Second Ascent of Jeff Lowe's Metanoia by Huber, Schäli & Siegrist

© Jon Krakauer

Thomas Huber, Roger Schaeli and Stephan Siegrist have made the coveted second ascent of Jeff Lowe's legendary route Metanoia on the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland, 25 years after Lowe's remarkable solo ascent.

Eiger North face  © Archive Metanoia
Eiger North face
© Archive Metanoia

Metanoia was established in 1991. The route had been attempted before by several climbers without success. 

In December 2016 professional alpinists Thomas Huber (GER), Stephan Siegrist (SUI) and Roger Schaeli (SUI) made their way to climb one of the most bold and legendary routes in the Alps. Huber, who was fascinated by the unique history behind the climb, was quick to get Siegrist on the team and Schaeli was also on board immediately.

The three climbers began their first attempt in the week before Christmas. They had to abort their effort about 70 metres left of the Central Ledge after their bivvy due to increasingly bad weather conditions. A second attempt on December 28th, 2016 had to be interrupted shortly after a storm set in. They commenced their climb on Metanoia on December 29th, 2016. They set their bivvy about 70 meters left of the Central Ledge again and continued onward the next day. The three alpinists reached the top of Metanoia in the evening of December 30th, 2016. They are the first team to successfully repeat the route.

The Line of Metanoia
© Archive Metanoia

First ascensionist Jeff Lowe is known for his solo ascent of the south face of Ama Dablam in 1979, amongst other achievements. He still holds the record for reaching the highpoint of Latok I. Lowe has ticked more than 1000 first ascents worldwide. He was involved in the development of the first ice screw as well as the first cam and also invented the globally recognised difficulty scale for ice and mixed climbs. He brought the Sport Climbing Championships to the USA and opened the legendary and well visited Ouray Ice Park in Colorado, USA.

Jeff Lowe on 2nd icefield, Metanoia 1991
© Jon Krakauer

1991 was a tough year for Lowe personally. When he began his attempt to open a new, direct line though the north face of the Eiger, Lowe wanted to create a tribute to the pioneers of extreme alpinism who approached the greatest alpine walls with primitive equipment and techniques, without using bolts. Lowe says: "So I also climbed with no bolts, hoping that Metanoia might serve as an example of what can be accomplished without them."

Jeff Lowe starting up the Eiger for the first ascent of Metanoia, 1991  © Jon Krakauer
Jeff Lowe starting up the Eiger for the first ascent of Metanoia, 1991
© Jon Krakauer

Nine days later Lowe appears at the summit of the Eiger, defying adverse conditions. He braved severe storms and proved his mastery of climbing and his power of endurance. In the life of Jeff Lowe this climb was somewhat a path to enlightenment. He climbed the north face of Eiger with a new view on life. He named his route Metanoia, a Greek word meaning a "fundamental change of view, or transformative change of heart." Lowe says: "Metanoia rewarded me with a deeper understanding of my self and how life operates. As a result I have become more compassionate and connected to my family, friends, the climbing tribe, humanity, the planet and the universe." In his route Lowe found his attitude towards life that still holds true today: to approach everything with courage and love. He hasn't lost this attitude even after being diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disorder 16 years ago that has tied him to a wheelchair.

Jeff Lowe on the upper headwall on Metanoia
© Jon Krakauer

Jeff Lowe was excited about the first repeat of his Metanoia: "Thomas Huber called us to share the good news that he, Roger Schaeli and Stephan Siegrist succeeded on Metanoia. I'm happy and gratified that they found the route to be hard, bold, beautiful and 'visionary.' Their confirmation of the quality of Metanoia is very gratifying and quite humbling. Best of all, Thomas understands what I was doing with the climb; which was trying to create an example of how alpinists can progress in an environmentally conscious way that honors the spirit of extreme alpinism."

Jeff Lowe with Catherine Destivelle discussing 1991 Eiger ascent
© Jon Krakauer

Thomas Huber on Lowe's ascent of Metanoia: "He was alone, he had never been in the wall before, he could only rely on himself. I tried to imagine myself in his place after every hard passage that lay behind me. His fight passed in front of my inner eye like a movie. What he accomplished is really just madness."

Huber continues, saying: "With Metanoia Jeff was able to prove that you can accomplish impossible challenges just with your heart. He set new standards in alpinism with his ascent. This Metanoia, the new way of seeing the world and this new mind-set on life help Jeff today to approach his battle with his illness with cheerfulness, courage and love. This attitude is what inspires me in my life. We, Steff, Roger and I, are thankful to be able to live Metanoia." Stephan Siegrist is also impressed by Lowe's achievement. He says: "He climbed that route in this hard wall alone with the gear they had back then! You can only survive that kind of hardship if you're in a deep crisis." The route itself is something special for Siegrist, too: "When I climbed the north face of the Eiger for the first time with about 20 years of age Lowe had already climbed Metanoia. The spectacular ascent and following stories in the media have followed me and have left me in awe ever since." Unsurprisingly, climbing the route himself was even more significant for Siegrist: "After 37 ascents and three first ascents on the north face of the Eiger, Metanoia definitely put the crown on it all. For me personally this is one of the highlights of my 37 ascents on the Eiger."

