Le Fil à Plomb (TD- / III 4+, 700m)

The warning signs that we were going to hit Alpine rush hour were evident from the moment we stepped off the téléphérique at the Plan de l'Aiguille the afternoon prior. Every climber including ourselves was planning to climb Le Fil à Plomb on the Rognon du Plan next day. I had not even heard of the route until a few day ago when I had spotted it from the téléphérique during our descent from the Aiguille du Midi. With the Grands Montets station shut due to high winds this seemed to natural plan B. The winter room in the Refuge du Plan de l'Aiguille was over-subscribed with one group having to be turned away. Still, on the plus side we were one of about four groups, which on the grand scale of things was not cause for major concern, provided we didn't begin the route at the same time.

Sunset over the Chamonix Aiguilles

Sunset over the Refuge du Plan de l'Aiguille

My 3am alarm appeared to serve as a cue for everybody to rise and soon there were a dozen or so climbers scurrying around the small confines of the winter room making final preparations. We were second out of the door and second at the bottom of the route. A short way up we waited patiently for an Italian team of three to climb an easy ramp and a short section of mixed. By now the first téléphérique had departed Chamonix and the slopes below were now awash with head torches as if a witch hunt was taking place.

The initial ramp

I led up the ramp with Mike continuing up easier slopes towards the main difficulties of the climb. Racking the full set of ice screws I set off up the steep 45m crux ice wall. Tapping into existing axes placements and winding screws in existing holes the climbing felt easy but fantastically exposed in what was a superb position.

Crux pitch of Le Fil à Plomb

By the time Mike had started the next pitch the French legion of local climbers had caught us up, and began to pass us one at a time. The hunted animal sensation had returned from the last climb and I was keen to stay near the front of peloton to avoid any bottlenecks. We moved together for the remainder of the difficulties for efficiency-sake. The route bared sharply left for half a pitch before straightening up again. I tried to push on in the lead despite sporadic gear placements causing acute adjustments in rope direction which served to neither benefit the safety of my second nor rope drag. Mike on second had descended into a cat's cradle of climbing ropes as numerous teams criss-crossed around him. Now above the difficulties I waited for Mike unaware that he was in M25 rush hour.

When Mike emerged from the pack red faced and mightily unimpressed with the whole situation. At least we were on broad easy slopes to the top of the route now. Shortening the rope between us we made haste for the Midi-Plan ridge line that would take us back to the Midi station. The chaos of the top half of the route had detracted from what was a great route, topped off by great views from the ridge. With no accommodation booked in Chamonix we descended back to the Refuge du Plan de l'Aiguille for a second night.

Enjoying the top-out with the crowds

Vie of Grande Jorasses from the Midi-Plan Ridge

View towards Aiguille du Midi from near the top of the route


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