For a long time it was regarded as invincible. And even after the first ascent in 1938, there have been several tragedies on the Eiger north face. However, the fascination remains, accompanied by the desire of many mountaineers to conquer the most famous north face of the Alps once in a lifetime under expert guidance.
Andreas Abegglen has already climbed the "Wall of Walls" over thirty times, making him one of the most experienced mountaineers on the Eiger. There is no lack of inquiries to participate in the historical tour. The fascination of the majestic north face continues to this day. The proximity to civilization and the good accessibility leads many mountaineers to take on the ambitious venture.
"I have great reverence for this majestic mountain."
Training and trust are a must
Abegglen chooses his customers carefully. With each individual, he undertakes a preparatory tour to determine whether their technical skills and condition are sufficient. "I'm responsible for my customers on the north face. They must trust me and I must have be certain that they can cope with this strenuous route," explains the qualified mountain guide. Indeed, at an altitude of 1800 metres with a climbing distance of approximately four kilometres with various changes between ice fields and bare rock, it is a challenge even for trained mountaineers.
At the beginning stands the Jungfraubahn
Together with his customers, Abegglen climbs along the Heckmair route, named after Anderl Heckmair, who in 1938 led the German-Austrian squad on the first ascent. If the weather forecast predicts stable, pleasant weather for at least three days, then the mountain guide and customer will ride up the Jungfrau Railway to the Eiger Glacier station on the evening before. They spend the night there, then head to the wall after midnight. The early start is a must, because they have ten climbing hours in front of them. Those who manage the Heckmair route with Abegglen, bivouac at most once on the face. Around half of his customers are able to complete the tour in a single day, meaning that they are on the go for approximately twenty hours.
"In the bivouac on the Eiger north face, with a view of my homeland, I feel safe."
High above and yet so close
The first hardness test is the "difficult crack", where the rock offers hardly any gripping surfaces. If there are difficulties, then this is a reason to turn back. Further challenges lie ahead. One example is the the forbidding Flatiron, which can only be handled with picks and crampons, or the ramp to the waterfall chimney, which arches above it. The mountaineers at the Traverse of the Gods need nerves of steel. "This passage is eerily exposed with an unobstructed view 400 meters into the depth." There are also peaceful moments on the wall, however. For example, on the evening of the first day in the bivouac on a small rock formation. "High above, I'm sitting in the middle of the Eiger north face, looking at the many distant lights in Grindelwald, and a sense of tranquillity comes over me," enthuses Abegglen.
With full concentration until the very end
At the top of the summit, Abegglen congratulates his customers on their exceptional performance. "But I also remind them that they have to concentrate fully on the descent." The path across the west flank of the Eiger down to the Eiger glacier station is technically less demanding, but accidents often occur on the return trip. The summit is not the ultimate goal. The safe return home is.
Andreas Abegglen seems to have been born (*1976) with a fascination for mountains. Growing up in Grindelwald, he looked up at the Eiger north face every day. In 1999, the trained forest ranger climbed it for the first time. He has been a fully qualified mountain guide since 2002.