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The North Face of the Eiger

The North Face of the Eiger

Alex Jeffers
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You may have read about Dave Almond and Mark Thomas's first ascent of 'Jöttnar' last March, a tenuous and icy horror show that delicately weaved its way up the north face of Chamonix's Aiguille du Midi, at a proposed grade of Scottish VIII,8.   Dave was back in the Alps last month, partnered with Owen Samuel, and this time successfully ticked off the notorious 1938 route on the north face of the Eiger.

The North Face of the Eiger

The Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg, its north face obscured by cloud.

The Eiger, the big challenge.  History, length of the route and weather all make this a difficult mountain to ascend.  For a number of years I have been going out to the Alps with various partners in the hopes of climbing this mountain but for a variety of reasons failing.  On Wednesday 5th March I received a call off Owen Samuel, to ask if I was interested in having a go at the Eiger.  The forecast was clear skies and no wind for the following week.  Could I leave on Friday?  No, as I was entertaining but Saturday was good, back home on Wednesday for the cheap flights and back to work for both of us.  It helps being self employed and I immediately allowed myself the time to have the opportunity for this 5 day trip.

We flew in on Saturday afternoon and caught the first train up the mountain on Sunday morning.  An hour walk in and we were on the route.  I had asked Owen who is a BMG if he was bothered about acclimatization but he responded that we would just have to deal with the altitude sickness.  It was on the way home that he let on that he was carrying all the drugs (as he is a Paramedic) for altitude in case he needed them.  I may just have had to suffer!  We hit the lower slopes hard trying to gain as much height as quickly as possible.  We had expected to spend at least one night on the mountain, possibly a second on the summit.  I must admit that I don’t do cold bivvys very well so was pushing hard to avoid this scenario.

Difficult Crack, North Face of the Eiger

Owen Samuel on the Difficult Crack

I sped across the Hinterstoisser traverse as we moved together only to reach the far side and I thought "Where are the photos?”  I had just crossed one of the most famous pieces of rock for a climber and I didn’t have a photo.  I realized all of a sudden that for this route going fast was missing the point.  When Owen came across we had a discussion and decided to back off the pace.  We carried on up to Death Bivvy enjoying the setting sun as we crossed the Second Ice field.

Second Ice Field, North Face of The Eiger

Owen Samuel on the Second Ice Field

Fortunately we had the bivvy to ourselves as it is not too roomy.  The following morning as I was waking up I noticed head torches on the approach slopes.  We moved off up the Ramp and before we were half way up two Swiss guides and their clients were overtaking us!  “Do you know the route?" I enquired, to be told by the guide that he was on his eighteenth ascent!   As they moved off I was left thinking their clients would fail to appreciate the climb despite being able to stand in the pub and say they had ticked it in 11 hours.  We continued on over the Brittle Ledges and up the Brittle Crack arriving at the bivvy on the Traverse of the Gods at approximately 1pm.

Second Bivvy, Sunbathing on the North Face of The Eiger

Dave Almond relaxing on second bivvy

Here we relaxed and made ourselves comfortable on the eighteen inch wide snow ledge and waited for the sun to arrive.  I have never previously had the time to sit, enjoy the view and sunbathe on an alpine route.  It was bliss.  At 5 o`clock three Italians turned up and as we were lying down, they were left with sitting room only.  They conversed all night till 3 am and then left us to have an hour of peaceful sleep before we were up and away at 5.30am.

Traverse of the Gods, North Face of the Eiger

Dave Almond on The Traverse of the Gods

We moved across the Traverse of The Gods which I personally considered the highlight of the face as you have exposure, loose rock and bad gear which really sums up the whole route.  Moving across the third Ice Field I managed to drop my new Petzl Sirocco helmet at possibly the most exposed point on the route for rock fall.  We quickly moved on enjoying the technical moves of the Quartz Crack and then moving together on the Exit Cracks.  Eventually we made the sunshine of the summit ridge and topped out at 2pm.  After a brief rest, we raced for the last train off the mountain and on for a celebratory meal and beers.

The Summit Ridge, North Face of The Eiger

Owen Samuel on the summit ridge

On reflection I realised that by taking our time we had managed to relax and enjoy the route, avoiding altitude sickness by slowly gaining height and basically making a big Alpine route a whole lot more manageable for ourselves, rather than trying to do it in the style of the uber-Alpinist who has the advantage of acclimatization and fitness.  In future I will reconsider my attitude towards Alpine routes and the necessity of speed.

Eiger in the background

Dave left, Owen right, Eiger rear

Owen is a British Mountain Guide with Ibex Mountain Guides and Dave tries to fit climbing into a hectic life split between family and running a Builders Merchants.  

Congratulations guys, and thanks to Dave for the words and to both for the images.

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