From the History
(composed by N. Totmianin)

Eiger. Four routes on the wall. The relatively low mountain Eiger (3970m) in the Swiss Alps is one of the most famous in the world. For a long time its north wall was considered to be absolutely inaccessible and even had been named "the Death Wall" due to tragic events that took place there. From 100m below the summit of the mountain it falls abruptly for 1800m.

The first serious attempt to climb it was undertaken by Max Seidlmayer and Karl Meringer from Munich only in 1935. They started in August 21 but three days later bad weather had hidden them... Three weeks had passed before their bodies were seen from an aircraft.

July 1936 brought a new firm attack by Hinterstoisser and Kurz from Berchtesgaden and Reiner and Angerer from Innsbruck. This time the attempt ended again with a catastrophe - Reiner froze to death, Hinterstoisser fell and smashed, Angerer was strangled with the rope while attempting to abseil, and Kurz died of cold and starvation as the rescue team approached.

However, on the next year two more groups decided to try their luck... Two Italians, entirely exhausted, were brought down by rescuers but another two from Salzburg turned out to be less lucky - one of them died from exhaustion while another was rescued with frost-bitten feet. The wall was gaining notoriety. The local guide association declared that it would no longer try to rescue those "maniacs" who attempted to climb the wall. But prohibitions could never stifle human curiosity and endeavour to explore the unknown...

1938. Two Italians died at the top of the third ice field. Now this place is called "the Death Bivouac". But on the same year success on the wall was achieved by the united efforts of two Germans, A.Heckmayer and L.Vörg, and two Austrians, F.Casparek and G.Harrer (July 27, 1938). The climbers were awarded with Olympic Gold Medals for their ascent of the Death Wall - an extraordinary event in the history of mountaineering!

The first winter ascent of this classic route was in March 1961.

In 1966, from February 23 to March 25, a new way on the wall was put up at the first time in winter conditions - the John Harlin route or "winter diretissima". 13 climbers from two teams, British-American and German, joined together to assault the wall. They climbed in expedition style, fixing ropes on all of the route and descending to the Kleine Scheidegg village for rests. Five participants reached the summit but the price was high - during the ascent John Harlin, the expedition leader, died because of fixed rope breaking. The expedition style provoked heated debate.

Nevertheless the second ascent of the route was also in the expedition style by a Japanese party. The 7 man team spent almost 3 months climbing the wall, December 24 1969 to March 21 1970. 2355m of fixed rope was used on the route and several members of the expedition stayed on the wall for 26 days without descending for a rest.

The tragic and painful history of the Eigernordwand conquest is due to its natural characteristics - average angle about 70 degrees, height of 1800m, unique for low mountains, and appalling weather conditions. Being concave and exposed to the North it is shaded and cold even in summer but in winter it practically never feels the Sun. The legendary wall continues to attract climbers from all over the world. Now there are about a dozen routes, four of which cross the center and lead to the summit vicinity (the red line on the picture is the classic route, the yellow one is John Harlin's route). All four are grade 6 in the Swiss seven grade scale - AS (ausserst schweirig). Among them the John Harlin route appears to be the most beautiful and logical. In summer it is impassable due to extreme danger of falling rock. But in winter it is a very interesting mixed rout of AS+, which corresponds to russian 6b grade. To the best of our knowledge nobody has attempted the climb over the last four years.

Some Additional Notes to the History
(S. Kalmykov)

1. In response to my questions (October 1997) Jean Claude Marmier, High Mountain Group President in the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (Chamonix), wrote (the translation by S.K.):
"I am in familiar with the John Harlin route because I have climbed it straight up through the Fly in February 1978. It took eighteen days on the wall. Not bad since weather conditions blockaded us first on the second wall (near the Eigerwand station) and then on the Death Bivouac. In fact, there are only a few ascents exactly following the original route. The most remarkable climb had been performed in the fall '78 by the American Tobin Sorenson for four days. He was an outstanding climber soloist, evangelical pastor. He has realized many extraordinary ascents of Dru and Grandes Jorasses. He died several years ago, alone as always, in Rocky Mountains."

2. The only russian way on the wall has been climbed by the team from city of Magnitogorsk in August 1994. They have made a diretissima far to the right from the wall center, with exit up to a shoulder of the North-West ridge where the normal descent way goes. The second russian ascent of the wall has been realized by our group from CET Neva agency, and the third one has been performed in August '97 by Valery Babanov and Michael Yarin on the classic route.

Letters to friends

Back to the front page