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Eiger 3970m mountain focus page

Summer Eiger course or Mountain focus home page
Ascending fixed ropes on the Hornli Arete of the Matterhorn
Welcome to this mountain focus
We are in the process of developing these mountain focus pages for many of the key peaks that we offer trips too, in order to help people prepare better for their trips. We are always editing these pages, so if you have any feedback about information we should add to the page, please let us know.
This page has largely been written by Emma from our Windermere HQ, and it's here that most people have their first contact with us, in person or on the phone. We feel it's important that all our staff are experts on the mountains we offer trips to, so we are all involved in developing these focus pages.
History and background
The Eiger is one of the most famous and written about peaks in the world, and due to its famous north face is also one of the most feared mountains in the world mountains. It is located in the Bernese Alps, standing at 3,970 metres (13,020 ft), overlooking Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. The most notable feature of the Eiger is its 1,800m (5,900 ft) high north face, named Eigerwand or Nordwand, which is the biggest north face in the Alps. The Eiger is within the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage site, the first UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in the Alps, covering an area of 824 square kilometers, and around 90 percent covered with rocks and ice.

The first ascent of the Eiger was made by the western flank on 11 August 1858 by Irishman Charles Barrington, with Swiss guides Christian Almer and Peter Bohren. They started at 3:00 a.m. from Wengen. Barrington describes the route much as it is followed today, staying close to the edge of the north face much of the way. They reached the summit at about noon, stayed for some 10 minutes and descended in about four hours. Barrington describes the reaching of the top, saying, "the two guides kindly gave me the place of first man up". Their ascent was confirmed by observation of a flag left on the summit. According to Harrer's The White Spider, Barrington was originally planning to make the first ascent of the Matterhorn, but his finances did not allow him to travel there as he was already staying in the Eiger region.

While the summit was reached without much difficulty in 1858 by a complex route on the west flank, the battle to climb the north face has captivated the interest of climbers and non-climbers alike. Before it was successfully climbed, most of the attempts on the face ended tragically and the Bernese authorities even banned climbing it and threatened to fine any party that should attempt it again.

The First ascent of the North Face was made in July 1938 by Germans Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg, and Austrians Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer. Heckmair is the lead climber. This climb is watched intently not only from the valley below, but also from the air. Bernese photographer Hans Steiner charters a plane and photographs the four first ascensionists at the Brittle Ledge and the Brittle Crack before the weather deteriorates. This image goes around the world, as does the news of the new mountaineering milestone. Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have died attempting the north face, earning it the German nickname Mordwand, literally "murder(ous) wall" - a pun on its correct title of Nordwand (North Wall).
A word of caution
Yet despite the romanticism and the inevitable draw this majestic peak has there have been many deaths on the mountain and it is important to realise this is a serious undertaking and vital that you are competent on steep ground, comfortable with exposure and are adept with ropework. The Eiger is not for inexperienced ticklisters, it requires commitment, and significant rock climbing experience

As we have mentioned before, there are three key points to remember and to apply on any mountain;

1) The mountain will always be there. Do not push safety boundaries on ascents as another can be made
2) The key to success is preparation in terms of information, equipment, training, techniques and planning
3) Never set off considering rescue as an option (unless there is an accident). Do not play poker with lives.
The key climbing seasons
Summer - Our courses for the Ascent of the Eiger only run during the summer season, and run via the Mittillegi Ridge. Course dates start from early July to mid-September which is typically known as the high season in the Alps yet as with any mountain the weather can be unpredictable, even more so with recent weather pattern changes.

Winter - For top level Alpinists attempting routes on the north face, often the spring has become the key time for them to contemplate the ascents, when the icefields are in their best condition, and the risks of rock-fall are at their lowest, as temperatures on the face stay below zero all through the day.
Routes on the Eiger
The Eiger is a striking peak from all sides and a worthy climb by any of its many routes, none of which are particularly easy. The most famous route is via the North Face or 'Nordwand' which is renowned for its difficulty. The easiest way to the summit is via the West Flank & West Ridge, which is a very complex route of about the same level of difficulty as the Hörnli Arête on the Matterhorn with rock pitches up to III and ice to 40 degrees.

The North Face or 'Nordwand'

The North Face is world famous not only among climbers, but also to the general public, mainly due to the number of deaths on this face. Renowned for bad weather, bad rock, and bad gear placement options, the face is nicknamed "Mordwand", a play on the German name of Nordwand (North Face) that means simply 'death wall'. At least sixty-four climbers have been killed on the Mordwand since 1935.

The first ascent of the North Face (21/22 to 24 July 1938) was by Germans Anderl Heckmair (lead climber) and Ludwig Vörg and Austrians Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer. This climb is watched intently not only from the valley below, but also from the air. Bernese photographer Hans Steiner charters a plane and photographs the four first ascensionists at the Brittle Ledge and the Brittle Crack before the weather deteriorates. The image goes around the world, as does the news of the new mountaineering milestone.

Today it is regarded as a formidable challenge more because of the increased rockfall and diminishing ice-fields than because of its technical difficulties. Climbers are increasingly electing to challenge the Eiger in winter, when the crumbling face is strengthened by ice.

The West Arete (West Flank & West Ridge)

The famous first ascent of the Eiger was made by the western flank (1858), and this route via the west flank and west ridge is the easiest route to the summit, and the usual descent route for most parties. Although this is the easiest route to summit the Eiger, and not that technically difficult, difficult it is a big high alpine tour that can be especially serious in poor weather or conditions. Route finding on the lower part of the flank can be very difficult, especially in descent if one has not gone up this way initially.