Jeff Lowe high on his 1991 solo of Metanoia
© Jon Krakauer

Roger Schaeli adds: "Climbing Metanoia was my biggest adventure on the Eiger with the coolest team on the north face! The route inspired me to find more alpine challenges. My highest respect goes to Jeff Lowe. Metanoia is really bad ass!"

Lowe climbed Metanoia in 1991 without bolts. Huber, Siegrist and Schaeli installed an 8mm bolt at a belay since they wanted to avoid the risk of the entire rope team falling. In addition, they used a 10mm bolt in a pitch before the Hinterstoisser Traverse. It was probably drilled to support the film team of the 2013 documentary Metanoia

Jeff descending the Eiger North face after a 3 day attempt in 1991
© Jon Krakauer

More Information on Jeff Lowe and Metanoia here.

Jeff Lowe's Metanoia - an account of the second ascent by Thomas Huber, Stephan Siegrist and Roger Schaeli

Text: Thomas Huber. Pictures: Huber, Siegrist, Schaeli

January 7th, 2017

Grades of 7/A4/M6 sound pretty adventurous. Especially on the 1800 metre north face of the Eiger. Behind these facts lies a mysterious name: Metanoia. It's a Greek term meaning a fundamental change of thinking, a new view of the world. The climb promised to be a challenging adventure.

Jeff Lowe, an exceptional American alpinist, tackled the snowy north face of the Eiger all by himself in February 1991. His goal was a direct, unclimbed line to the summit. His life was extremely turbulent at the time. He was in a tough spot personally and financially he had hit rock bottom. Some of his friends though his undertaking was a suicidal act. However harsh the reality of Jeff's life was, he operated like clockwork in the steep, icy world of the Eiger's north face. He bravely faced the storms, snow-covered rock slabs and mastered passages of technical climbing up to A4, often far from any decent protection. It wasn't a "borderline ascent" as we alpinists like to call adventures of this kind. Jeff was in a whole other world, far from the usual reality. Here only your intrinsic instincts and intuition keep you alive. His love for his daughter was his sole connection to the "normal" world.

Stephan Siegrist and Roger Schäli climbing left of the Sphinx-Pillar
© Archive Metanoia

Jeff reached the summit after nine days. His friends brought him back to the world via helicopter just before another storm hit the Eiger. He called his nine-day route Metanoia. His life had a new perspective. From then on he vowed to become more sensitive to his surroundings and to have fun at the same time.

His story inspired me and made me curious. There are no exact descriptions of the route. No one knows the exact line or how hard it really is. The route has been tried several times to date but it hasn't been repeated yet. And that mysterious name. It sounds like the gateway to fundamental insights!

Swiss alpinist Stephan Siegrist, who had been on the Eiger over 30 times, was immediately drawn to the story. He brought Swiss climber Roger Schaeli on board, who had been on the neighbouring Japanese Direttissima twice. Jeff gave me some valuable advice about the line of the route. So the adventure on Metanoia could begin!

I drove to Switzerland the week before Christmas in perfect weather. "It's now or never!" I thought. We climbed the buttress of the Eiger's north face in the light of our headlamps and traversed a difficult crack to the left, the first crux pitch of the Heckmair Route, to the Toni-Kurz-Overhang. It's a very devastating feeling to stand beneath the spot where the alpinist Toni Kurz died exactly 80 years ago, hanging from his rope in front of his rescuers, uttering his last words "I can't anymore."

Stephan Siegrist climbing on the last slab pitch before the  Hinterstoisser Traverse  © Archive Metanoia
Stephan Siegrist climbing on the last slab pitch before the Hinterstoisser Traverse
© Archive Metanoia

It got light, everything was quiet, all was good. I climbed farther to the left, to the beginning of Jeff's Metanoia, quietly thinking of home. Steff got ready to lead. It was cold, no wind, perfect weather! Roger belayed, I was feeling cold and Steff worked his way up the first pitch over great rock. An old knotted rappel cord eased our ascent over the compact part of the route. We progressed faster than we thought we would but the aid rope took the adventure out of it. We cut the rope out as far as possible with our knife. We crossed the Hinterstoisser Traverse. Roger was busy with birdbeaks, hooks and spindrift for the next 35 metres and two hours. We now realised how Jeff must have fought back then!

