Day Three

Another dig in the ribs, “I'm bored”. Again we find something to eat. Perhaps having Dai not smoke is the worse of two evils I think as another tin of sardines is consumed.

The ground leading from The Spider to The Exit Cracks.

A third dig in the ribs, “They’re moving” hisses Dai. I look over and the Americans are beginning to make to begin climbing. With undue haste, I have my plastic boots on, am cramponned up and have stuffed my sack with whatever is left over. Disassembling the belay, I tie on and anounce to Dai, “Climbing”. I crawl over the Yanks with a very English “Excuse me” and with a couple of minutes have reached the foot of the Spider.

Dai follows with apologies. “Bloody hell!” he says as he reaches me, “Bit keen aren’t we?” “Can you imagine getting stuck behind a rope of three up here?” I reply. “Good point”. We simu-climb up the rib of ice that lies up the centre of the White Spider. The ice is brittle here and dinner plates with alarming regularity.

Climbing the Exit Cracks.

Fortunately the Spider is a small ice field and we are soon at its top and traversing leftwards again to the foot of the exit cracks. Another verglassed wide crack needs to be climbed to reach a col in a rib. Beyond this col the route descends and a further traverse leftwards leads to the foot of the cracks. These are really a set of chimneys, verglassed of course.

Climbing the Exit Cracks - more a set of icy chimneys.

The first pitch has only two points of protection in 50m of wide bridging up rotten rock. The second is not much different. As the morning progresses, the angle and difficulty eases until the cracks are no more and we are heading up a slope of snow, ice and rock to reach the final arête that leads off the north face.

Three pitches up this and a whole new vista presents itself, the hinterland of the Bernese Alps lays before us as we sit astride the upper reaches of the Mittelegi Ridge. The sun has melted the snow on the south side of the arˆte to the point where our crampons are balling up. Moving on the north side a couple of feet to the side and we can hardly make our crampons stick in the ice. With some trepidation, we don’t want to mess up now, we edge our way to the summit of the Eiger.

Finally we are there, two days and five hours of climbing. We eat the last of the food in celebration, the guidebook gives an hour for the descent back to the EigerGletscher station. After half an hour or so on the summit we begin our descent down the west flank.

Celebrating on the summit of the Eiger.

It is obvious from the outset that we are not going to take an hour for the descent, at least not if we want to stay in one piece. Gravel covers house-tile like slabs of limestone making movement tenuous. We locate one of the massive rings fitted for descent and abseil from it, but it doesn’t lead anywhere better. We work our way back towards the centre of the face. Then we begin a long series of traverses along ledges trying to locate the smallest step down to the next ledge. Occasionally a cairn shows the way, mostly it is guess work. If the step is small enough we jump down otherwise it is a case of down-climbing rotten limestone.

Eventually the angle eases and we begin to relax. Finally the last step is reached and we jump the bergschrund onto the snow-slope below. We are now almost running down to the railway station at EigerGletscher. Four hours after leaving the summit we step onto the platform of the station. A tourist comes over and asks what we have just done in broken English. “Eiger NordWand” I reply. His eyes open as he repeats the words, says something to his companion and then slaps me on the back.

Removing our mountain kit, we release three days of stale sweat and prompt others to avoid us. Looking up at the mountain we see a group of about five climbers at the summit. We begin our long walk back to Grindelwald. In the afternoon heat our feet are sore in our plastic boots, the steep descent forcing our toes to knock against the front of the rigid plastic shells. After what seems an age we walk into the campsite and crash out on the grass. Rhona sets about making a never ending series of brews.

In celebration we head into town for a couple(!) of beers and a large ice-cream. The following day is dull and grey, the other English pair have arrived late in the evening, they had bivouaced in the Ramp and had caught the Americans up at the summit. The two Germans were just ahead of them. It was just as well that we had passed the Americans at the start of the final day.

Later that day, as the rain settles in, we leave for England in Dai and Rhona’s van. Unfortunately the starter motor is on the blink and we have to push start the van whenever we stop for fuel or supplies. 48 hours after standing on the summit of the Eiger I am home.