The Eiger North Face. The Nordwand. The Mordwand. The ’38 route. Whatever you want to call it, it’s maybe the most famous north face in the world. The mountain has arguably more history etched in to it than any other, from Toni Kurz wheezing out his last dying breath hanging just meters above his rescuers to Ueli Steck’s record breaking times on it.
Names like ‘Death Bivouac’, ‘The Spider’, and ‘The Traverse of the Gods’ have become Alpine household names, and it’s one of the only routes in the world that has a name attributed to it for almost every section of the route, each one holding its particular story of horror of human endeavors long gone.
Times have changed though and what was considered then to be the world’s hardest climb now sees ascents from countless teams around the globe every year. There’s no real reason to want to climb the thing though- by modern standards it is technically not all that hard and there is no eye catching line that draws you to it. The rock is limestone, which is devoid of most protection, as well as the worst kind of rock for your axes and crampons. But somehow it draws you to it and much like Hillary’s answer to why he climbed Everest, you cant fully explain it, but you want to climb it because it’s there.
2009 and I wake up in the boot of my car to a snow storm in Grindelwald. The night before I’d finally left the pristine granite of Chamonix and driven over for a crack at it; but it had started snowing during the night and as we watched the clouds smother the mountain so did our hopes of climbing it that day.
The following year though and reports had filtered through of stellar spring conditions on the face. It was getting mobbed which would mean two things: firstly we’d be sharing the route (which is never great) and secondly we’d have a great big track up it (which is always great). Flip side to every coin. So Will Sim and I packed the car and made the pilgrimage over to the Nordwand again. Arriving under much clearer skies we took the train up to the Eigergletscher Station and got out. Teams of climbers were streaming down the West Face descent route; it would be a busy north face! But our worries were soon alleviated as we bumped into old friends and relaxed in the warm Spring sunshine. Tomorrow would be a good day.
The talk was the usual high spirits from tired climbers and it helped bolster our decision to try and do the face in a day. Oddly enough it’s not an easy choice to make. On the one hand you realize that you are capable of doing this iconic face light and fast and in a day which would be a ‘cool’ way of climbing it, but on the other you kind of feel like you need to spend time on the face and at least one bivouac just to savor the place and appreciate the history behind it all. Nevertheless we decided upon the light and fast approach and setting up our bivy next to the train station we were happy to see that there would only be us and one other team attempting the face the next day, and that the other team were actually very good friends of ours from Chamonix.
The alarm shrieked, stove lit, muesli forced down, and boots shoved on. The 4am mind-haze started to lift and we set off for the face. A ridiculously quick and easy approach traverse saw us stepping foot on the face- no time to appreciate this as it was go-time. With 1800m of climbing above us and no bivy kit or down jackets we wanted to get a move on so we put our heads down and soloed up to the base of the Difficult Crack.
The Difficult Crack is the first difficulty on the route. It’s not really much of a crack and it’s not really all that difficult, it’s more of an awkward corner…but then ‘Awkward Corner’ isn’t quite as catchy. Clipping any pitons, young and old, that you see it’s an interesting introduction of the climbing to come. Limestone pockets and slabs are just not designed for the modern axe wielder. So as you grunt you’re way up and think about the lack of good pro spare a thought to all the nice people that have hammered in countless pitons for you.
Shortly after this brutal introduction you arrive at the Hinterstoisser Traverse. Famous because it marks an irreversible traverse which trapped the hapless Hinterstoisser and his friends, it now comes with a modern twist- a fixed rope attached to bolts on either side so you can literally just clip in to it and pull yourself across, rather losing the mystique of the first ascent. A quick look down at the dizzying exposure beneath your feet and a quick scan of the virtually blank limestone slab you are traversing will suffice though as you decide that to hell with the ‘mystique’ and keep pulling your way across.
By now we were getting in to the swing of things. Arriving on the First Ice field we motored up the Ice Hose that connects it with the Second Ice Field and continued up to the meat of the route. Passing by the ‘Death Bivouac’ we caught up with our friends from Chamonix, and as day dawned around us the wall reared above in a steep grey limestone barrier.
