Eiger North Face
The last few rays of an autumnal alpine sunset turned the summit ice fields of the Eiger to orange. Mike and I had been climbing for nearly 12 hours and were pleased and relieved to reach a decent bivi spot on the Mittellegi Ridge. The dusky panorama was stunning with the darkly silhouetted giants of the Oberland closest. A cold and stiff breeze blasted ice crystals into our faces and it was time to settle down for some soup and a solid 9 hours of shivering!
At the other end of the day our pre-dawn start was from the comfortable bahnoff lodge at Kleine Scheidegg. An alpine breakfast time enabled a leisurely amble across the frozen heather moorland to the bottom of the face. A walk more reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands than the North Face of the Eiger.
The deliberately calm start was timed to bring us to the entrance chimney, the gateway to the North Face, at dawn. We were early. It was still dark but we set off anyway. The short but pushy chimney focused the mind and gave way to surprisingly enjoyable limestone scrambling up towards the next key feature, the well named ‘Difficult Crack’.
Somewhat inadvertently we ended up moving together up the Difficult Crack (see video). Mike was engrossed in the climbing, doing a great job and just kept going, so I followed! Conditions on the face were tremendous and could best be summarized as snowy snow, rocky rock and icy ice. All things in the right places with a good track inbetween.
Moving together on the ice fields could better be described as soloing with the rope on. Under these circumstances it is good to know your partner and I knew mine well. One of the highlights of climbing the Eiger Nordwand for me was that it was with an old mate. Mike is always good fun to go rock climbing with and we often end up making a team ascent of a route far too hard for both of us, air miles guaranteed. Under the rather different circumstances on the Eiger Mike was an incredibly steady and nimble hand and a good person to be tied too!
The Hinterstoisser traverse, ice-hose and 1st & 2nd ice-fields were a romp and we stopped for a brew and a Swiss pasty at the ‘Death Bivouac’. Superb but steady icy mixed climbing up the ramp lead to a tougher proposition and I was glad for a break and re-group whilst Mike engaged in the sporting mixed climbing up the waterfall chimney pitch.
One famous feature led to the next and as well as providing some superb climbing the ascent of the face felt like a historical journey. ‘Brittle Ledges’ led into the ‘Traverse of the Gods’ which led in to the ‘White Spider’. With the benefit of good tracks, a topo and modern lightweight gear we genuinely marveled at the skill, courage and simply amazing mountaineering achievement of Heckmair, Harrer, Kasparek & Vorg’s first ascent in 1938.
We marveled even more at the Quartz Crack, a key passage through the exit chimneys. If this formed the crux of a Grade VI Glencoe mixed route you would not feel shortchanged. My calves were certainly sated by the quota of lactic acid coursing through them as I teetered my monopoints on small limestone edges whilst trying to tame my unruly rucksack full of comfortable bivi gear!
A short pitch led to the much awaited ‘Corti Bivi’ which proved to be something of a disappointment. A good deal more calf pumping and quality icy chimneying led to the rocky knoll at the base of the summit ice fields and a much awaited brew, snow melting session and the bonus of some warm evening sun.
Sublime evening alpenglow on the summit ice fields could only be matched by our growing warm satisfaction at achieving a long held ambition and tempered only by the need for continuing concentration on tiring legs.
A night of classic chilled bivi sweating and clock watching passed eventually aided by shooting stars, good chat and Mike warming the hot water bottles occasionally. I would say I ‘didn’t sleep a wink’ but Mike’s reports of my snoring may suggest otherwise! Dawn warmed the proceedings considerably and sparked us up to crunch along the elegant final crest of the Mittellegi Ridge and dash down the West Face for a free beer served by pretty blonde waitresses at the Kleine Scheidegg…..
Where are my boots? I need to hang them up.
....until the next time that is.