The story began in 1942, the year the old mountain refuge was built. Located at 2700m altitude the first shelter was about an hour from the current one
It was originally built to house the workers of a private company responsible for the construction of a hotel at the base of the Pointe des Conscrits, at 2750 metres altitude. The same company had also started to build the road across the the Col du Bonhomme mountain pass.
Who would want to build a hotel in such a place? The answer is simple: in the 1940s, the SCAP (Parisian Alpine/Ski Club) organized glacier skiing here with the help of local ski instructors.
To build the hut, materials were transported up to “Mauvais Pas”, just above the current refuge of Tré la Tête. From here porters carried them to the building site. Among them; Georges Erba, Maurice Vionnet, Alfred and Louis Mermoud.
On-site, the building works were directed by Fernand Mollard and the roof and retaining cables accomplished by Gaston Chevallier.
The furniture was very rudimentary, a table and a few raised boards for sleeping purposes. You had to carry your own duvet and camping stove. Few people stayed here as the majority of climbs started from Tré la Tête.
During World War II the works stopped and the hut was deserted. In 1964 a group of local mountain guides (Gabi Simond, Jean Ronchail and Jean Bochatay) decided to repair the crumbling shelter. They replaced the windows and set up mattresses so that guides could sleep over here before embarking on the ascent of the Dômes de Miage.
At that time, the shelter was called the “Cabane de Tré la Grande” amongst locals.
Subsequently, Jean-Paul Bouchard and the Saint-Gervais Alpine Club extended the hut and created a lodge for the first guardian. A second extension followed.
The number of hikers to sleep over here increased dramatically, up to 100 people on some nights.
In 1995 the Conscrits shelter was closed and in 1996 the town Mayor, Bernard Chevallier, ordered its demolition. It was considered unsafe and a potential fire hazard.
That is the story of the old refuge !
Today one can admire the new refuge, a modern and comfortable shelter for mountaineers and for the guardians on site.
The new building is located at 2580 metres altitude on the descent from the Aiguille de la Bérangère. It overlooks the Tré La Tête glacier, ahead of the Tré la Grande seracs. It boasts superb views of the glacial ridge between Mont Tondu and the Aiguille des Glaciers. The shelter is guarded although managed by the CAF in Saint-Gervais (French Alpine Club ) .
I had the opportunity to speak to the guardian who kindly agreed to answer my questions:
How long have you been guardian here?
This will be my 8th season.
When is the refuge open?
The refuge is usually open from 15th March to 10th May for ski touring and then from 1st June to 30th September, but the dates change slightly depending on the year.
During these periods, the shelter is guarded. Outside these periods, people can use the winter shelter which can accommodate up to 12 people. However, there is no guardian at the winter shelter so hikers must bring their own food and whatever else they may need.
How many people can sleep here?
The refuge can sleep 90 but when it’s really busy at week-ends I also house people in the winter shelter. It’s possible to accommodate up to 102 people but that remains exceptional.
How many people can eat here?
90 people can eat here. The dining room can seat up to 90 in a single sitting. However, we only serve those who have booked to eat and sleep here.
Do you think that a modern refuge makes it easier to introduce more people to the high mountains?
Yes, because the image we portray corresponds to modern expectations. The fact that there is room for everyone to sleep gives a better impression of this type of accommodation.
This refuge is nothing like the old one and it’s not uncommon to hear: “20 years ago, I tried mountaineering but the shelters put me off. When I see how the shelters are run today I want to come back”!
How comfortable is the shelter?
One can eat and sleep here. It’s equipped with dormitories for 4 to 18 people and each customer has a duvet. There are toilets with running water but no shower.
We have a library with 150 comic strips and all types of books. There are two terraces, a kitchen and a dining room.
We also have a room in the basement with lockers to store equipment (harnesses, crampons, helmets etc.) and a shoe dryer.
Are renovation works carried out each year?
Yes, maintenance really, such as changing window seals etc. There is no more major building work to be done.
Any advice for hikers wishing to climb to the refuge?
It is very important to call us first, to make a reservation. We will inform you on weather conditions, access etc.
The final word:
Since 1942 the Refuge des Conscrits has endured numerous transformations. However, the memories and stories that the locals tell around the table remain engraved in their minds forever.
Finally, I would like to thank Firmin Mollard for providing me with this information and for the picture on the history of the refuge. Thank you to Christine, the guardian, for giving me her time when the refuge was so busy.