/ Question about the Eiger Nordwand Heckmair Route

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Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
Hi everyone

I'm very new to any form of climbing, having only had a couple of sessions on an indoor training wall, just enough to learn a bit about the basics.

I'd really appreciate some help from an alpinist about climbing the Eiger Nordwand. This isn't for me (you'll be relieved to hear) but for a story I'm writing in my guise of science fiction author http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ian-Hocking/e/B002BM8SFE

As a writer, I'm keen to get some of the basics right for this story, which involves a bit of a scrap on the Nordwand. I've read Harrier's White Spider, watched Mordwand - heck, I even thought back to The Eiger Sanction, which I last saw in the nineties - but I'm not able to answer the following question:

- Roughly how long might it take a pair of reasonably experienced climbers to get from Alpiglen to the Eigerwand terrace? They're using 1908 mountaineering equipment (hobnail boots; nothing too specialised), it's May, and conditions are misty but otherwise good.

Any help would be appreciated. Payment would be free ebooks and karma..!

Cheers
Ian
David Rose - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking: What do you mean by "terrace"? There is no terrace at the bottom of the wall - just a steep scree slope running down to steep grass, which in May would probably be covered with snow. It is very unlikely anyone would have gone near this wall in 1908, and had they done, it would not have been in May. All the early attempts in the 30s - by which time climbing techniques had advanced a great deal, thanks to the use of pitons and karabiners, and the raising of rock climbing standards in places such as the Dolomites - took place in the mid-summer season (basically July and August).

To get from Alpiglen to the start of the difficulties in normal conditions doesn't take long. Less than an hour, if you're fit.
Ian Parsons - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart:

Could he mean the Stollenloch, frequently confused with the Eigerwand Station gallery windows? And - to the OP - it's Harrer!
deepstar - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking: I think you would find the sections on the Eiger in Sir Chris Bonington`s book "I Chose to Climb" very useful.
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart:
> (In reply to Ian Hocking) What do you mean by "terrace"? There is no terrace at the bottom of the wall - just a steep scree slope running down to steep grass, which in May would probably be covered with snow. It is very unlikely anyone would have gone near this wall in 1908, and had they done, it would not have been in May. All the early attempts in the 30s - by which time climbing techniques had advanced a great deal, thanks to the use of pitons and karabiners, and the raising of rock climbing standards in places such as the Dolomites - took place in the mid-summer season (basically July and August).
>
> To get from Alpiglen to the start of the difficulties in normal conditions doesn't take long. Less than an hour, if you're fit.

Many thanks for getting back to me, David. Sorry about the reference to the terrace - there *was* a terrace at the Eigerwand Station (unless I've slipped up in my research), but this has been replaced by windows and now called the gallery window. (Again, this is all second hand, so my terms may not be quite correct.) It's at 2865m (Alpiglen being 1,616m). Is this the 'start of the difficulties'?

The climb in my story isn't a climb to summit - only the Eigerwand terrace - and they're doing it because they really have to!

One anachronism potential anachronism has come up, though - my climbers are using simple pitons. Was this technology not known/widely used in 1908?
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to deepstar:

Thanks, Deepstar!
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Parsons:
> (In reply to davidoldfart)
>
> Could he mean the Stollenloch, frequently confused with the Eigerwand Station gallery windows? And - to the OP - it's Harrer!

Thanks, Ian - Harrer is it! I did think about using the Stollenloch, but the Eigerwand gallery (not windowed at the time) is a bit more appropriate for the way the story ends.
David Rose - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking: You should also be aware that "the basics" now bear no relation at all to what they would have been in 1908 - when there were no harnesses, karabiners, quick draws, belay devices etc etc. Frankly you would do better to read not Bonington but writers such as Leslie Stephen and Whymper for an idea of how things were. NB also Mummery's famous ascent of the Grepon and the equally famous photo of him thrutching up a crack.

But one climb from that era would be relevant - the astonishing and almost successful 1904 expedition by Amatter and Hasli with Gertrude Bell (later the colonial bureaucrat who drew the borders of Iraq from part of the Ottoman Empire q) on the Finsteraarhorn northeast rib, almost certainly the hardest climb attempted in the western Alps before WW1. An account can be found in Georgina Howell's 2007 biography of Bell, Daughter of the Desert, but check the source notes there and also, I imagine, the Alpine Club library. Anyway the gear would have been the same. NB the Finsteraarhorn, though enormously serious, is a technically much easier proposition than the Eigerwand.

Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart: Thanks, David. Yes, I've had them using nothing but ropes and pitons... And I'm now determined to insert the phrase 'thutching up a crack' somewhere into the story!

Have just bought the Howell biography for Kindle. Wonders of modern tech.

Many thanks for your help. Can I interest you in one of my books? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ian-Hocking/e/B002BM8SFE
Tim Chappell - on 27 Apr 2013
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Climbers-History-Mountaineering-Chris-Bonington/dp/0563209186

--is probably Bonington's most relevant publication concerning what it was like to climb hard stuff in the Alps in 1908 or before.

Bonington uses the Mummery on the Grépon picture too. It's on this page, if you scroll down far enough.

http://www.alpine-club.org.uk/photolibrary/album.html

On this site, I dare say Gordon Stainforth could tell you a thing or two, he was climbing then :-)
Gordon Stainforth - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Tim Chappell:

Actually, I have held Whymper's alpenstock ... Yes, really. at some Boardman Tasker do, the curator of the Alpine Club showed it to me and handed it to me. I immediately said: 'There have been joys too great to be described in words, and griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell ...' She looked at me as if I was completely mad, even though the next sentence I said was: '... And with these in mind I say: Climb if you will!... ' I said it very loudly. I was probably a bit pissed.
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Gordon Stainforth: I was just reading Whymper's description of a good alpenstock, and, a bit later, an hilarious section on how to use ropes properly, together with an illustration of 'Smith' losing tension in his upper lip after dropping through a hole in the ice. Those were the days, I'm sure!
David Rose - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking: To get from Alpiglen to the level of what is now the Eiger window via the 1938 route would take most parties today half a day or so, assuming good conditions and using modern equipment - that is to say, dry rock, little or no stonefall, modern boots, lightweight rucksacks etc.

However, even this involves pitches of UIAA grade IV - close to the limit of what would have been considered possible in 1908. And in May, there would effectively be winter conditions. Doing this stretch in such conditions today can easily take an experienced party two days.

The alternative - and maybe more logical route to pioneers, given that the first people to attempt the wall in the 30s used it - is the lower section of the Harlin Direct. But this is considerably harder, and would have been truly daunting in 1908, involving as it does pitches of 70 degree ice. The only way to get up that in 1908 would have been to cut steps. Hard, exposed and dangerous.

I hope your novel's characters are supermen of the era!
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Tim Chappell: Many thanks! I've just sped-read some of the Whymper book and the one on Getrude Bell. If only I could just sit here and read interesting stuff - much more entertaining than doing the bloody writing!
Ian Parsons - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:

I was thinking of your thread title - specifically "Heckmair Route", which passes close to the Stollenloch but some distance away from the Eigerwand Station; as I'm sure you know.
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart:
> (In reply to Ian Hocking) To get from Alpiglen to the level of what is now the Eiger window via the 1938 route would take most parties today half a day or so, assuming good conditions and using modern equipment - that is to say, dry rock, little or no stonefall, modern boots, lightweight rucksacks etc.
>
> However, even this involves pitches of UIAA grade IV - close to the limit of what would have been considered possible in 1908. And in May, there would effectively be winter conditions. Doing this stretch in such conditions today can easily take an experienced party two days.
>
> The alternative - and maybe more logical route to pioneers, given that the first people to attempt the wall in the 30s used it - is the lower section of the Harlin Direct. But this is considerably harder, and would have been truly daunting in 1908, involving as it does pitches of 70 degree ice. The only way to get up that in 1908 would have been to cut steps. Hard, exposed and dangerous.
>

Blast - they need to get up much more quickly for the story to work... I had thought that May (it's the end of May) would be warmer - which of course it is (a bit) but there needs to be time for the mountain to thaw out a bit. Hmm. I can feel a bit of "It had been a bizarrely warm winter" writerly malarkey coming on; unless I just pretend there's no ice and apologise for it in the acknowledgements!


> I hope your novel's characters are supermen of the era!

