start and end point for many famous mountain routes and climbs in the area, can only be reached after a long trek up from the Montenvers train station.

Vertigo-inducing ladders, glacier crossings and unstable moraines are all part of the journey to the hut. Getting to it is something of a mission, and it’s definitely not one for the casual tourists out there. For the seasoned climbers and determined / experienced hikers though, it’s a sanctuary a world away from, well, the world.

“With the world in its current state… there’s certainly something quite tempting about packing civilisation in”

Eight years ago, Sarah Cartier, a young woman from Chamonix decided to take on the responsibility of looking after this outpost. From mid-June to late August, she offers board and lodging to climbers. She also provides useful information to adventurers, keeps an eye on their progress and administers first aid should it be needed.

With the support of her partner, Noé, Sarah has found a way to combine her passion for the hut’s caretaker role with her family life. As various moments in the film show, the refuge life is the kind of existence that isn’t for everyone but it is one which will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who’s got the mountains’ number on speed dial.

“Having children here has brought with it a certain rebalancing of relationships,” says Sarah. “When some of the climbers realise I’m bringing up my children alone here, they say that climbing Les Drus isn’t really such a big thing.”

Credit: Pierre Cadot
Credit: Pierre Cadot

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