Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eiger Day 3: Mitteleggi Hut to Summit and down

Homie at the Mitteleggi Hut on the Mitteleggi Ridge, still 2000 feet from the summit.

The next morning we were the last group to get up, but weren't sleeping too heavily while the other groups got going. Eventually we took our turn at the breakfast table. Everyone was putting on crampons at the hut and we could clearly see that we'd be traversing a snow-covered knife-edge, so we did the same. This probably wasn't strictly necessary  but did give us a bit more security. We'd peel these off in about 15 minutes, though, when the climbing got very steep and purely on rock.

The first group we caught was Guillame and Rob. Guillame was a quick guide, but Rob was an older Aussie and they don't have many mountains down under. I gradually discovered that teams will let you pass, but do no offer to let you pass. We bumped up against this team for quite awhile. I was right on Rob and was sure they'd offer to let us by, but it was probably an hour before I asked to go by and Guillame said, "Of course."

We were on the fixed ropes now, but these aren't normal climbing ropes. These are giant, fat ropes that are two inches in diameter and provide very easy climbing. As an American free climber my natural tendency is to not use the ropes, if I can climb without them and this is the way I started. I also did this so that I wouldn't be pulling on the ropes at the same time as the climber above me. But I'm also an alpinist and I recognize the need for speed and using these ropes is way faster than not using them. Once we passed a team we felt an obligation, of course, not to then hold them up. Also, when the route moved onto the north side of the ride, the rock was ice covered in places and would have been quite difficult climbing without these ropes. So, I used the ropes and batmanned up them with ease, most of the time. On one particularly icy section, I was forced to work quite hard, as my feet were very insecure and not helping much. All the time, I'm simul-climbing with Homie below me and spacing out the protection (mainly clipping into the anchors securing the fat line) in order to avoid re-grouping too often.

We caught and were let by another team of two and then soon bumped into the two older German guys. These guys were slow, but they ran up against Reno's team and everything ground to a halt. Reno and his guides, as I said before, were doing a superhuman job, but these clients just needed so much attention. They needed to be belayed and hauled constantly. On a route where everyone is climbing the same fat rope, there is no way to pass once more than one team is clogged up. The first team to come across Reno's team should have passed. Phillip and Sami did just that and were the first team to top out. The only other team fast enough to efficiently pass Reno's team was Homie and I and we were stuck behind the Germans.

This was a bit frustrating to me, but there was no solution. Like I said, if you want move at your speed, either do another route, or harden up and do what the Rocking Girls did - blast it later in the day. What added a bit of stress was the weather. It rained a bit even before the sun came up, but then it turned to snow and graupel. We were engulfed in clouds with limited visibility and acutely aware that the only way off this mountain was up and over. But the weather wasn't deteriorating and we were climbing fine in the conditions.

As we neared the top, the angle eased a bit. We traversed some snow sections, but resisted crampons for a bit longer, since the teams in front were doing the same. All except the Germans, that is. They climbed the entire route in crampons and I could see first hand how this hampered their movement. One section they made it look desperate as the leader backed off a couple of times and then shakily made the move, clipped the bolt and immediately grabbed the quickdraw. In my crampon-less, sticky-rubber boots, this move felt like 5.2 at worst.

Finally the ridge really laid back and we strapped on the crampons for the final ridge run. We topped out on the Eiger 75 years to the day after the first ascent team up the North Face. Perhaps that is a sign that the North Face is still in my future...

We were on top with Reno's entire team and the two Germans. One of them took our summit photo. We'd have lingered longer, but it was cold, there was absolutely no view, and we had a long way to go down a complicated, unknown ridge that was equal in difficulty to what we had just come up. The Germans started down first and we were right behind them. They proved so frustratingly slow at the rappels that I asked to go by. I didn't want to be too pushy, so most of the time I just hoped teams offer to let us by. We were given passage and soon caught the German guide Thomas and his client Dominic. We stayed on their heels for awhile, helping them with their rappel ropes.
Nearing the Monchloch Hut and the end of the climb
The descent down the south ridge leads to a saddle on the ridge connecting the Eiger to the Monch, but this first saddle is the north saddle. Getting to the south saddle, which we had to do, involved traversing a steep, rocky ridge, interspersed with some snow slope traversing. The crampons we put on before topping out would stay on our feet until we did this entire traverse of the ridge and then down the glacier and up to the Monchloch Hut, where we'd finally be on non-technical ground. We'd pass the German when they took a break and then we caught and passed Evelyn and her client. We left everyone far behind and were alone for most of this traverse. There was one tricky rock section, where the passage wasn't clear, but we figured it out.

Once at Monchloch Hut, we had an easy twenty minutes down to the Jungfrauloch train station - the highest in Europe. We toured all the sites inside this crazy station completely inside the mountain and then rode the train back down to Grund. This cost 90 CHF, or more than $100, but it was the only way down at this point. I'd been on this train before, but Homie wanted to see it anyway, so it was worth it to come down this way.

So, that's one mountain checked off my bucket list... It was a grand adventure with a great friend and a super solid climbing partner. I am indebted to Homie for being there for me...


Jeff Valliere said...

This is awesome stuff and the photos are great. Can't believe the Swiss guides were so snooty, if they only knew who they were being snooty to...

SteelMonkey said...

Awesome to see you check this sucka off the bucket list!
Nice work both of you!

Emily Thompson said...

I stumbled across this as I’m in grindelwald and just been told about the via Ferrata up to the ostegghutte. This is a great blog of your traverse of the eiger, it still sounds like something I’d find difficult as i struggled yesterday with the wetterhorn ridge!! Well done for this ascent and thanks for writing this blog.