Now the route really comes in to its own. The 1938 Route may not be an amazing line for climbing’s sake but the way that it effectively weaves its way all around the face in search of the next weakness is nothing short of genius. I was starting to realize that maybe what makes the ’38 route isn’t that it is an obvious eye catching line but because it’s the exact opposite- it’s a path conceived by pioneers, spotted through telescopes, and established by the sheer determination of a past generation of bold climbers.
An obvious Ramp system called…The Ramp…forms a perfect weakness out through this incredibly steep limestone bastion. The Ramp though is more of a deep slanting gash in this slippery grey rock and ends up with the crux pitch of the route, the Ice Chimney. It’s pleasant climbing though with the odd bizarre move and some interesting pro ranging from pre war looking pitons to some nice shiny ones. Hey it’s the Eiger, you take what you can; and take you do as you fire on through the Ice Chimney pitch on to a small ice field on the far left of the face.
This is where the beauty of the route really comes in to play and maybe what makes this route just so special. A series of exposed traverses starting with the Brittle Ledges, and yes they are very brittle (ledge shuffling on all fours is completely allowed here), link to the Brittle Crack. Run-out snow ledge shuffling, ending with the Traverse of the Gods (so called I think because of its hideous exposure), brings you to the base of The Spider and back in to the middle of the face. Nothing short of amazing. If ever a climb could be called ‘atmospheric’ this is the one.
By now you’re at a point of no return. Most of the famous stories about avalanches and heroism are centered on this part of the face. The Spider is a central ice field with couloirs feeding in to it from every part of the upper face. It’s the mother of all avalanche funnels and as you arrive off the Traverse of the Gods right at the ass end of the ‘body’ with a huge drop off just behind you, you can’t help but hope you’re not about to get crapped out of the thing. The key is to move at this point, any extra height gain gives you that little bit of extra confidence. It’s not a dangerous place in stable conditions, and in good weather, but the stories surrounding this treacherous part of the mountain are not easily cast aside.
Running up the body of The Spider brings you to the Quartz Cracks and Exit Cracks; the final obstacles on this mighty face. Tackling one of the ‘legs’ of The Spider is the only way to get out of its trap and with a couple of pitches of very slopy and polished limestone behind you, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief as you get off the wall and the final snow slopes to the summit ridge above. The sun shines, that hunted feeling that a north face always has on you disappears, and a short romp up easy slopes deposits you on to the Mittellegi Ridge.
Suddenly the view opens up. The shady north face is left far behind, the sun warms cold fingers, and it’s a relaxed and easy walk up the snowy ridge to high fives and smiles all round on the summit. It had been an awesome day out- for some reason one of the more memorable ones. Maybe it was because we had tried to run up it as as fast as we could but tacitly decided to slow down and enjoy the climb, or maybe it was simply because for a few hours we had lived the very pages of The White Spider- a book that every Alpinist in the world has read, savoured, and got lost in a world of imagination and wonderment.
Topo: There are numerous Topos on line that a simple Google Search will help with. I find that these are the best options really. The easiest part to get lost on is getting to the Difficult Crack in the dark but with a track this is not a problem.
Bivy sites: It is not an easy mountain to retreat off, hence its reputation, so going a little heavier and putting in a bivy is not a bad thing either. The best bivy site is the Death Bivouac allowing you a fairly mellow first day. Otherwise there is another reasonable one on the Brittle Ledges or just after the Brittle Crack (though from memory the Brittle ledges one will allow two of you to lie down at least).
Rack: The route is covered in pitons and some teams will climb the route Sport Climbing style and only bring a set of quickdraws. We felt that this was a little light and there is no harm in sticking in a set of nuts and a few cams in there as well. To be honest we only placed a handful of our own kit but its useful to have just in case.
Time of year: Spring time seems to give the best conditions on the face. You will want it to be cold enough so that rocks dont start peeling off the mountain.
It may seem like only yesterday that Chris Sharma was sending hard on the boulders. These days he’s more into the long routes of Catalunya, but back in 2005 Sharma was all about dreadlocks, rasta clothes and crimping down on hard problems.