The days are short, we reach the end of the second ice field as the sun sets. We established a bivvy after an hour hacking ice and couldn't wait for our warm soup. Roger and Steff, who have both spent countless hours in bivvys on this wall, tell jokes and laugh and feel comfortable. I on the other hand, was a little anxious. We were, after all, on the wall of walls, on the Eiger. I was here with my brother Alexander and friends from Berchtesgaden exactly 20 years ago in winter. It took us 3 days in extremely cold conditions to climb the classic Heckmair Route! Today conditions are far better, almost perfect. But we were attempting one of the hardest routes on the Eiger, a Direttissima, Metanoia. I could faintly make out the bulging rock face above us.

Roger Schäli climbs the dry pitch straight up from Hinterstoisser Traverse ; Thomas Huber belaying
© Archive Metanoia

It looked threatening, hard and crazy. I tried to laugh about the jokes from time to time but I was too encompassed in Jeff's story. Our sleeping bags made the bivvy bearable. We have a saying: "A good alpinist sucks it up and doesn't complain." But none of us could really sleep. Metanoia was on our minds, followed us in our waking dreams. Maybe the jokes from the evening were a way of dealing with the stress of the situation considering what was in store for us. We left the warmth of our sleeping bags at 5 in the morning, into the cold of the night. Our cooker hissed as it melted snow. We had some warm coffee and a granola bar at 5.30am and departed. We zigzagged over mixed passages and small ice fields to the first large part of the wall. I sorted a double set of cams, stoppers, hooks, and beaks on my harness. I was ready for Metanoia!

Four pitches took me four hours and the wall offered everything climbing can offer: Parts where falling isn't an option, at least not a very painless one, rope-traverses, technical passages, runouts on bad rock with sketchy protection and complicated belays in questionable rock. The terrain above us leaned back a little. I was very glad everything went well. I was also totally depleted mentally. Steff took the lead. It would be good to reach the central ledge where we have the best possibility to find a place for a bivvy. We realised our potential right there. Our team functioned perfectly, we complemented each other. The experience Steff and Roger have on the Eiger is the perfect prerequisite. We had what Jeff didn't. He was alone, he had never been on the wall before, he could only rely on himself. I tried to imagine myself in his place after every hard passage that lay behind me. His fight passed in front of my inner eye like a movie. What he accomplished is really just madness.

Early morning start on the lower part of the Eiger north face  © Archive Metanoia
Early morning start on the lower part of the Eiger north face
© Archive Metanoia

Steff climbed along steep ice and brittle black rock to the central ledge as the stars sparkled above us. The days are short, damn short! It's only 5pm and it was pitch black. The "central ledge" doesn't live up to its name. It's small, sloping and not a place where the three of us could set up a bivvy. Roger traversed 70 horizontal metres to the left to a recess. Finally a good spot for our nightly rest. It was already 7pm as we reached him and snow began to fall. It was good to be where we were, a spectacular bivvy! A mighty overhang protected us from rock fall and spindrift, the wall below us broke off in a downward slope. An oasis in the wild world of the Eiger, our eagle's nest. We ate but the jokes were strained.

We asked Charly Gabl for a weather forecast and he predicted stormy times. The snow wouldn't be the problem, it would have receded during the night. The wind, however, was predicted to blow from the south. That meant Foehn, an alpine storm, with wind speeds up to 60, 70 kilometres per hour. Steff said we wouldn't have a chance. Spindrift would make climbing around the summit region impossible and the rock fall caused by the wind would be a whole different story. We cuddled in our sleeping bags with low spirits. Then all of a sudden it was light as day! We weren't dreaming. A helicopter floated before us in the snow flurry and lit up our bivvy with its search lights. We gave the sign that we're ok. We weren't the object of his nightly search. He flew over to the Exit Cracks. We witnessed a long-line rescue of two mountaineers from the Spider in the next hour. At night during light snowfall. Crazy! It was almost midnight, half the night was over. It was finally quiet and the snow gave it a Christmassy feeling.

Thomas Huber climbs the first steep wall after the second ice field  © Archive Metanoia
Thomas Huber climbs the first steep wall after the second ice field
© Archive Metanoia

A lot had changed on the north face by early morning. The black, threatening bastion above us was white from the snow. It was windy, clouds surrounded us and it was very uncomfortable. Or better: it was winter! Not a good day for the Eiger. The only reasonable decision was to retreat. We began to descend on sometimes questionable rappels. We were constantly accompanied by snow-dust avalanches and spindrift. We crossed the ice fields to the Hinterstoisser Traverse, then the difficult crack. We finally reached the Stollenloch after eight hours. We were safe and the only thing we looked forward to was Christmas at home. Wind speed measured in the peak region of the Eiger that day were 180 kilometres per hour.

