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The North Face of the Eiger by Nigel (Yorky) Robinson
rock climbing alpine rock

We pulled into Grindlewand in the early hours after driving with wild abandon and nose down on dark dry roads. Tequila Terry and I had survived our first journey and grabbed some much needed sleep.

We awoke to the Ogre sentinel before our eyes, beckoning us on with its halo of sky blue. So soon after leaving my home I was being confronted with the reality of a lifetime’s dream. This was no dress rehearsal and my young friend could see nothing but green lights. My mind was still weary from German tarmac and I struggled to make my pack light, and only realised how weary I was, when it settled on my back and my legs started complaining. Must show willing’ I thought as ‘Tequila’ powered away from me up the meadows in the midday heat. I suffered in his wake and began to think that earning a living driving an artic did nothing for leg power Terry earns his by taking people out in the hills. Oh! The art of suffering, was it really worth all the pain? As I struggled with my mind and legs I felt far away and incompetent.

With a bivi site chosen and a brew on, we cast our eyes over the imposing mass of mountain. It was crying tears as its ice fields melted; I turned away, head down and sunbathed. Terry played with some new ice tools on the initial ice field until turned away by the first taste of Eiger firepower. As I lay looking backwards, casting my eyes from side to side and seeing nothing but Eigerwand, the enormity of our task penetrated my mind. Why were we idling away good weather and climbing time. One reason being tiredness and the other a German hotshot who we let convince us that the Swallow’s Nest was only an hour away from breakfast. Two and a half hours soloing found us queuing at the foot of the Difficult Crack surrounded by deteriorating weather and with spirits subdued by excess water and stone fall. Still tired from our journey. I suggested retreat was the order of the moment and much to my surprise my partner agreed. We were beckoned to the magic station window and watched the other teams disappear into the mountain’s belly.

This was not so with Terence as he decided to gaze from the windows before wanting to give it a proper go to reach Swallows and rest up. I thought we already had, so with less than enthusiasm, I played with the fixed rope snaking down the Difficult Crack. Thunder and lightning were on cue as I announced enough was enough our wounded pride in the afternoon light.

Put it down to training!

Terry was working out how soon we could board an up bound train. Some travelling companion! No time for sight seeing on his itinerary.

After a day’s contemplation and with the promise of a couple of days of good weather, gleaned from ‘The Guardian’, we decided to give it a proper go. To balance the odds and lighten the sacks, we left behind a rope and an ice axe each. My pack now felt very bearable. This, combined with the more civilized traversing walk to the start, almost lulled me into believing it might be fun after all. I remembered the walk in from three years previously, when armed with a bottle of vine and dressed in jeans and trainers I had taken a hands-on look and triggered the dream. It was midday as we kicked up the entry ice field, dressed in shorts and I-shirts, just ahead of two climbers still gearing up. We climbed solo to the Difficult Crack and it all felt much more controlled. There began the water and stone fall. I pulled up the fixed rope and felt nothing but respect for the boys in the thirties we sprinted through the stone fall to the Hinterstoisser. No place to linger with both of us across in less than ten minutes, thankful for the rope and Hinterstoisser’s skill and imagination.

From the Swallows, we gazed across a waterfall that at other times is called the first ice field. Keeping our heads well tucked in, I did wonder if I should be here at all. We took turns to run the gauntlet of firepower up a fixed rope to collect water. We played this game on our own airy perch until curling up to our dreams. I drifted and shivered away, trying to convince myself that substituting a spare set of clothes for a sleeping bag was born from sound experience, as my younger partner snored away in his down.

Terry launched up the fixed rope at first light and we were away up the first rock field. More fixed rope led to a particularly awkward overlapping rock band below the second ice field. It was meant to be peaceful at this time of day, according to the pundits, but it was not so with us. Stones and verglassed slabs led to the second ice field.

I was first to use the single axe technique in anger. ‘What a clanger’ I thought as I teetered up, brandishing an ice-screw as a pretend dagger in the other hand. A relief to belay and puzzlement as Terry ran up stroking the ice with his empty hand. No problem! I wished I had invested in a decent pair of crampons. Move and stop wimping, nose down on hard ice. Quick photo on the run.

Other climbers coming into view, so they must be slow. More objective danger as they dislodge stones from the Flatiron. We paused, huddled on a ledge and shared a flapjack. Excreta nearby prompted us into action and soon I was being asked for water by a Korean slumped belaying at Death Bivi. We had none to give and I soon realised it must have been his bottle that had flown past us at the Swallows. We also passed another lying on a ledge below the Flatiron. I began to wonder about offerings to the mountain Gods. Most strange but he seemed happy enough, grinning broadly.

Tequila joined me and we decided to let them distance themselves from us, as well as a pair just starting the Ramp. We brewed up and took photos. We enjoyed our lunch break but after

Yorkie Robinson goes rack fall dodging on The Eiger.

Into the Tube and I had decided that I did not mind being stopped by stone fall, but not by other climbers out of place. We climbed over the Koreans and after a freezing waterfall pitch, met the second pair who turned out to be Indonesians, just below the top of the Ramp.

I was frozen and soaked to the skin as I set up the exit pitch onto the Ramp ice field.

Fifty foot out from gear above the Ramp, I slowly ground to a halt on dirty ice worn slabs.

Feeling and edging my way with rope drag and accompanying stone fall, from their perch above the Indonesians beckoned to move left. I was stretched out at the mercy of the Gods. Alone hit, miss, open the box and crawl in. I wished I was a in the audience and not a player. Hold it together, don’t rush the footwork clip a flaky peg, step left and move up to the gallery. Belay and slump down, how could the Indonesians climb such ground and be so slow?

Terry followed with a direct hit on his helmet as the Indonesian leader took one on the shoulder trying to cross the Ramp ice field. He limped back to the gallery and the whole arena took on a battlefield dimension. Tequila declared the ice field a whiz and set across without further thought. His timing and climbing positive, fluid and bold, as the Indonesians stared on in curious silence. They spoke of Ron Fawcett but I could see no rock athletes in this ugly chasm. As I moved across, a large volley of rock shot down by my side. Did we really have to keep playing Russian Roulette?

The Indonesians thought not and stopped for the night.

We traversed the Brittle Ledges and moved up to the Traverse of the Gods in search of a known bivi site. There is only one, so we felt relieved to make our second rendezvous. It clagged in to give an eerie feel of ghosts past.

I remember a restless night but was thankful to have a change of clothes. The summit was beginning to come into my thoughts. Must resist this temptation and luxury. One step at a time.

Off across the Gods in the cold light of dawn. Airy drops came looming up did not mind being stopped by from the second ice field. Straightforward but loose ground led these two flies up into the Spiders Web. Two more flies appeared on the to Gods

A race had begun with two Frenchmen who had joined the 1938 route from the Harlin. Racing up the ice, with the now well practiced one axe technique to enter the exit cracks. We all knew it was safer to be out in front.

Verglassed and wet these crack gave sustained climbing. Stones, route finding and trying to keep ahead held our interest. The French were generous with directions as they had of the passed this way before. How much further at the double? Come on summit ice field, beckon us on. A high velocity stone hit my hand and I registered the pain.

Onto the ice and into the sunshine. Concentrate and put this one away. Climbing together, placing the odd ice-screw, led us to the summit ridge. We relaxed and emotions took over as our smiling companions joined us and shook hands. Moving along the summit ridge gave me time to reflect and I became overwhelmed with joy and fortune as I was freed from my dream at midday on this August day. The summit and time for a last tea with a great climbing companion.