June 13th 2012

A Picture Story 4…Eiger

The Eiger North Face, maybe the worlds most famous Alpine route. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, this route above all others is always at the top of your tick list. The face is shrouded in history and landmark names such as the Traverse of the Gods, Death Bivy and the White Spider are all part of Alpine vocabulary now. Since Ueli’s speed solos it has become a bit fashionable amongst strong climbers to see how fast they can climb it – in a way it’s like trying to see how you fare to the likes of Ueli. But it’s a big route, at 1800m it far exceeds anything in height gain that we have in the Mont Blanc massif, and retreating high up off the face is no easy matter.

In the winter of 2009 myself and Will Sim woke up in the car in Grindelwald to a full on snow storm so retreated back to Chamonix tails between our legs. A year later though and we’d heard good reports of recent ascents so with a good weather window we excitedly headed back over into Switzerland and to the Eiger. The face had been busy; at least 5 teams came down that evening to the train station where we were bivying including some old friends of ours. We still werent sure whether to savour the route and put a bivi on the face or to go light and fast and do it in a day, hearing how good conditions were we opted for the latter, and crawled into the Firstlite for a good night’s sleep.

3am rise and shine. It was a perfect morning and we were quickly underway. At first we decided to run up it as fast as we could, and so we did. Soloing up to the Difficult crack we got our first taste of winter limestone action which Will quickly dispatched. Onwards and upwards passed the Hinterstoisser Traverse, the first ice field, the Hose, the second ice field, death bivy….it all flew passed. At this point two things happened. Firstly we caught up with some very good Chamonix friends of ours, the George’s, and secondly we both tacitly slowed the pace down. It seemed daft to not take in this world famous route- so whilst still simul climbing we took our time to enjoy the climbing and the route. One of those few times where we’ve laughed and chatted all the way up the mountain – it was an excellent day.

The shot is taken on the final ridge to the summit. A stitched pan of the Oberland and Will heading to the top of the Eiger. It was an excellent little mission and whilst not coming anywhere near Ueli’s time, a round trip of 14 hours from our bivy got us psyched for our upcoming Alaska trip.

The Alpine Exposures coffee table photo book

Part of a series of picture stories by Jonathan Griffith