“What you doing from Tuesday to Thursday?” Caro asked in her email. Actually, I was supposed to be at uni, I had lectures. But when the mountains call...
It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting in the car on my way to the Swiss border. The sat nav is set for Grindelwald. The weather seems to be cooperating, we should get decent conditions.
Early next morning, shortly after six, Caro and I take the first train for the Jungfraujoch to get out at the Eigergletscher (Eiger Glacier) station. About half way, a friendly female voice announces in three languages that the Eiger North Face is coming up on the left.
We look left. Nothing – just white mist. Everything is obscured from view. There isn’t much snow either. It would be nice to have more than two meters’ visibility. As the train arrives, the weather clears. We’re up above the clouds; the sun is shining – now this is more like it.
Leaving our skis near the chair lift, we head off on the approach. It’s not far. There’s a trail; it’s easy going. After quickly reaching the start of the route (at around nine), we solo up the snow terraces and small rock bands, with the exception of ten meters where we get the rope out. Shortly before the Difficult Crack we rope up. And then continue to climb together. On the awkward sections between the actual pitches and on the icefields, we move simultaneously. Conditions are not bad, but everything is very dry. The Hinterstoisser Traverse only has ice on the first ten meters and the Ice Hose that links the first and second icefield barely merits the name.
It’s late in the afternoon, the sun is shining on the face and stones start to rain down from above. We’ve already long finished the second icefield and are making ourselves comfortable at Death Bivouac to watch the last rays of the setting sun. And it really is comfortable. We’re sharing the spacious bivvy, which accommodates six, with only two other British climbers.
Melting ice, freeze-dried meals and it’s into the sleeping bag. As usual, Caro and have one sleeping bag between us and just half a Z-rest each. And also as usual, this proves super warm and cosy – we even keep our boots on.
Next morning, we’re up to start at first light. However, it takes us longer than expected in the bivvy (as it always does). Melting ice, sorting gear – it all takes time and the British pair leaves before us. Never mind, roped up and moving together, we make our way across the third icefield to the Ramp, where we hit a traffic jam. A number of parties, who started out earlier this morning, are now climbing behind our English colleagues. It’s all a bit confusing. Overtaking, being overtaken... by the time we reach the Waterfall Chimney (which has not a drop of water in it) things have calmed down. We might not be alone, however the Swiss team with whom we’ve been moving more or less in parallel with, are also looking pretty relaxed and so everything is just fine.
The Brittle Ledges, Brittle Crack (which is no longer that brittle), Traverse of the Gods, Spider, the Quartz Crack. All famous, renowned pitches. The hardest or rather most unpleasant difficulties nowadays are the awkward, but short rock steps between them.
In the Exit Cracks we run into a Scottish team, who seem to be burrowing into the face, rather than climbing it. We’re able to pass them too without problem. We move onto the summit ice field still roped up (there’s has a thin layer of ice in places that kills your calves, even in the best of boots) and then follow the better firn until high up on the Mittellegi Ridge. We’ve climbed the right-hand side; the drop to the left looks just as steep. The view is spectacular, on one side the valleys of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen and on the other, the entire Bernese Oberland spread out. We’re up above the clouds. And the sun is setting. Around half six next morning, we wake up on the summit. It’s the first time for both of us – and we’re delighted. You always read about the myths and deaths when it comes to the Eiger, but for us, everything fell into place. It was just like every other big face. You have to work for it, but there are no witches (or ogres*) up there. And, as with every other big route, the descent is the worst part. 1,700 meters down through crusted snow to the Eigergletscher Station from where we ski the remaining 1,300 meters back over the piste to Grindelwald. Our muscles ache – but it was worth every minute.
* Eiger means ogre in German.