Tom Ballard talks Titanic and the Eiger North Pillars

by Natalie Berry - UKC Dec/2016
This news story has been read 11,901 times

We reported last week that British alpinist Tom Ballard and his Polish climbing partner Marcin Tomaszewski had made the first ascent of a new line on the Eiger North Face - Titanic (A3/M5/6b, 1800m). To find out more about the route, we got in touch with Tom, who enthusiastically provided some details on Titanic alongside a short history of the Eiger North Pillars...

Tom Ballard, 127 kb

 

'On the left side of the Eiger North Face, three pillars stand proud, viewed from some angles they appear insignificant, from others imposing! Kenny Spence described climbing on the pillars as he would imagine climbing up the prow of the Titanic!' 

Eiger North Pillars: a brief(ish) history:

In 1968, Toni Hiebeler climbed a natural weaving line up the left-hand side of the infamous North Face, he was accompanied by the Messner brothers and Fritz Maschke. At the time, they named the route the "North Pillar". This is somewhat of a misnomer as the route is neither direct nor on the North Pillars, climbing their western flanks, and to rub salt into the wound further, barely days before, four polish climbers had made a huge sweeping traverse below the second pillar and across onto the Lauper route. The main challenge remained unclimbed...

photo
Eiger North Face bivi
© Tom Ballard

Summer 1970, three young and keen Scotsmen turn up with a shedload of equipment at the foot of their goal: The North Pillars direct. They attack, with sheer will and lots of individual ability, they succeed in climbing these three impressive pillars, leaving behind spare equipment and fixed ropes they continue to the summit. This despite a very snowy month (in complete contrast to my recent ascent without snow at the beginning of the so called 'ski season')!

Eight years later a pair of Czech climbers supposedly made a winter ascent of what has ever since been referred to as the Scottish Pillars.  How much of the fixed rope left behind by the Scots they used will never be known. I found an eastern European-looking titanium piton, which is in contrast to the rest of the abandoned Scottish equipment.

Marcin leading on Titanic, 243 kbMarcin leading on Titanic
© Tom Ballard

Swiss men Peter Keller and Urs Odermatt were up next in 2002. They set about climbing, with even a foray from the 'windows' and a heavy haulbag full of bolts...the route they created includes hard free climbing! The following year they returned to make a full free ascent and supposedly strip off their fixed ropes. I found all hard rock sections with their fraying ropes still swaying in the breeze! (there were still some to be seen recently) They also claim to have been 20m from the Scottish Route, but whilst repeating it in 2009 I stumbled upon a new bolt...nevertheless, Griff ins Licht is an impressive route!

photo
Eiger North Face existing routes
© Tom Ballard

I was next on the scene, beginning in winter 2009. I set about repeating the Scottish Route, but the weather was against me, the heaviest snowfall in winter that Switzerland had seen for a long long time! Slowly I progressed, and by late spring had reached the top of the difficulties. Whilst I waited for the route to dry out for an all free ascent, I began to work on a new, completely independent line. I had realised that all published topo's were in fact incorrect...

The result was a 1000m pure rock climb of modern thinking: Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. The route has a modern feel to it, all bolted belays and abseil descent, very similar to the most recent 'free climbs' being put up on the right hand side of the face (closer to the train) and with simple descents! 

Tom Ballard leading through a rock pitch on Titanic, 196 kbTom Ballard leading through a rock pitch on Titanic
© Tom Ballard

In July the Scottish Pillars were dry enough for me to make the first one day free ascent. I named this version (the free line does not follow the original exactly), Solitaire. The descent was by abseil down the route.


Also during summer 2009, a Spanish climber is reported to have soloed Griff ins Licht, but I have reason to doubt this as I didn't see anyone up there at the time (except myself), despite living very near the face in Alpiglen and also climbing parts of the route myself at the same time! But as Sherlock Holmes said...

"When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth".

Marcin Tomaszewski and Tom Ballard: adding another chapter to the Eiger North Face's history books, 224 kbMarcin Tomaszewski and Tom Ballard: adding another chapter to the Eiger North Face's history books
© Tom Ballard

Recently, Marcin and I got off the train at a deserted Alpiglen with three rucksacks/haulbags each! The first day we transported the gear up to the base of the wall. That was our first portaledge night, seven more were to follow. We started 10m right of the Swiss route but climbed the first band without bolts. We kept parallel up through the overhanging first pillar and crossed the Swiss route to join Solitaire on easy ground - one pitch shy of the Second Pillar. Then we moved right to an immense unclimbed 400m wall.

Tom and Marcin on the summit of the Eiger, 253 kbTom and Marcin on the summit of the Eiger
© Tom Ballard

After good rock on the initial pitches we were forced leftwards by poor rock with dangerously loose blocks and flakes (would be a lot worse unfrozen in summer) until joining Seven Pillars of Wisdom for 170m to the top of the 3rd Pillar. In one long day, we climbed mixed ground and a very bare "Lauperschild" to the summit and then descended in 18 abseils to our ropes on the 3rd pillar. The following day we continued down, in all a grand total of 40 abseils!

I hope the history won't stop here, there is still a lot of space for someone with the will and time to spend the hours needed on this cold and seemingly inhospitable, but fascinating face! I hope also to return soon...my heart will go on...

Titanic topo 1, 57 kb

Titanic topo 2, 45 kb

 

Tom is sponsored by: Montane, C.A.M.P, Cassin, GMSport, Scarpa and Virna Pierobon Projects

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