By Michael, 2015,
The Eiger, what can say about this mountain that hasn't already been said? When I was 21 my friend Jed gave me a VHS video of a French climber Christoph Profit called A Winter Trilogy .
It features Christoph solo climbing the north face's of the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grand Jorasses. This was 1987 so long before HD and Uli Steck, but I loved to watch this video and often dreamed of walking the spectacular ridges to the summits of these magnificent mountains. Watch the video on the YouTube link and you will know where I'm coming from. A career change and then family put paid to my climbing days or I would have joined Jed and my other old climbing mate Bill on their unsuccessful attempt on the Eiger a few years later.
2 years ago I jumped at the chance of accompanying Harry and Nick on climbing The Matterhorn, a day that I will never forget, once home from that trip Florian asked me if I fancied trying The Eiger with him? He had to turn back on an attempt that year. Well I immediately said yes and a plan was made for the summer of 2014, bad weather meant we had to cancel The Eiger and I had a great week in Chamonix.
So this year we planned again for The Eiger, then hopefully Monch via the nollen spur and Jungfrau. Our route was to walk from Grindelwald to the Ostegghutte, then tackle the Mittellegi Ridge to the Mittellegihutte, the the conclusion of the rige to the summit. Florian was the main organiser for the trip, and it didn't help matters when he got a posting to Berlin at the start of the year till August, so all we had was a few weekends climbing and various emails. We were good to go when at the last minute Luca asked to join us as his partner had to cancel there proposed attempt at the Innominata Ridge of Mount Blanc.
On Sunday 26th July we all met at the hostel of The Glacier Hotel Grindelwald, we sat round the back with a few beers peering up at the blackness that was the north face of The Eiger, cloud hid the summit, but there was no mistaking the neon light that beamed from the Eigerwand station on the face. We could also see the light from the Glecksteinhutte at the foot of the Wetterhorn. The weather forecast was good, especially for Wednesday, our proposed summit day, we packed our bags and turned in for the night. I was glad of the couple of beers as i think i would have struggled to sleep with the nerves and excitement.
Next morning we went into town to stack up on provisions and visit the sports shop to book the Ostegghutte and check with the guides about routes and weather. We packed our rucksacks and headed south towards Alpiglen, we where directly below the north face but couldn't see much as the cloud was sitting about 2500 metres.We left Alpigen eastward on the eiger trail, heading toward the eastern most side of the mittellegi ridge.
We donned helmets and harnesses as the final climb to the hut is via a 300 metre via ferratta. it was good fun on the various wires and ladders and we got a bit wet from water dripping on us. Finally we arrived at the Ostegghutte, a fabulous hut at 2300 meters, that sleeps 15, has a wood burning stove, gas hob and even sells wine and beer. We made some tea and sat outside drying of our gear.
Later we were joined by 4 Austrians who were attempting the same route as us, with the cloud sitting around 2500 metres we couldn't see our route from the hut to the ridge. Florian took a stroll after we made some food and said there was a slight path marked intermittently with little cairns. It was early to be as we left the hut at 5am, i would have rather waited till first light, as the visibility wasn't the best and route finding was hard. We eventually found the notch in which to gain the ridge at the same time as the cloud dispersed gifting us fantastic views of the summits around us. The ridge was spectacular, very exposed in places.
We scrambled un-roped until we came to the crux, a 45 metre 5c climb that i wasn't much looking forward to. A left slanting crack, that leads to a traverse round a slab, which requires friction into a chimney, which is climbed direct.
We roped up, Florian led the way, but I new it was difficult by the time being taken , Luca followed, then it was me. Half way up the crack, about 4 metres, my hold broke loose and i came off, the rope held, I had taken a chunk of skin off one of my fingers from were the rock had broken. Shaking I continued on, there is a bolt to which is attached a sling, you have to hold the sling while trying to reach out far left to a iron bar, grab the bar while trying to make your feet stick to the polished slab. As hard a move as I've ever done. Blood was seeping from my finger, i was having to lick the blood off and stick down the flap of skin. The chimney was slightly easier and it was a relief to gain the ridge and be over what was the hardest part of the trip. At last we could see the summit of The Eiger, it seemed a long way away.
