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“The Eiger is like no other mountain. It is easy when talking about it to amass superlatives: the most deadly, the most sinister, the one that has provoked the most controversy.” *


The north face of The Eiger is notorious. Its name alone resonates far beyond the circles of climbers and mountaineers. It evokes a sense of danger and forbidding, unmatched by any other mountain. A scene of epic struggles before and since its first ascent in 1938, it was immortalised by Heinrich Harrer’s ‘The White Spider’ and Hollywood’s ‘The Eiger Sanction’, starring Clint Eastwood. Although its difficulty has now been much surpassed by modern standards of alpinism, it is arguably the north face by which all others are measured.


Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Location


Spring or Autumn

Season


3970 m

Summit Height

The history and media fascination that still surrounds the original 1938 route is everywhere, and this plays an unmissable role when climbing it. Sleeping at Death Bivouac, aware of what took place there, or clipping pitons that might well have been placed by the first ascensionists; this iconic route really is incredible from start to finish.

“...an obsession for the mentally deranged...”

Alpine Journal editor Edward Lisle Strut - 1938

The face is 1,800 metres top to bottom although the route itself is likely around 2,500m, owing to the horizontal traversing. It comprises five crux pitches, all around Scottish V/VI. They are short-lived and mostly protected by old and untrustworthy pitons. Leading Scottish mixed routes at grade V comfortably and simul-climbing the easier pitches is a must to climb the route in a day.


WATCH HEADCAM EDIT: click below .

Video
Video

“...incredible...”

Tim Howell - 2015

If you’re aiming to climb the route over two days, the normal tactics are to either catch the first train up to the base, climb all day and spend the first night at Death Bivouac. Or, to take the train the day before, sleep at the base, employ an alpine start and bivvy at the higher Brittle Ledges spot. Either way, the remainder of the route can then be finished the following day. The summit provides enough flat space for a suitable bivvy, if required. 

The Five Crux Pitches

Difficult Crack: The first hurdle on the route. A few in-situ pitons and slings for protection, and a warm up for what’s to come.


Hinterstoisser Traverse: Pretty straightforward unless you’re trying to free it. A lot of exposure, but old in-situ ropes to rely on. Some teams will simul-climb this section, but only if they trust the ropes!


The Ice Chimney: Often no ice here at all, and is the most physically demanding pitch. Ledges on either side of the overhung dihedral offer enough axe placements, and in-situ tat and pitons are normally adequate.


The Brittle Crack: A short pitch with fixed gear and reasonably positive holds.


The Quartz Crack: A technical crack offering little placements for feet. This short pitch packs a punch near the end of route.  

EIGER north face GALLERY

Images ©Tim Howell

Climbing the ice fields quickly is important as they get hit with falling debris, especially during the warmer part of the day. Conventionally undertaken in summer, it’s now hard to find the route in good condition at that time of year. It’s therefore becoming more common to see ascents earlier in the year and even during the winter. It’s crucial to undertake the route only in good condition and in a period of stable weather, otherwise many of the pitches will be harder than expected, and even unprotectable.


The summit allows enough room for a shiver bivvy if needed, and the descent is simple enough. Head back down to the train station where the conductor might ask if you’ve just climbed the face, and may even shake your hand. 

*Sylvain Jouty, from the Foreword of ‘Eiger. The Vertical Arena’.

Specialist equipment


70 °

Average Steepness


Two Days

Normal Ascent Time


ED2 (Scottish VI,6)

Grade

ESSENTIAL GEAR for Eiger North Face

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