From S. Kalmykov's Letters to His Foreign Friends
...I'd like to explain what the mountain we are going to climb up means for russian climbers and in particular for myself.
I entered in mountaineering in 1960. Then I was only a little bit older than 20 and I was under a spell of the only book in Russian on climbing in the Alps which was accessible at that time in the USSR - "Alpinism abroad" by B.Garf and F.Kropf. I read and re-read it, kept in mind the great climbers' names - those of Frenchmen Guido Magnon and Lionel Terray, of the Germans Hermann Buhl and Kuno Reiner, of the Italian Walter Bonatti... there were whole pages of their exploits on famous alpine walls which I knew by heart. But all my dreams were absolutely hopeless because these were 60s in the USSR! It was like... to fall in love with Sophie Loren. And in the reverie I composed a list of walls I'd like to climb.
First place on the list was the Great Wall: the north wall of the Eiger. Its 2km of rocks and ice gained the lugubrious title of "the Death Wall" which killed several tens of climbers. Two Austrians and two Germans, who first climbed it by the easiest route in 1938, were awarded with gold medals of the Berlin Olympiad 1936 by Hitler himself.
Of course, I clearly understand that everything has its time, but when my younger friends offered me the chance, at almost 60 years old, to realize the dream of my youth... I could not resist...
I returned yesterday. We (5 persons) climbed the Eigernordwand on John Harlin's route for 7 days. The weather was normal only for the first four days. Then a night blizzard started and lasted for 2 days. So on the fifth day we were sitting in the same place, two ropelengths (80m) below the Spider, periodically cleaning off the snow. Since besides all other, our team was taking part in the Winter Championship of Russia, we had to top out by February 28 at the latest. Therefore, in spite of the continuing blizzard, we resumed progress on the next day (February 27) and bivouaced at the top of the Spider. The rock conditions became awful and to complete the John Harlin route would inevitably have involved one more night bivouac. This is why for the last 200m we turned left to the crack of the classic route and on February 28 at about 15.00hrs we were standing on the summit under the last rays of the setting Sun, which we saw for first time during the week.
On the descent we got in hugs of our young friend, Canadian climber Conny Amelunxen. On the evening of this same day we were drinking hot wine and cold beer in the Kleine Scheidegg restourant.
During these days phrases from the "Eiger sanction" warmed my soul: something like "When you're 37 you're too old for the Eiger, fellow... Now I'm 42 and if we succeed I'll be the most aged climber ever having conquerred the Eiger".
At the middle of our ascent, another our friend, a climber from the small town of Yverdon (not far from Lausanne) requested from the resque service headquarters in Zurich on the situation with our team (we had paid our insurance). The reply was: "Monsieur, the present weather conditions on the Eigernordwand preclude any group stay there. For sure, there are no groups on the wall now." "I know this", he said, "but these are Russians. This is not the same that others. Please, check the wall." But there was zero visibility and neither observing nor helicopters could help. However, during our stay on the summit, and then while descending, we were honourably escorted by a beautiful red resque bird until they had convinced themselves that we were OK, though crazy.
People told us that the whole valley watched our climbing. In the first three days many small planes and helicopters circled the mountain.
The great wall!.. But there was one thing that was strange and hardly acceptable for us Russians, in comparison with our wild mountains: the tunnel and the railway station Eigernordwand. Our first bivouac was 100m to the right of the tunnel's windows, spectators observed our climbing and at night we could see the electric light reflecting on the snow!
Well... Greetings to Erich Hoffmann, with his video about Eric Jones' solo on the Eiger, he was one of the motive forces in our undertaking. Regards, yours, S.K.