words by TONY LOURENS
pics by FRANK KRETSCHMANN
The first ascent of the most difficult route through the Eiger North Face.
– 31/8a+, 33 pitches, 1 400 metres
The Eiger, the most notorious north face in the Alps and one of the most revered in the world, has always been a hard man’s playground. From way back in the 1930s, when brave young alpinists pitted their skills against this immense unforgiving face to try and be the first to establish a route through the huge 1 800-metre wall of death. Many were killed trying, before Heckmair, Harrer, Kasparek and Vorg made the historic first ascent over four torturous days in 1938. This route is still regarded as the classic route and has seen many repeats, some in several days, others in a single day, and some in only a few hours. In 1966 the Harlin Direct was put up, straight through the centre of the face. It took a strong international team one long cold and gruelling month, during which John Harlin was killed in a tragic accident, falling half the length of the wall. Since then, many other routes have been climbed through this cruel and legendary precipice: the Polish Route, the Messner Route, the Japanese Direct, the North Pillar . . . the list goes on. Nowadays the north face of the Eiger is a spiderweb network of routes, with about 40 lines gracing the huge foreboding wall.
In the last decade or two there has been a lot of interest in free climbing long hard routes on the Eiger, with Roger Schäli and Robert Jasper being in the forefront of the action with free ascents of the Japanese Direct at 30/8a, and the Ghillini-Piola Direttissima at 28/7c in August of 2013. Just recently Schäli and Mich Kemeter made a free ascent of the 27 pitch Pacienia, which at the time, going at 30/8a, was considered the hardest route on the wall. Then in August this year, Schäli, Jasper, and Simon Gietl put up the outrageous Odyssey, a new route up the steepest part of the wall – 1 400 metres of extreme climbing with pitches up to 31/8a+.
IMAGE: Roger Schäli, digging deep on his send of the crux pitch on Odyssey.