February 7th 2011

Aiguille du Plan - West Couloir

2 years ago Andy Houseman sent me some shots over of the first free ascent of the West Couloir on the Aiguille du Plan. A pretty obscure line but the photos were amazing and I would not have put them in that location off the shots. Andy and Nick (Bullock) both reported the route as some of the best climbing in the range that they had done, which with their combined Alpine experience is saying something. They also managed it in a super fast 9 hour ascent which given how little info they must have had about it is pretty good going.

After a failed attempt on D-Day on the Tacul due to ski binding failure this lead to the usual ummering and erring about what to do. When we had been out on the Midi N Face recently there was an obvious line of tracks heading up into the West Couloir- which it turns out were from renowned Canadian Alpinist Maxime Turgeon and Zoe Hart, who had done it the Friday before hand. Yesterday morning Will and I headed off on first lift and happened to bump into Max who had had a bit of a big day on the route so we knew it was going to be a long one. It seems that the crux is navigating your way back across the Midi Plan traverse which in the dark is a nightmare and left poor Max and Zoe with an 11 hour trek from the Plan to the Midi. Thankfully we got to benefit of a track up the route and to the Midi from them both…thanks!

The route itself is maybe one of the best alpine routes I have done out here. The climbing itself is really varied and engaging and flows really nicely from one pitch to the next. Just the right amount of thin ice leads you up perfect Chamonix mixed granite terrain and all the way up the the Aiguille du Plan. We were both beaming after every pitch with how unique and amazing the climbing had been on it. On top of that you also get the sun for about 5 hours of the day which is always nice on a winter route- all in all a really incredible climb that should become a Chamonix winter classic and I cannot believe it hasnt yet. The difficulties are never sustained but more a series of interesting short mixed steps, though having said that a foot hold collapsed on me and I found myself dangling from my leashes…thankgod for spring leashes. Get on it!

More pics and words on Will’s blog here

The Aiguille du Plan with the West Couloir drawn in

Heading up the first mixed step- amazing hooks and feet, © Will Sim

Will heading up towards the huge jammed block

Hmm, sunshine- good news as I was soaking from the pitch before from spindrift

Underneath the jammed block

Higher up on the snowfields- Aiguille du Midi behind

Getting stuck into the main wall- perfect hooks and sunshine meant I could climb in my fleece, © Will Sim

The second pitch of the ‘main’ wall, © Will Sim

Scary mixed moves just after I’d landed on my leashes, © Will Sim

Will pulling out of the niche onto the ice at sunset. The route can be seen below and the Midi in the background


Heading up a short ice section out of the niche with the sunset and Aiguille du Midi in the distance

Finishing the route in the dark, it was planned so no stress!

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book