The Mittillegi Ridge (northeast ridge)

The first successful summit via the Mittillegi ridge by Englishmen Francis Chisholm and James Walker Hartley and their two Grindelwald guides Peter Rubi and Peter Kaufmann in 1874. The Mittellegi Ridge is a true alpine classic route on excellent rock and ascends a tremendously exposed ridge to the summit. The Mittillegi Ridge is The Mittillegi Ridge is our primary choice for Icicle, as it is objectively safer and has a longer season in condition.

The South Ridge

The first ascent of the south ridge was in 1876 by Briton George Edward Foster, and the local guides Hans Baumann and Ulrich Rubi. The South Ridge is the second easiest on the Eiger.

The Northeast Face (Lauper Route)

The Lauper Route takes an elegant line more or less directly up the Northeast Face. Hans Lauper and Alfred Zücher with Alexander Graven and Joseph Knubel made the first ascent of the Northeast Face on 20 August 1932.
Mittillegi hut construction
The Mittellegi Hut at 3355 m is beautifully situated on the knife edge sharp Mittellegigrat 615 m under the summit of the Eiger, the famous Bernese Oberland mountain. The hut offers two of the most breathtaking views in the Alps, to the north side green pastoral landscapes with the village Grindelwald far below, and to the south side massive glaciers and mountains.

The Mittellegigrat was first ascended 10 September 1921 by the Japanese Yoko Maki together with the three local guides Fritz Amatter, Samuel Brawand, and Fritz Steuri. Maki donated a sum of 10.000 Franken for a hut to be built near the place where they spent the night prior to their ascent. The hut built in 1924 had room for 16 persons. A steel pipe bivouac hut was built in 1986 a few meters from the old hut offering room for further 14 persons.
The original Mittellegi Hut during construction in 1924. In 2001, after 77 years, a new larger 40 bed hut was constructed, and the old was moved to a location close to the railway station Eigergletscher where it now serves as a small museum. Since 1995 the Mittellegi Hut has a resident guardian during July and August. Typically (as in the summer 2003) over 700 climbers a year stay here to attempt the Mittellegigrat the next day.
Guiding ratio & grades
The Ascent of the Eiger course run by Icicle is on a 1:2 Guiding ratio for the first three days, so the Guide can assess and develop your skills and abilities before attempting the Eiger (1:1 ratio), to move at your speed. The Eiger is not for inexperienced ticklisters, it requires commitment, significant rock climbing experience. The grade alone does not give a real impression of what the mountain is really like. It's often described as a hard scramble, or an easy rock climb, but nothing prepares you for the amount of loose rock, and it's then that your experience moving on steep broken mountain ground really kicks in. The ascent is not too technical, but it often beats people who are good climbers technically, but who aren't mountaineers. The top section always requires crampons, so before any course, you should have sufficient experience on steep snow / ice too.
Preparation & Acclimatisation
An ascent of the Eiger should not be underestimated, and you should arrive for this course in good physical condition as the climb will probably be the greatest physical exertion of your life. Please don't ignore this issue... We highly recommend that you read our training page (click here) for details on how to prepare. If you are worried about acclimatisation, which is a real concern for anyone attempting the Eiger, we highly recommend that you book on an Acclimatisation Weekend before your course.

As mentioned previously we require our clients to have specific experience, skills and fitness before attempting the Eiger. While not the most technical course we offer it is important to be able to move quickly and adeptly up and over rock. Indoor climbing while great for building up strength and balance is not a substitute for rock so head to the Lakes or North Wales: a couple of days getting used to uneven terrain and gritty rock is a perfect way to improve your skills never mind escaping those sweaty gyms and having a douse of fresh air to invigorate your training.

Those that have not had much experience with crampons could still attempt the Eiger if they have appropriate rock climbing experience as it is only the final summit block that usually demands crampons. We also expect you to have the required levels of fitness for such a demanding route not only for bettering your chances of summit success but also for your own safety and well-being. Please follow our training plans and, once you think you've reached the physical peak required train even harder!
Summary and postscript to the focus page
This page is constantly updated as a result of changing techniques, conditions, and latest news. Please don't use this page alone as the research you undertake for an ascent, and it does definitely not attempt to offer any of the instruction of techniques which you will require. Details of many other sources of information have been provided, which you should consult before an ascent. Remember that to climb the Eiger is really a privilege, not a guarantee. If you found this page of use, and have any other information that others may find helpful, then please e-mail us. We will post any useful extra information on the page, and you will be cited. It is this sharing of knowledge that makes the climbing community so close, and this extra knowledge will increase your chances of reaching the summit.
Mountain focus pages
Mountain focus page
Mont Blanc 4810m
Eiger 3970m
Matterhorn 4478m
Gran Paradiso 4061m
Mt Toubkal 4167m
Kilimanjaro 5895m
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Any further questions?
A key part of choosing a company is being able to come and talk about your plans with an experienced course advisor face to face. In an increasingly virtual world, we know our clients value speaking to real people, getting open and honest advice. The vast majority of our clients are British, and our office and outdoor store is based in Windermere in the English Lake District.

Get in contact to arrange a meeting, and come in for a coffee to discuss your course in person with a trip advisor.

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