Eiger ascent by Mountain Madness guide Alan Rousseau
John and I spent a week climbing in the alps last year and climbed Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn together. This year he came back with a plan for us to do a “warm-up” route with his son, and then head to Grindelwald to try the Eiger.
Few mountains have as storied a history as the eiger. Hearing the peaks name immediately conjurs images of the first ascensionists on the north face in 1938. Looking up at the peaks here it’s hard to believe how far people were pushing the limits of alpinism in Europe from the mid 1800 – 1900’s. From the train tunnel blasted into the Eiger to the massive faces and ridges of the peak, its hard to find something that’s not just plain cool about the place!
John’s son Eric and I met a day early to do some crampon and rock climbing work to get him up to speed before the three of us began climbing together.
The next day we all headed up the midi and spent the morning walking across the vallée blanche to the Torino hut.
After getting settled into the hut we climbed the aiguille marbrées traverse (3540m). It’s a nice rock traverse that takes about three hours hut to hut.
The following day we headed to the Aiguille de Rochefort (4001 m). This peak has no shortage of classic alpine terrain. From rock climbing to a long knife edge snow ridge there is rarely a dull moment.
After the climb we headed down the tram into Italy and bussed back thru the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix. Making for about 9.5 hours of moving thru the mountains.
John and I said goodbye to Eric the next morning and utilized a needed rest day on the trains to Grindelwald. We arrived in the afternoon And were greeted by the imposing north face of the Eiger, which looms almost 10,000’ above town.
The Mittellegi ridge has one of the more unique approaches. One takes a cog railway from town to a little over 10,000’. From here you walk thru another tunnel to a small wooden door.
After opening the door you have some down climbing to a rappel onto the glacier.
A short contour of the glacier gets you to two pitches of 5.7−5.8 rock climbing which is where the hardest individual moves of rock climbing fall on the route. After the pitches climbing about an hour of traversing ledge systems gets you to the Mittellegi hut. The ridge is so narrow here that the hut overhangs on both sides!
With a good weather forecast we opted for the later breakfast (4:40), this had us climbing at first light. The Mittellegi is a stunning line as it stays on the ridge crest for the majority of the route.
The route will have some steep climbing followed by wild, lower angle sort of sidewalks in the sky.
The weather has been so warm and dry lately that we reached the summit without putting crampons on.
As with most sharp mountains the work is far from over when you reach the top. This is especially true on the eiger as the normal descent is the south ridge. This feature is longer than the Mittellegi, but more straightforward to descent. After dropping down to 3600 meters you need to climb back up to 3770 meters, where the ridge joins in with the glacier below the Monch. It’s a sting in the tail exit but at least it’s good rock and fun terrain.
John climbed the route fast enough we caught one of the last trains down from the Jungfraujoch station and we made back in grindelwald that evening. Always crazy to go from a rugged high summit to a civilized dinner in town in the same day.
- by Alan Rousseau