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ARTICLE: The Eiger Nordwand Revealed - by Kate Cooper

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Dr. Kate Cooper interviews Rainer Rettner:

Rainer Rettner has been researching the Eigerwand for most of his adult life. The documents he has gathered form one of the most extensive archives of Eiger material in the world. Last year he published a joint work with Daniel Anker on the Corti affair which dramatically redeemed Corti’s reputation.

An in-depth article, illustrated with stunning historical photo's and exciting new info on the North Face history. With commentary by Luca Signorelli.

Read More: http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=1004
 Doug 27 May 2008
Thanks Kate, did you ask Rainer if there were any plans for an English edition ?

 Justin T 27 May 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Fantastic article with great pics!
 Henry L Buckle 28 May 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

good stuff. More historical stuff please.
In reply to Doug:
> Thanks Kate, did you ask Rainer if there were any plans for an English edition ?

I believe this book will see several translations, including an English one. But I think that maybe Reiner itself could give us some news on this

I repeat here what I wrote in another occasion: I think that what Rainer has done with "Triumphe und Tragodie" (despite the clichèed title!) is a landmark work, as (together with Daniel Anker's "Verical Arena) it takes Eiger history of the shadow of wildly popular but not necessarily accurate works such as Harrer's "White Spider" and put it into the realm of serious historiography. The good thing is that he hasn't really "revised" anything, he has just connected the dots the right way.

One of the thing I like of Rainer's attitude is the fact that he is remarkably cautious when it comes to jump to conclusion, even when it would be very easy for him to do precisely that. Something very uncommon in a genre where insinuations and half truths are quite the norm.

Climbing historiography is a genre that seemed to have died out (outside ultra specialistic books that, as detailed as they may be, can have only a limited appeal to the general public). Most books of "climbing history" are personal recollections, or personal explorations of a topic related to climbing (most biographies of great climbers seem to fall in either of these two fields). Reiner is taking this genre by storm, and I wish him all the luck he deserves.
 Alex Roddie 28 May 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:
That's amazing. Some of those photos are incredible--really brought it to life. Good work!
 gingerkate 28 May 2008
In reply to Doug:
Cheers Doug. I very much hope there will be an English edition; the photos in themselves are great, but I really want to be able to read the whole book properly ... and I'm sure lots of other people will feel the same ... it inarguably deserves to be out in English and other languages too.
 Doug 28 May 2008
In reply to gingerkate: Maybe éditions Guérin will bring out a French edition, would be a good addition to their catalogue
 gingerkate 28 May 2008
In reply to Alex Roddie:
I know, the photos Rainer has gathered together really are marvellous. The book is full of great shots like those. Much of it has a photo on every page, and it's nearly 290 pages long.
 Al Evans 29 May 2008
In reply to gingerkate: Tremendous Kate, how did you get on to that? It's so good I'm sending it to Geoff Birtles who never reads anything on here on principle.
 Al Evans 29 May 2008
In reply to Luca Signorelli: Luca, I think you are being a bit dismissive of 'The White Spider' . Whatever its mistakes and its innacuracies, it is the 'histography' that has lead to books like the one in question,without it I'm not sure they would ever exist.
 gingerkate 29 May 2008
In reply to Al Evans:
Thanks Al! It was a privilege to be able to do it.
I got talking (via email) to Rainer, having read something he posted here. He's a great bloke and a mine of information. I've met some wonderful and extraordinary people on these forums.
In reply to Al Evans:
> (In reply to Luca Signorelli) Luca, I think you are being a bit dismissive of 'The White Spider' . Whatever its mistakes and its innacuracies, it is the 'histography' that has lead to books like the one in question,without it I'm not sure they would ever exist.

As any climber of my age, I've spent days and days of my teens reading White Spider cover to cover several times, and dreaming of Eiger. Thus I don't deny (nobody does, I think) that's Harrer wrote something who had a tremendous impact on a generation of would-be mountaineers.

This said, the importance of WS is not specifically AS a history of Eiger. While Harrer and Kurt Maix intended it as the definitive history of Eiger up to 1958, it’s half a book of memories, and half a collection of Eiger stories, filtered through Harrer and Maix opinion and prejudices. As Rainer says, he did quite a good job with the Hinterstoisser/Kurtz disaster, but his treatment of Corti was downright awful (with one minor excuse – Harrer wasn’t the only one who messed up with that ugly story)

Also, I think that Anker’s “Vertical Arena” and Rainer’s “Triumphe un Tragodien” could have been written even if “White Spider” was never published – they’re not revising or updating Harrer’s book, they’re re evaluating Eiger history from scratches. What Daniel and Reiner did was going back to the primary sources (the proper way to write history, btw), without getting sidetracked on dissecting “White Spider” (which should be evaluated for what it is and in the context of the age when it was written)

(Of course, you may still reply : "Yes, but without "The White Spider" no one would buy ANY book on Eiger!". Point taken - but yet, this tells us much on Harrer and Maix ability to create an appealing product, but not much on "White Spider" qualities as a reliable work of history)
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Good stuff. Enjoyed the article. Great photos.
 Rob Naylor 29 May 2008
In reply to gingerkate:

Nice one, Kate!

