Routes: North Face of the Eiger

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Stephen Venables on one of the most iconic routes in mountaineering

Dick Renshaw, who made the first British winter ascent with Joe Tasker, once said to me, “it’s simply the best route in the Alps”. The North Face of the Eiger weaves a cunning and beautifully logical line up the most awesome mountain wall in Europe and because of its unique and often grizzly history it has an extraordinary aura. In good conditions, well-plastered with snow and ice, it is a brilliant mixed climb with numerous memorable historic pitches, such as the Difficult Crack, Hinterstoisser Traverse, Waterfall Chimney, Brittle Crack, Traverse of the Gods, Quartz Crack and so on. From Death Bivouac, over half way up the wall, I counted 30 pitches to the summit, and almost every one of them was brilliant.

For all that, the Eigerwand is still potentially dangerous. Get caught in a big storm and you can find yourself trapped in the firing line of vicious avalanches, rockfall and, in summer, devastating waterfalls. The route may now have been soloed in an astounding time of two hours 28 minutes but, for most of us, it remains a serious undertaking.

STATS:

  • Eiger North-west Face (‘Eigerwand’) 3,970m, 1,700 metres.  Grade ED2, IV+
  • First ascent: Heinrich Harrer, Anderl Heckmair, Fritz Kasparek and Ludwig Vörg, July 21-24 1938
  • First winter ascent: Walter Almberger, Toni Hiebeler, Toni Kinshofer, Anderl Mannhardt, 1961
  • First solo ascent: Michel Darbellay, 1963

 

OTHER SIGNIFICANT ROUTES

  • Direct ‘Harlin Route’:  Dougal Haston, Jörg Lehne, Günther Strobel, Roland Votteler and Siegfried Hupfauer, 1965
  • (John Harlin killed when the fixed rope broke, thus also preventing Layton Kor from completing the route)
  • ‘Metanoia’: Jeff Lowe (solo), 1991
  • ‘Le Chant du Cygne’: Daniel Anker and Michel Piola, 1992

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