The Heckmair Route – The North Face of the Eiger
The rain was pouring down in Chamonix when we returned from the Grandes Jorasses climb. We were tired, with our feet soaked wet but felt happy. We really enjoyed drinking a beer in the middle of the rain in front of Maison de la Montagne.
The next 3 days we hanged around the valley, we met with our friends, slacklined, ate pizza and enjoyed more beer. Another good weather window was approaching and we started making plans again for another climb. Too many possibilities for interesting climbs or just too few… we weren’t able to figure out what to do next.
And then we met our friend Catalin Pobega who had just returned from the Eiger and told us the North face was in good conditions and the Heckmair route would really be worth trying. Initially we weren’t thinking of going climbing elsewhere than Chamonix but thinking outside the box seemed a good idea that time.
Alex got really excited about the idea. The Eiger seemed to be a really special mountain for him, especially after reading The White Spider, historical articles and watching documentaries about the its North face climbing history and records. I was surprised to find out he knew the entire route so well, with all the difficult parts, bivouac places and important orientation features, and all without even being on the mountain before.
With the documentation part solved so easily, we packed all our things and drove to Grindelwald. We couldn’t find a free parking place anywhere for our “four wheel mobile home” and I was reminded we were not in France anymore. The expensive parking was one more reason why we had to climb the Eiger as fast as we could. Then we had the most spectacular train ride ever and ended our day in a no tent bivouac at the Eigergletcher train station. The weather was cloudy during the day but it cleared during the night and a sky full of stars revealed above the Eiger.
We woke up, brewed and ate and started for the base of the Heckmair route at about 4 am. We started quite late because we wanted to climb the first difficulties of the route during daylight.
There were a couple of teams above us that allowed us to speed up the first part without loosing time to search for the route. We simul-soloed at the beginning and we decided to rope up just below the “difficult crack”. At this point our good progress slowed down because we caught up with the other teams. We waited a little more than an hour for the jam to clear out. Then, I led the climb on the “Difficult Crack”. I had climbed before with ice axes on limestone but there the rock was odd and for some reason I couldn’t trust the rounded slabby holds. I placed the axes on the harness and continued climbing with my bare hands and even if it was cold I felt more secure. After that part we changed leads and Alex went on climbing the next pitches. Then the famous Hinterstoisser traverse followed. These days there is almost no climbing here, you just hang on some fixed ropes and try to move as fast as you can. I can’t even imagine how difficult this traverse was for Hinterstoisser back in the 30′ because the wall has only tiny and minuscule holds and almost nothing for the feet.
After the traverse Alex climbed a long pitch of thin ice and then we reached easier ground where we simul-climbed. There we passed a Spanish team. A 5 minutes rest at the “Death Bivouac” was enough to drink and eat some energy bars. We then headed towards “the Ramp” where we found more serious climbing, on mixed and dry rock. On the more difficult sections we could find some old pitons among which we could place nuts and friends. Protection wasn’t the issue on this route. At the end of the ramp an easy snow couloir took us to the Brittle Ledges. We planned from the beginning to set our bivouac there. It was 6 pm, we still had time to climb but we did not know if we could find a better place to sleep. At the ledges we met a Swiss team who had already set their sleeping bags on the most comfortable places. Alex found a small snow platform and I had to try to sleep on a very narrow and uncomfortable rock ledge. Our first day on the wall was very good, we felt a little tired but OK and the morale was up. The view from that point and the drop below us was spectacular.
I couldn’t sleep too much, it was quite windy and I shivered almost the entire night… I waited eagerly for the first rays of the sun. Noodle soups and tea for breakfast got our energy levels up again. We started climbing at 8:30 in the morning and without any proper warm up I climbed the “Brittle Crack” and I felt it like the most difficult pitch of the route.
Then other famous sections followed on which we felt more comfortable, the “Traverse of the Gods”, the “White Spider”, the “Quartz Crack”. Before the “Exit Cracks” some very fast teams of Swiss guides passed by and sent some ice chunks straight on our heads just to remind us that climbing is still serious until the end.
At mid-day we reached the final easy pitch before the summit ridge and at about 13:30 we were on the summit drinking the last drops of water and eating the sun heated chocolate. Perfect weather, incredible views!
We had finished climbing the route with the most significant climbing history from the Alps. It feels really incredible to pass through all the places that became famous through the stories of the most renowned climbers in the world.
We had a really nice and successful trip in the Alps this spring and it’s definitely the time for me to think about new challenging climbs.