Onward and upward we went, it was like the cullin on steroids, pillars , towers , arêtes, we then came to a part were we had to take our rucksacks off and squeeze through a hole in a wall onto a little ledge, fantastic ridge walking.
By now the weather was perfect, we climbed the last few rises to the Mittellegihutte, what a hut, perched on the ridge 600 metres below the summit, it commands the most spectacular position.
We hadn't eaten all day so we bought a pot of tea and ate some food then went outside to admire the view.
Finsteraahorn and Fiescherhorn
Monch and our descent ridge
We were soon joined by the 4 Austrians at the hut, they too finding the crux quite a challenge. we checked the weather forecast , and it wasn't good! There was a front coming in tomorrow, all the guides booked into the hut had cancelled. The 4 Austrians, chose to descend to Grindelwald via the Eismeer station, myself , Florian and Luca decided to stay until the weather broke, I say no point in heading down in the ridiculously expensive train and it had taken us 2 days to get here. We were only 600 metres from the summit. Florian suggested to leave immediately for the summit , it was about 3pm and we had been climbing from 5am, me and Luca preferred to wait.
As we watched the boys descend the steep slope south of the hut we could see 2 climbers coming up. When they arrived at the hut they introduced themselves, Elizabeth, an Austrian guide and her client Wim a Belgium ex military guy. Over diner we discussed the weather , Elizabeth thought the front wouldn't bring much precipitation, windy but hopefully dry. They were going to wake at 5am and see what the weather looked like. As we were there we did likewise. The wind rose in the early hours of the morning howling and whistling around the hut. At 5am it was still wild and we rose again at 6am, The wind had died down and it seemed altogether better. Elizabeth and Wim said they were going for it and left about 6.45am, We thought why not , if it gets bad we would head back down , we packed up and left around 7am. It was quite calm when we left, you are on the ridge straight from the hut, we weren't roped and made great time free climbing on good holds, similar ground to the day before but lots of fixed ropes and bolts.
The cloud was coming and going, we could see Elizabeth and Wim ahead, it started to get steeper so we got the rope out and decided that short roping was our best way of climbing. There was one really long and steep rise with a fixed rope that needed your concentration, the cloud thickened, then the wind started to get stronger and it started to snow. The angle eased, we came to a bank of snow to our right, tracks led left , then up to join the ridge of snow. We donned crampons and got out our axes, we continued on an upward angle, the wind rose again when we got on the ridge the temperature fell, the snow was light. 'We're here' Florian says, The Summit, we shares a hug, I reckoned 3.45 hours. I took of a glove to get my camera out, put the camera in my other hand, in a split second the camera dropped, in slow motion it started down the slope of ice, i thought of going after it, but knew better, it gained speed and then hurtled over the north face!! I went into my pocket for my iPhone, the battery was dead!!! Here I was on the summit of the Eiger with no camera or phone to picture the moment. Not that we could see anything, visibility was about 10 metres. Luckily Florian and Luca had stored there iPhones better than I and we got some photos on the summit
Now one thing I've learned is that getting up is only half the job and the weather was getting worse, our original route down the west flank wasn't safe so we were heading to the Monchjochuttte via the south ridge. We left the summit and started down the ridge, we soon met Elizabeth and Wim at the first abseil post. Now it was a blizzard, abseils are time consuming, I was getting cold and wet whilst waiting. When Florian tried to through the rope down it blew over my shoulder in almost the opposite way! We got down that abseil and continued on, slowly, everything was covered in verglass, down climbing anything was slow and tedious. More abseils, more wind, snow, the rope was freezing up, Luca's prussic jammed whilst abseiling down a steep chimney all the while the cold is biting and I'm getting wetter. Once down from that abseil I was retrieving the rope, it was really heavy, i pulled it back through but when the rope was coming down it jammed, ****, I gave it another pull, nothing, I thought the worst. I took all the stretch out the rope and gave it one big pull, it was enough and the rope came down, what a relief.