I hope it does get translated into English, though I think I'll get it anyway. My wife speaks fluent German and can help with the difficult bits (only way I'll ever get her to look at a mountaineering book).
klk 30 May 2008
In reply to Luca Signorelli:

I'm looking forward to reading Rainer's book, but I am surprised to see you characterize the historiography as thin. True, the most popular books are typically mixtures of reminiscence, guidebook chronicle, and pub stories, but I've been quite impressed by the quantity of serious historical work in the last decade: Hoibian's history of the CAF; the Amstaedter and Zebhauser books; Wedekind and Ambrosi's anthology on the Dolomites; or Mailaender's Im Zeichen des Edelweiss or even all the volumes in the Alpine Klassiker series.

I think the issue is more that most climbers prefer to read memoirs and pub stories.
In reply to klk:
> (In reply to Luca Signorelli)
>
> I'm looking forward to reading Rainer's book, but I am surprised to see you characterize the historiography as thin. True, the most popular books are typically mixtures of reminiscence, guidebook chronicle, and pub stories, but I've been quite impressed by the quantity of serious historical work in the last decade: Hoibian's history of the CAF; the Amstaedter and Zebhauser books; Wedekind and Ambrosi's anthology on the Dolomites; or Mailaender's Im Zeichen des Edelweiss or even all the volumes in the Alpine Klassiker series.


It's true that there's been a steady flow of historical oriented releases in the last few years, but these are very often ultra-specialistic works that in general have little appeal for the a larger public (this doesn't mean these are not good works - quite the contrary!). I believe that one of the distinctions of "Triumphe" is that it's a seriously researched book that works also as a good reading, and may interested even people even outside the climbing circles.

>
> I think the issue is more that most climbers prefer to read memoirs and pub stories.

You may have a point here, as even climbing biographies tends to be terribly gossipy these days. This said, I think one a somehow negative trend in mountain publishing that however speaks volumes on the current lack of interested on the "historicization" of mountaineering is the disappearance of historical notes from guidebooks. One of the reason of my enthusiasm for Maurizio Oviglia "Rock Paradise" (his 2003 guidebook on Gran Paradiso rock routes) was the quantity of historical notes he put into his book, so you know not only WHAT you're climbing, but also WHY. But it was literally a drop of water in the desert...
 gingerkate 02 Jun 2008
In reply to Al Evans and Luca and others:
When I read The White Spider I thought it an incredibly wonderful book. Not all of it perhaps, but the chapter on Toni Kurz moved me deeply, beyond the level at which it is comfortable to be moved by someone else's tragedy. I am certain that many people reading it feel just the same. To me, that chapter on Kurz is like some terrible distorted parallel to Touching the Void, in which Simpson crawls into camp an hour too late, and dies alone in the cold. Both men struggle and struggle to live, death seems inevitable many times, and yet at that final throw of the dice, Simpson lives, Kurz dies ... I read that chapter wanting history to change, knowing it could never change, but wanting so much for Kurz to live. I don't think I've ever cared so much about a man I've never met and who died before I was born.

I am sure that a great part of the power of that chapter lies simply in the story, the unbearably cruel twists of fate that meant Kurz died after all, when everything in your heart believes that he should've lived. And how much or little is due to Harrer's power as a story teller I could never now say. But still, he brought us that story, he told the stories in a way that brings you close to all those who died attempting the Nordwand; I think he was a wonderful writer.

This is obviously something different from historical accuracy. When I first read The White Spider, even though at that point I had no other knowledge of the attempts on the Eiger, still there were little hints (which in my absorption I ignored) that Harrer's account is not pure objective information. Looking back, I think now that he is what would in fiction be called 'an unreliable narrator'. His account is coloured, even distorted, by his particular perspective. Well, we can't blame him for that, whose voice could he write in other than his own? He was part of the story, why would his voice be objective.

The chapter on Corti is an unpleasant muddle of suspicion and innuendo. Did it ever add much to the book? I don't think so. The White Spider's strength lies in its early chapters. I think once Corti's innocence was proved by the discovery of the bodies of the men who'd so generously helped save him by leaving him their tent, Harrer should've removed the chapter from future editions. Or completely re-written it. Personally I can't imagine writing a book that implies one climber has murdered two others, finding out that I'd got it wrong, and not withdrawing it.
flatiron 02 Jun 2008
In reply to Doug:

Hi Doug,

there is some talk behind the scenes, but it's all still in early stages. So, let's wait and see - I definately hope we'll have an English edition in the near future, since there seems to be still some interest on the Eiger in the UK.

Many thanks for the positive reactions to everyone who posted in this thread - it's really appreciated. Kate did an amazing job on this article!

Rainer Rettner

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