Day Two

The fixed ropes leading to the Ice Hose.

We are away first in the morning. A swing left leads to the first Icefield. The ice is solid but not too hard. Dai reaches its top in a single pitch and takes a belay beneath the ice hose, which is the link between the first and second icefields.

There is a slight problem in that the sliver of ice does not reach all the way down to the belay. Again there is a fixed rope hanging down from Christophe Profit's enchainement. Did he not climb any of the awkward sections? A winter of climbing mixed routes in Scotland and the Lakes gives me the confidence to hook and scratch my way up the rock wall leading to the start proper of the ice hose. I take a belay even though I have not run out a full rope length since there does not appear to be an opportunity to belay within reasonable distance.

High up on the Ice Hose.

Dai leads through and makes short work of the steep ice and emerges onto the second icefield. This is an enormous sheet of ice hanging in the middle of the face. We have emerged onto it at its lower right hand corner. Our exit is at the top left! The shortest way is diagonal but this is the most exposed to rockfall. We head straight up to the top of the ice to seek shelter from the upper bounding walls running the three or so pitches into one with a single ice screw between us.

Crossing the Second Ice Field - often there is a 'moat' at the top of this but not this year.

In all of the literature that I had read about the Eiger every party mentions a ‘moat’ or small crevasse lying across the top of the second icefield between the ice and rock. This moat allows a simple traverse of the icefield which is in the order of 400m wide. This season however it isn’t there, the ice abuts the rock directly and we are forced to traverse in a long single pitch, only stopping when the leader runs out of ice screws and we swap over the lead. It is neither easier nor harder seconding.

Eventually we arrive at a series of ribs protruding into the icefield. The guide says take the rib 100m before the left edge of the ice. We take a guess and almost immediately realise that we have the wrong one. Too late and too time consuming to move down we continue upwards.

The climbing is difficult, about Scottish technical VI, and not the sort of difficulty that we were expecting. Dai reaches easy ground at the top of the pitch and I follow. One peg is recalcitrent and I decide to leave it, Dai isn’t pleased. We are now on the Flatiron. It is at this point that the Harlin direct route crosses the 1938 route, in fact they share a few pitches. A steep traverse across mixed ground leads to the Death Bivouac. So called because on an early attempt one party froze to death here, trapped in a storm.

Climbing the Ramp.

The third icefield lies just to the left. Dai’s lead. It is at this point that we get our only stonefall of the entire route. A single stone whistles by. The storm we had followed through from Chamonix, as well as making the climbing awkward and icy has also frozen all the loose rock to the face. Thanks for small mercies.

We are now approaching The Ramp, one of the key sections of the route. This huge feature leads up and leftwards to the edge of the face. In fact it does not reach the real edge but is separated from the ridge by difficult ground which has prevented several parties from escaping by this means. The Ramp is both undercut and overhung making this one of the most difficult sections to be rescued from.

Approaching the crux of the Ramp -the Ice Bulge.

It is obvious that the storm has had its effects even here, a couple of pitches ahead an enormous ice boss sits atop a dark wall. The rocks sticking out of the lower slopes of the ramp are all verglassed and the sections on rock that we must negotiate are very awkward.

The wall leading to the ice bulge is my lead. The rocks are verglassed, the crack I have to climb is too wide for comfort and any of our gear. Slowly I make progress, up a bit the lean across left to gain another crack system. I continue like this, up then left until eventually I am on the edge of the ramp and at the top of the wall. I Traverse back into the heart of the mountain to belay. The ice bulge is tame by comparisom, good plastic ice with the inner wall of the ramp to lean on should things get too difficult.

The top of the crux pitch of the Ramp.

The ramp isn’t over yet and there are a couple of pitches still to do before we can leave its icy confines. The ice at the top of the ramp is the hardest I have ever come across, the points of my crampons only bite in a couple of millimetres, my axes only slightly more. It is as if I am trying to climb concrete.

We are now on the broken ledges. Dai spots a small rivulet of water on the opposite side of the ice and suggests that I collect some for the bivouac. More hard ice numbs my calves. Using the plastic tube I keep in my water bottle, I syphon water into our containers. Then it is back across the numbing ice to the ledges.

The bullet-hard ice at the top of the Ramp from the traverse leading to the Brittle Cracks.

There is one more pitch before our intended bivvy site on the Traverse of the Gods. This line of ledges leads back rightwards into the heart of the mountain, The White Spider.

I pull onto the ledge at the top of the shattered crack to be met by three faces sat chewing on their supper. This is a team of Americans who had set out a day earlier than ourselves. They are all dressed in matching North Face alpine suits. I take a poor belay and bring Dai up.

Dai has by now run out of tobacco for cigarettes. On seeing the Americans he seizes his chance: “Have you guys any tobacco?”, The response is hilarious: “No, we gave that up at school!” they reply in unison. Dai looks crestfallen, it is the only time in my life that as a non-smoker I have felt sorry for a smoker.

We spend the rest of the daylight constructing a ledge on which to bivvy. The Yanks have the best site, right next to the water supply. The rock is atrocious, we can almost pull it apart with our bare hands. I remove one bit of rock and am about to throw it away when I realise that it was one side of a reasonable crack. I put it back and it forms part of the belay!

Eventually we settle down for the night, perched on a rotten ledge, trussed up like turkeys by the ropes from our various belay points that prevent us from sliding into oblivion.