A couple of months ago I wrote down a short list of alpine routes that I wanted to climb this spring. Top of the list was Eugster Direct, an aesthetic 1000m line straight up the north face of the Aiguille du Midi. Yesterday, Pat and I went to give it a go.
We arrived at the Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille the evening before so that we could get an early start the next day. When we informed the guardian of our intended route, our psyche was tested as he announced with wild gesticulations that there was no way we could possibly climb on the north face tomorrow. Temperatures were far too high. The snow would not freeze overnight and we would find ourselves wading in slush on the approach. We should cancel our plans and take the first lift back down to town in the morning. To emphasise the point he printed off the latest weather forecast and with a stern expression pointed at the forecasted freezing level.
Undeterred we set our alarms early and headed off just before sunrise to give the route a go. Fortunately the guardian was way off the mark. The snow was firm and we soon reached the bergschrund at the base of the route. What followed was probably the best day of alpine climbing I’ve ever had. 500m of easy snow and névé brought us to the base of the difficulties. Here we roped up for 5 excellent pitches of challenging ice and mixed. Conditions were a little on the dry side and the ice that was there was at times rotten and thin. This just made things all the more interesting though. No pitch came easily, with each one involving a nervy “watch me” moment. The crux is saved for the final pitch – a pumpy, steep mixed sequence that takes you to the summit slopes. From here it’s just 300m of low-angled terrain to the Midi Arete and a quick cable car ride back home. With fresh arms and legs, you should be able to fly up this final section in less than an hour. Pat and I were feeling far from fresh though and we were soon in a race against the clock to get the the last lift down. Utterly wasted, we reached the Midi Arete just in time for the last lift of the day. 30 minutes later we were back in town enjoying a beer and Sunday roast. Easy access, quality climbing and probably the best alpine descent in the world. What more could you want!
Pat trying to get some bomber gear in on the third pitch. Though the climbing just above his tools looks pretty amenable from below, what followed was a vertical section of unconsolidated snow covering a thin layer of brittle ice. One of those moments where I was glad not to be leading…