75th anniversary of the first climb of the Eiger North Face
Mountains hold great allure for me. I like to look at them. I like to hike up them. I like to stand on summits and survey the world below me. But I’m not a climber, so the mountains I have “climbed” are those accessible step by step — no ropes, crampons of bivvy sack required. Still, I admire those with true climbing and mountaineering skills, none more than the men who made first ascents using boots, clothing and other gear that was long relegated to museums.
The last few weeks have seen anniversaries of other pioneering climbs — real climbs, not hikes like my ascents. I previously wrote about the centennial of the first climbs of Mt. McKinley and the 60th anniversary of the Hillary-Norgay duo summiting Mt. Everest. There are claims that those were the second successful climbs of each, but previous ascents, while credible, are unsubstantiated because in one case (Everest) the purported first ascenders did not live to document the tale and in the other (McKinley), there were factual discrepancies.
Not so of Switzerland‘s fabled and frightful Eiger North Face, one of the greatest north walls of the Alps, was successfully climbed for the first time 75 years ago. In the 1930s the Eiger North Face was considered to be the “last problem”’ of the Alps, and conquering it was the dream of many mountaineers from all over Europe. It was a not only a challenge, but it was a diversion from the storm clouds of war. After numerous attempts that ended in tragedy costing 9 mountaineers their lives, a German-Austrian rope team made it. Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg, Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer reached the top on July 24, 1938 at 2.30, becoming the first men to successfully climb the North Face of the Eiger — and that climb really is a climb.
Everest and McKinley are remote and topographically complex. Not so with the Eiger, smack in the middle of Switzerland’s Jungfrau region, a landscape of soaring peaks, mountain valleys, rushing rivers and villages populated with people familiar with and knowledgeable about their mountains. The North Wall is a near-vertical face rising nearly straight up 5,900 feet — more than a mile — above the village of Grindelwald. No way to fabricate that success. While the “Eiger-versary” is one month from now, the village of Grindelwald will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the First Climb of the Eiger North Face from July 9 to 12 with mountaineers and journalists from all over the world will meeting at the foot of the wall to commemorate this monumental feat.
The Eiger North Face was the backdrop for the most exciting climbing sequences in a commercial feature film — “The Eiger Sanction” starring Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy that was released back in 1975.
New Eiger Attraction in the Grindewald Museum
The Grindelwald Museum will exhibit five of the most important events in the history of the Eiger being on July 2. A newly designed exhibition enables visitors to relive the successes and tragedies of the Eiger through historic pictures, files and articles that document over 150 years of its history. Did I mention that also like mountaineering museums?