The weather gave us another chance just after Christmas Eve on the 27th. Metanoia wouldn't let us go. Again were below the Toni-Kurz-Overhang. We set up ropes in the first pitches and wanted to go for it tomorrow! Our new strategy was to make it through the wall with just one bivvy after installing the ropes. Today Roger was on lead. A crafty and hard challenge with beaks, hooks and sketchy mixed passages. It took us longer than expected because we had cut out the aid ropes in many parts. It was cold but we managed to do exactly what we had planned.

A storm hit again on the 28th. We climbed over the buttress and faced spindrift and snow-dust avalanches from all sides. There was no point in continuing. We fled to the Stollenloch. We sat in front of Swiss hash browns and beers two hours later. We wouldn't have had a chance that day. But if we wanted to spend New Year's Eve with our family everything had to be perfect from now on.

Thomas Huber   © Archive Metanoia
Thomas Huber
© Archive Metanoia

On December 29th the wind calmed and Charly gave us the green light for the next days. We took a shortcut and climbed to the wall directly from the Stollenloch. We traversed the ice fields over to our fixed ropes. Two hours later were on our way as a rope team again. Our goal was to reach the central ledge and our bivvy at the Eagle's Nest. We each lead the pitches we had done a week before. We were fast, spirits were high. We reached the central ledge at 4pm. Steff installed a rope on the next pitch while I traversed to the bivvy 70 metres to the left. We named this exposed traverse Eagle's Traverse. The stars began to sparkle in the sky again. The lights from Grindelwald sparkled below us. Many people down there were preparing for the new year or sat together with friends, talking about the passing year with a beer. We laid in our sleeping bags in an entirely different reality, in the world of Metanoia.

The next day, on the 30th, Steff was on the sharp end and found Jeff's path through brittle cracks and dihedrals. I took over the sharp end back at Eagle's Traverse. Roger took the lead again after two pitches. A little runout over a slab, then an overhanging funnel. Jeff described this as the nicest pitch of the route. Nice to me is something else. Everything here is loose, crumbly rock. It's serious and extremely steep. Roger climbed a full 60 metre pitch to Hermit Cave below the Fly, a small ice field on the right above the Spider. Jeff spent another two nights in this downward facing recess. We only spent a few minutes here. It was two o'clock and we had a chance of reaching the top that day. We climbed the small ice field of the Fly to the Exit Cracks. One more difficult, crumbly pitch and we got to the Japanese Direttissima. Roger knows it well. He was our joker that day. He progressed fast and he climbed to the last ice field along old fixed ropes and ring-bolts. Jeff left his backpack here. It was recovered in 2011 by Josh Wharton while making the documentary "Metanoia." We climbed the last 20 metres in twilight. Then a last sign of Jeff: an old bong with blue marking. He soloed from here on to the top out after nine days on the wall, back to life.

Evening light on the last pitches before the Eagle Bivvy  © Archive Metanoia
Evening light on the last pitches before the Eagle Bivvy
© Archive Metanoia

Behind us lay our adventure of a crazy route through the Eiger's north face! The sun that had already set left the sky in an unreal light. Today we understood why this here is called Metanoia. With Metanoia Jeff was able to prove that you can accomplish impossible challenges just with your heart. He set new standards in alpinism with his ascent. This Metanoia, the new way of seeing the world and this new mind-set on life helps Jeff today to approach his battle with his illness with cheerfulness, courage and love. This attitude is what inspires me in my life. We, Steff Roger and I, are thankful to have been able to live Metanoia for five days.

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10 Jan, 2017
Way cool.
10 Jan, 2017
Wow - the (very) long-awaited second ascent of a legendary route! God only knows what Jeff Lowe went through on the FA. It's great that the second ascent team cared so much about what drove Lowe and drives him yet, the spirit which shines so brightly in him and, at least dimly, in all of us. Mick
10 Jan, 2017
A proper repeat of a properly proper route. Proper news.
10 Jan, 2017
I would be very interested to hear Ueli Steck's perspective on this. IIRC, he tried and lead the bottom part to the Hinterstoisser traverse somewhen in 2014/2015. Most likely, the fixed rope that is mentioned in the report was his. For his next try (and thus similar as the team here), Steck decided to avoid the lower part, as he perceived it being too dangerous. I guess he stated that most of the pitons he placed fell out by themselves until he returned for the next try. Steck then (together with Nicolas Hojac) tried to repeat the upper part of Metanoia in fall 2015. He did the slab pitch leading away from the Hinterstoisser on an ice smear and dismissed it as impossible in dry conditions. Further up the wall, the team encountered some problems in identifying the correct line of Metanoia. When they chose to follow what seemed the logical line, they often found themselves on or at least close to the Japanese route. But still, it was an ascent that led them to the summit. Don't want to takes sides on whether what is reported here is a second or third ascent of Metanoia. But still, it would be very interesting to find out about the differences, and to hear the opinion of either party on what the other did.
10 Jan, 2017
And yet here's what Steve Grossman said on Supertopo four days ago:
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