Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Eiger North Face

"There can be few alpinists who have not day-dreamed of climbing the North wall of the Eiger." - Les Swindin starts the description of the North Face in the Alpine club's guide for Bernese Oberland

It took quite a few years for me to have the luck of the necessary ingredients coming together: stable conditions on the face, reasonable shape, bomber weather forecast coinciding with a weekend and a good partner ready to go. When it finally did happen, it proved to be quite a trip!

After Frieder and I got of the train at Eigergletcher and went for a reconnaissance we were surprised to see no one around despite the great weather forecast. Also, there were no tracks on the face which meant that we're up for a true adventure. The usual start wasn't formed either so we had to do a strange traverse from the right to get to the entrance chimneys.

Checking out the face the night before starting the climb.
The cool thing about this climb is that you traverse some crazy terrain, described in so many books, articles, reports and bonfire stories to scare the kids. You do feel as if you were reliving these stories, rubbing shoulders with Harrer or Hinterstoisser. 

The first part of the face follows easy terrain, but the navigation requires some attention. Soon enough you pass through the window in the wall, scene to so many epics of people bailing off the face. The first line of defense is the aptly named difficult crack, which proved to be rather difficult indeed with snow covered rock giving quite an intense breakfast climbing. The infamous Hinterstoisser traverse provided us another surprise - I was climbing some nice neve thinking that I am approaching the traverse when I saw a piece of rope sticking out of the snow. When I pulled the rope and looked around me, I realized that I have already passed the traverse. The conditions on this feature were so good we almost missed it!

Navigating in the morning.

Low angle start.

Getting my hands cold on the difficult crack.

Frieder following the Hinterstoisser traverse.
One famous feature followed the next and we crossed the first ice field, climbed the ice hose, traversed the second ice field and had to rope up for another pitch on the flatiron before reaching the ominously-sounding, yet extremely comfortable Death Bivouac. Beautiful sunset saw us having our tea and sharing stories in this wild place.
Ice hose

Frieder just before the Death Bivy.

Hilton of the Eiger.

Michelin *** meal.

Frieder checking out the view.
The second day started with crossing the third ice field and climbing up the start of the ramp. We were simulclimbing and I was about to reach the start of the waterfall chimney pitch, when a huge ice plate detached from the wall taking me along. Since there was some slack while we were moving together, I got to dangle on the rope for a bit before resuming the climbing. 

The waterfall chimney itself was quite difficult (probably the hardest pitch on the route in these conditions) and took some time to get the access to the ramp ice field. Brittle ledges were followed by the brittle crack, which was quickly dispatched by Frieder.

Then we got on to the Traverse of the Gods, This totally blew my mind. It is an insecure traverse on some rather crappy rock and snow with the ridiculous amount of exposure, with pretty much the whole face height under your feet. A sheer lunacy. I would like to find out what the guys on the first ascent have been smoking.

The mixed climbing up the ramp.

Happy Frieder.

Me on some thin ice.

Exit of the waterfall chimney.

Frieder crushing the brittle crack.

Traverse of the Gods, the start.

Traverse of the Gods, the scary part.
The white spider was a romp which led us to a couple of pleasant ice pitches to reach the Quartz crack. Typically, it is one of the harder pitches on the face, but we found quite a lot of ice on the left wall which allowed us to climb it with little effort. However, by that time, the evening sun started licking the top of the wall releasing some snow from above and I had to take a few spindrift showers while climbing the ice.

We reached the Corti bivy in a glorious alpenglow, making this place even more spectacular. As the short day was coming to the end, we decided to stay there for the night and finish the climb on the third day. No Hilton this time though, we had to spend a few hours digging out the snow and chopping the ice to get a sitting bivy for ourselves. Not too comfy really, but the views down the valley were worth it.

Ice runnels.

I am getting ready for the incoming spindrift.

Reaching the Corti bivy in the evening.

Morning delivered a few more pitches of good ice, which were followed by a snow romp up to the top part of the Mittellegi ridge. The ridge itself turned out to be rather time consuming. Finally, at 11am, we were standing on the summit, picking objectives in the horizon for the next adventures.
Frieder finishing of the exit cracks.
Final few steps on the north side.

The ridge. 

Other side.

This is how you climb in the alps. Environmentally friendly, with train access to the big faces. Can you spot the stinking weirdo in the train window?
What a trip!