May 13th 2008

Aiguille du Midi - Eugster Direct

The North Face of the Aiguille du Midi rises imposingly over the Plan d’Aiguille and anybody who has travelled up the Aiguille du Midi cable car is always struck by how huge the face really is. Many alpinists have their eye on this north face. Afterall its got the easiest descent in the world, and if you are fast you can arrive on the first cable car in the morning and climb the whole 1500m vertical ascent of it in time for the last cable car back down. Now whilst there are many routes up it, the Eugster direct is one of the best winter lines up it.

Whilst the Fil a Plomb on the Aiguile Du Plan side gets alot of ascents, you still have to trudge up a very long and boring arete to get to the Midi, with the Eugster you climb literally right up to the tunnel entrance. Another thing that I particularly like about this route is that there are no objective dangers form seracs which makes the climbing a whole lot more pleasant. However it is not a route to be under-estimated as it is very long (1600m from hut to summit) and the difficult section can be very tricky when it is dry. In addition there is still a large section of the climb to do before you get to the Midi station from the top of the last pitch. Whilst it may look like you are just below the lift it is a real optical illusion so dont think you are there quite yet! I find it surprising that this route is not done more often as it really is a great winter line, so whilst you watch the crowds of people head up the Fil a Plomb think about doing the Eugster Direct.

The route

The base of the climb is about a 2 hour walk-in form the Plan d’Aiguille Hut. The bergshrund is quite easily passed and there is a very short 60 ice step which can be easily soloed allowing you to climb pretty much half of the face either moving together or unroped. There is another small section of ice at 60 degrees further up that you may want to rope up for but if you can avoid it you can get to the base of the difficulties in great time.

The start of the difficulties with the 5 pitches outlined, photo © Gavin Pike

It would be a good point to mention that nothing is equipped. Rather a shock for Chamonix, but this route is basically completely clean (actually we left a cam on the 3rd pitch so there’s a bit of pro for you!). You will have to set up belays which are not always that easy to find.

First pitch

The first pitch is a nice warm up of 70 degree ice to just below the steeper section where you can try and set-up a belay (ice screws useful here)

Gavin Pike on the first ice pitch

Second Pitch

The second pitch is a short one but starts off nice and steep with a few meters of 85 degree ice. You then arrive at a junction where you can either head up and left or carry on straight up. Whilst carrying on straight up looks more appealing the carrect path is actually up and left and onto a small ridge where you can set-up a great belay on a rock spike about 5 m higher

On the second pitch, photo © Gavin Pike

Third Pitch

The third pitch proved to be pretty much bone dry in the middle, requiring some guerrilla aid tactics to get up a few meters. There is now a stuck cam here as well as a piton so it would help a bit. Looking up higher I couldnt see it getting any better so I was a bit dubious that we would be able to complete the route (had heard reports that it was very dry), however Gav battled on and up we went.

Looking down from the top of the third pitch, photo © Gavin Pike

Exiting the third pitch, photo © Gavin Pike

Fourth Pitch

The fourth pitch was a a good one even though it killed my forearms entirely. Climbing up thin ice to a huge wedged block you climb up on its right hand side. However it ends up in being quite a sustained 85 degrees pitch with a small section of 90 as you pull up over the lip. You also will have to keep carrying on till you find a decent belay spike up on the left hand side of the route. This is a pretty long pitch at 55m or so so just keep carrying on! Ice screws recommended for this pitch as the rock pro was pretty poor.

Starting the fourth pitch, photo © Gavin Pike

Passing up right of the wedged block, photo © Gavin Pike

Fifth Pitch

The crux of the entire route is kept until the very last pitch. It looks deceptively ‘easy’ from below but the higher you climb the steeper and thiner it all gets. I suspect that in good years it just invovles a short section of 90 degree ice however for the moment it involves an overhanging mixed exit that is not great for pro and pretty commiting. There is however an alternative exit to the left hand side. I found myself actually belaying just below the exit but if you look up on the left hand side of the gully just after the fourth pitch you should be able to make out a very easy and short exit that brings you up to the ridge line. You should also be able to see what looks like red stuck cam. Heading up the 5m this way will avoid the crux of the route and then invovle an easy scramble to join the end of the route. However up and over the crux the route eases up considerably and there are some great belay spikes.

Gavin Pike on the fifth pitch just below the crux

Gavin Pike on the fifth pitch just below the crux

The Exit

The Exit is a rather long and drawn out affair but not hard. You should be able to move up this relatively fast together. You can either climb up and traverse just underneath the bergshrund below the arete and then climb up the arete, or traverse right up close to the Midi and climb right up to the tunnel entrance. whilst climbing straight up to the tunnel entrance is a little more esthetic it does involve traversing thourhg about 10-15m of piss covered ice from one of the toilets above. Unless you enjoy the smell of human excrement and get a kick out of splashing urine onto your face each time your ice axe tries to find a placement then I would recommend heading down under the bergshrund!

Gavin Pike exiting onto the snow slopes after the technical difficulties, Chamonix far below

Gavin Pike just below the Midi

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book