Onward we went, we had no shelter from the storm, I blew from our right hand side, every thing on us iced up, eyebrows, slings, I had a golf ball size ice ball on my waterproof zip, wet trousers were now frozen solid, but I wasn't cold, I could let myself think I was cold I sort of tried to blank it out. We abseiled down a short wall into a little sheltered alcove on the east side of the ridge, below us was a cornice of snow, we had got down the first section of the ridge, a 50 metre traverse on neve led to the ridge to the glacier. But we couldn't see anything, we got out the map and route description, all it said was a 50 metre traverse.
We gingerly headed south but couldn't see a thing, we must have went about 100 metres, the slope was steepening, I was last on the rope and wasn't liking it, we stopped and debated our position. We didn't know were we where, we couldn't see a thing, we eventually decided to retrace ourselves back to the last abseil point where there was some shelter. Once at this sheltered spot we discussed our options; I was for staying put, we had shelter from the weather, bivvy bags and food. Almost miraculously the cloud thinned, we could see the ridge, it was straight ahead, the other side of the cornice, we quickly scampered over the snow to gain the ridge.
Obviously I was relieved to find the ridge, but any thought of things being over was way off the mark. Its about a kilometre long with some pretty hard climbing, the wind eased a bit and the snow stopped, visibility was about 20 metres. Soft snow on the rock made conditions challenging, just when you think the climbing is over up pops another pinnacle that looks un-climbable. We caught up with Elizabeth and Wim, Elizabeth was putting on her belay jacket, we asked how they where and they said they were ok, we overtook them and continued on. It was tiring now , one particular section called the bad step involved some strenuous moves, I just thought of reaching the glacier surely we must be near? After what seemed an eternity we were on the glacier, all now to negotiate the eigerjoch round a shoulder and down to the hut. But the visibility gets worst, we can't see a thing.
Its about a kilometre to navigate, we have to contour round a corrie south to gain a ridge, go round the shoulder of the ridge and descend to the hut. We take a bearing and head off, Florian in front , then Luca, then me, Luca held the compass and is directing Florian left and right, I'm at the back hope none of us falls in a crevasse. It's torture, you cant really tell were we are going and its hard to even gauge the slope aspect and all the while we have to weave round crevasses. Luckily we seemed to drop below the cloud line, I could make out the Walcherhorn and we could see the shoulder we were headed for. We were lower than were we should have been but we managed to negotiate round the crevasses and finally we could see the Monchjochutte.
I've never been so relieved in my life. I took a slide descending the slope but the glacier was soft and i arrested easily. We got to the door of the hut and shared a big man hug, a big showing of relief. We had hardly spoken since the summit, we were in a sort of automatic pilot mode had kicked in, but we had made it and we were as happy as.
The warden said he had been worried about us as the warden from the Mittellegi had phoned earlier and informed him that 2 party's had left. He asked about Elizabeth and Wim, and we said we had overtook them near the glacier and they shouldn't be long. As he was serving dinner he said he would wait till the other guys got back and feed us then. We bought a pot of tea and sat at the window looking out for the others, after an hour a couple of guides approached us and asked where exactly where we had seen Elizabeth and Wim. They had phoned in and informed the warden they were lost in the glacier, 2 guides headed of to find them. They got to the hut after 11pm, cold but ok. Next day we were having a rest day before heading for the Piz Badille, but the descent had shaken me up a bit , I was tired physically and mentally. I decided to head home and let the guys go tackle the badille without me. I had fulfilled my dream, I had summited The EIGER, maybe not exactly they way I had wanted but I had done it none the less, and I have to give a great big thank you to both Florian and Luca who helped me to achieve that.