A Grand Day Out 19: The Eiger Moment

by scott reid Mar/2009
This article has been read 1,360 times

photo
The Drainpipe, Burbage South.
© scott reid, Mar 2009

Here I was, desperately forging my way up an unclimbed route on the Eiger north face. Even the great man Ueli Steck failed on this route, he didn't make it this far. I blindly groped the pick of my axe around the other side of the aręte, knowing this was the crux. The spindrift and sleet pounded my face, my arms burning from the effort, but somehow I hung on. I found the strength.

This was my destiny. I felt the axe bite and it locked off. Had I found the key to this route? This was my last chance. Looking down I could see my last protection 20 metres below. It was now or never. I trusted my weight to the axe and straightened my arm. I straddled the aręte with my left leg; I could feel the point of my crampon rest on the smallest of edges, the width of a fifty pence piece. As I stood up I could see the flake I was aiming for, just another metre above me. Trusting the ledge I was blindly perched on with the point of my crampon, I reached up with my right arm and felt my axe sink into the flake. Then I knew it was over. I had done it. The changing of walls on this aręte was the crux, now I could enjoy the climb. The pain, the fear, the driving snow and sleet that pounded my face, the uncertainty of return, they all meant nothing now. I had found nirvana!

As I grabbed the flake with my right arm a wave of indescribable life-force returned me from this moment to reality but this was how it felt! Here I actually was, halfway up a Hard Severe 4b at Burbage South called 'The Drainpipe'. It was still that sleety dismal day, and I was still fulfilling my destiny!

The guidebook described this route as strenuous, but here I was laybacking the crux with ease and efficiency. It was only 6 months previous that I stood at the bottom of the Drainpipe, on a route reconnaissance trip one sunny day, and thought to myself 'It looks great but no way! I struggle on HVD 4a leads!'

Today though, I started on this route by accident. My friend had a go before me but couldn't get off the ground, it was too wet, too cold, there was no friction he stated. He climbed one or two grades higher than me. But I felt good and thought now or never, the Eiger moment! I started up that layback and to my surprise after 6 moves found myself on the first big ledge. Soon after that I was stood on the top! I had climbed my Eiger, my first HS 4b. Not only that, I had climbed it in style, with ease and with the snow in my face!

In the real world, all I had done was climb an unspectacular HS 4b, but to me it felt as if I had made a winter ascent of an often tried, and always failed, M14 alpine route. This winter's day was the start of everything, where I wanted to be!


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