One of his most iconic boulder first ascents was Witness The Fitness (8C), a huge roof problem that was immortalised in the now classic climbing film Dosage Volume 3 (available on Epic TV) and was Sharma’s hardest boulder problem at that time.
Well, Witness the Fitness was repeated pretty quickly by legendary boulderer Fred Nicole soon after Sharma’s ascent, but due to broken holds (and the fact that it’s very difficult!) it has lain dormant for many years until January 5th this year when top American boulderer Daniel Woods managed to grab the third ascent. Woods used a totally different sequence to Nicole and Sharma, but still thinks the grade of V15/8C should stand.
Here’s why this problem hasn’t been repeated for so many years (check out this video of Sharma!):
And just a few days after Daniel Woods was ripping it up in Arkansas, his own boulder problem – The Game – which he climbed three years ago, and was initially graded 8C+, making it one of, if not the hardest boulder problem in the world, was repeated by Jon Cardwell. Word on the street these days is that it is ‘only’ 8C.
“Our customers often comment on how easy it was to find us on Google. It’s been such an easy thing, and as busy business owners running a shop, we simply don’t have time to do all this vital internet marketing ourselves.”
Alpinist Colin Haley pulled off a bold, committed solo of five peaks in British Columbia’s Waddington Range over five days in August, starting with Mount Waddington and pitches of 75-degree ice up the Flavelle-Lane Route. The range, infamous for fickle conditions, yielded an uncharacteristically good weather window for Haley’s binge, albeit soaking him with a rainstorm on his second day. Haley had some idea of what he was getting into — in 2004, he and partner Mark Bunker completed the second-ever Waddington Traverse, tagging 11 summits in the Waddington Range. Via Climbing.
Read more stories like this at Adventure Journal.
We can use the latest Google Maps Technology to help you get to grips with the place.follow capn’ jack. he’ll guide you
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Searchable database of quality apartments, chalets and hotels within the Chamonix Valley.
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Enrico Maioni, the Mountain Guide from Cortina, informs that a landslide on the Tofana di Rozes has changed the descent from the routes on the Pilastro, Primo Spigolo and Terzo Spigolo.Scroll to top
American climber Sasha DiGiulian has sent her third 8c+ Cosi Fan Tutte at Rodellar in Spain and on-sighted Maskoking 8b+.Scroll to top
An iPhone application with videos and exercises of all the main training methods to improve power, technique and stamina, created by Alessandro Jolly Lamberti and Piero Amato.Scroll to top
Steve and Angie Bradshaw provide some hands-on, in-depth information to the Psicobloc bouldering around Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Last Saturday and Sunday several enormous rockfalls fell from the Drus (Mont Blanc).
Dutch climber Jorg Verhoeven has made the first ascent of Nordic Flower 9a in Flatanger, Norway.Scroll to top
The video by Jeremy Collins of his route Border Country, first ascended in Yosemite along with Mikey Schaefer and Dana Drummond and dedicated to Jonny Copp and Micah DashScroll to top
Barbara Raudner has repeated Indotimes 8b+ at Höllental in Austria.
Austrian Jakob Schubert wins both Lead World Cup 2011 events in China. Mina Markovic from Slovenia won the event in Xining, and shared victory with Jain Kim from Korea in ChangzhiScroll to top
The small crag Trad Area in Valle Po in NE Italy, with 23 routes from 5a – 7a, introduced by Mountain Guide Alpine Alberto Fantone.
A trust fund has been established by the Belluno Mountain rescue service for the families of Alberto Bonafede and Aldo Giustina who lost their lives during a rescue operation last week.
Andreas Frötscher talks about the excitement of his Red Bull X-Alps 2011, the competition which took place last July and crossed the Alps from Salzburg all the way to Monaco. 864km by paraglider and on foot.
On 22 August a Spanish expedition led by Jonas Cruces carried out the first ascent of Junai Kangri (6017m) in India’s Karakorum, via their route “Sin permiso (IV, AD +, 750m).
Chamonix Green & White