Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"West Face Direct", Aguille Du Plan.

The west face direct (AKA Grand West Couloir) is a route that i've had my eye on for a little while. First climbed over 4 days by Gabarrou in 1975, it pretty much lay dormant for thirty years until the talented french alpinist Didier Jourdain climbed it in 2007, freeing all but a move or two and in a day. Then in 2009 Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman also climbed it in a day, in extremely icy (good) conditions. They also climbed it free, with a different and more logical start, and thought ED2 M6 WI5.
       It's a great line, which splits straight through the west face of the plan in a very deep gash. We were originally thinking about big big things to do in this long weather window. However, due to logistics and less than 100% health (annoying flue-type thing that keeps lingering) we decided now would be a good time for the West Face Direct.
The line.

I knew that someone had climbed it this season, as about 10 days ago i saw some faint remnants of a track a little way over the schrund. Chamonix being Chamonix i had a feeling i'd know whoever it was but never found out in time to get beta. We decided to climb it from first lift. The ascents we knew of had all included a bivi at the bottom or at the hut beneath the mid-station. We just accepted we'd be climbing the last third and then reversing the Midi-Plan traverse in the dark. As we got on the Midi at 8 a.m. we bumped in to a friend, Max, a strong alpinist from Quebec. It turned out it was him and his girlfriend Zoe who had climbed it. He proceded with some beta, and that they had taken a long time to do the route then traverse to the midi, after biving the night before. They had climbed the route in good time, but made a route finding error while traversing the Midi-Plan in the dark, (although one of the easiest summer classics, the midi plan can be a nightmare to reverse in the dark under winter conditions, and we benefitted from Max's track there) but it still gave us food for thought, as we wouldn't be starting the route till gone 10 a.m.!!
          The cone leading up and over the schrund was fairly deep in places but the schrund didn't present any difficulties. We took a slightly wrong route through the initial 20 metre rock section but it didn't add too much time. The next 700 metres consisted of steep pitches of thin ice and a little dry-tooling, separated by snowfields and small amphitheatres. The rock architecture on either side is stunning and the climbing impeccable. Lots of sections around scottish 6 and some of 7. Also we even had some sun at belays, a rare bonus for a winter route! It was so good, i thought at every pitch, "wow that's the best bit yet", but it just kept coming and coming. A truely amazing route. The crux climbing is in the last 200 metres, where the gully system turns in to a steep rocky wall and then continues in a gully again afterwards. After a couple of tricky drytooling pitches a cave is gained. The pitch leading out of this cave was as good as climbing gets on big routes- an ice smear, then a transfer on to a separate smear then up and out, beautiful pitch just as the sun was setting. We then climbed two excellent long pitches in the dark, at about Scot 6 then 5. This led to the summit snowfield then up to the Aguille Du Plan.
        The traverse of the Midi Plan in the dark was quite time consuming under winter conditions, but luckily after one wrong turn we could pick up the remains of Max's tracks (Cheers Max!) and were in the Midi toilets 14 and a half hours after starting the route.
       It truely is an amazing route; line, climbing and position. It deserves hard classic status.

First meaty pitch.

Tricky hollow bulge.
Nice place.
Good climbing!!

Getting harder.
Getting tricky!

Awesome mixed climbing.
More fun stuff

Beautiful pitch!
Having fun!
A technical pitch in the dark, again, amazing climbing.


  1. Hi Will! Congratulations for this great ascent of this rarely climbed route. I only want to point out that the 2nd ascent of this route was made by Terry King and Gordon Smith in september 1976, and a tale of it was published in Mountain.

  2. Agustin,
    Hi ye i am aware of that ascent. I was really listing ascents of it in its modern vogue, i.e. in a day and winter. But of course you're right, i should have included that for completeness!!