Well, one is a time traveler from 2033 with some biomechanical advancements to her body. The other chap is just a local. Maybe she can just carry him up on her back... :-)
Ian Hocking - on 27 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Parsons: Aha, I didn't know that, Ian - it's been tricky mapping all these routes together. Thanks for the clarification.
David Rose - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking: I see you have done quite well self-publishing your novels. I'd be interested in picking your brains about this. Could you send me a personal message with an email address or phone number? Thanks.
Only a hill - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:
Hi Ian, I've published a novel which covers a climb on the Eigerwand in 1897 ("The Only Genuine Jones", FeedAReadPublishing):
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Only-Genuine-Jones-ebook/dp/B009R2BBN2/

In my book history has taken a somewhat different turn, with relatively advanced climbing technology being available at an earlier date, and a corresponding leap in climbing standards leading up to the (failed) attempt at the Eigerwand.

I don't think any climb on the north face would have been feasible in 1908 given the equipment and knowledge actually available at that time.

Feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss it further. My email address is alex.roddie@gmail.com.
Only a hill - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart:
> The only way to get up that in 1908 would have been to cut steps. Hard, exposed and dangerous.
>
> I hope your novel's characters are supermen of the era!

This is why in my book the characters have access to front-pointing technology ... it would have been daunting using the older technique, although possible.
ads.ukclimbing.com
Only a hill - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:
P.S. I recently wrote this article you may find useful, on the subtle but important difference between an ice axe and an alpenstock:

http://www.alexroddie.com/2013/04/alpenstock.html
Morgan P - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:
> (In reply to Tim Chappell)
>
> Actually, I have held Whymper's alpenstock


I had to google that, stumbled upon this which is pretty interesting and (possibly) useful?

http://www.alexroddie.com/2013/04/alpenstock.html
Morgan P - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Only a hill: oops, you beat me to it
Rob Parsons on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:

> One potential anachronism has come up, though - my climbers are using simple pitons. Was this technology not known/widely used in 1908?

So-called 'picture hook' pegs (over which the lead rope is merely 'draped') were in use in the Alps in the latter part of the 1800s: they are described in Emil Zsigmondy's book 'Die Gefahren der Alpen', published in 1885.

Rings pegs, came later, as did karabiners. 1910 or so is reckoned to be about the time that pegs and karabiners began to be seriously developed as aids for artificial climbing.

In all of this, I am quoting from Doug Scott's book 'Big Wall Climbing' (Kaye & Ward, 1974). That book contains a good short history of the period.

As that same book points out, there were climbers (e.g. Preuss and Piaz) operating in the Eastern Alps at very high standards at around the same time.
Ian Hocking - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Rob Parsons: Thanks, Rob!
AlanLittle - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:

Dülfer's 1913 route on the West Face of the Totenkirchl is probably the hardest pre-WW I alpine *rock* route. Gets VI+/VII- these days for a free ascent, although the hard pitches are traverses and Dülfer pendulumed at last one of them - using a piton. I recall reading the first ascent time was not at all shoddy by today's standards.

But: much smaller mountain than the Eiger, pure rock climbing, on decent quality rock with no snow & ice involved. And inspected on abseil prior to the FA, which was not really feasible on the Eiger.
flatiron - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to davidoldfart:

David,

you'll be surprised to learn, that the lower part of the Eigerwand had actually been climbed in September 1911. The guides Christen Almer (Grindelwald) and Joseph Schaler (Zermatt) and their guest Mr. P.H. Torp (England) stormed up to the Eigerwand windows in just 2 1/2 hours. They didn't intend to climb the entire wall and returned to the valley by taking the Jungfrau Railway from the Eigerwand station. So, the lower section of the Harlin direct had been climbed 55 years earlier - quite an impressive achievement! (Source: "Echo von Grindelwald", 1911).
Ian Parsons - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Hocking:

No idea, obviously, whether the Jungfraujoch Railway will feature in your plot, but it might be worth highlighting that in 1908 it terminated at the Eismeer Station; the final section was still under construction at that time. The large explosion at the Eigerwand Station in 1908 didn't happen until November (I think), so presumably won't affect your story. Again, you may well already know this.
jon on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Ian Parsons:

I doubt also that the mysterious windows/tunnels of the Adlerloch(sp?) dated as far back as that?
Only a hill - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to flatiron:
I thought Almer died in 1898. Are you sure it wasn't his son Ulrich?
Only a hill - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Only a hill:
Just chased up the source myself. I misread Christen as Christian! Looks like it was indeed a different Almer. An astonishing climb for 1911 and one I'm ashamed to say I was not aware of!
flatiron - on 28 Apr 2013
In reply to Only a hill:

It could be Christian (= Christen) Almer, the second son of the famous Christian Almer sr., but I am not sure. Could be a different Almer as well, as there are many Almers in Grindelwald.

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