Saturday, July 20, 2013

Europe Trip: Day 1

The Eiger from the train on the way into Grindelwald

Sheri dropped us at the bus stop literally a minute before the bus arrived. I hope our timing stays that good for the entire trip…

This trip is about checking things off the bucket list. Like so many other people I've uttered the phrase "I'd really like to do that sometime…" many times. Now, at 50, I'm holding myself to that. Do I really want to do that? Or would I just like to say I'd done it? Or maybe I don't really want to do it at all. Now I'm making plans and executing them. I've got a long bucket list and it's time to get going on it. I'm still fit and climbing nearly as good as ever, but that won't last forever. I figure I've got a decade left to get my mountain dreams done.

When I first started climbing, I was initially drawn to the outrageous walls of Yosemite, having been inspired by the images in National Geographic. Back then I was a voracious reader of climbing literature. The most storied mountain was the Eiger. Books like the White Spider, Wall of Death, Eiger Dreams horrified and fascinated me. Drawn to lists, like the Fifty Classic Climbs and Colorado 14ers, I found that there were six classic north faces in the Alps: Eiger, Matterhorn, Grand Jorasses, Petit Dru, Piz Badile, and the Cima Grande di Laverado. On a previous trip to Europe to climb I climbed the Matterhorn, though by the easiest route - the Hornli Ridge, and Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps. The Grande Jorasses and the Petit Dru are both part of the Mont. Blanc massif. On that trip I also visited the Tre Cima di Laverado, where the Cima Grande is the center peak of three giant stone spires. Intimidated by the 1500-foot north face and lacking a strong partner, I fell back to the Cima Piccolissima via the Preuss Crack. On a separate trip, in early July, I went to the Eiger. It was too early to climb it and it wasn't "in condition", all covered in snow. The Eiger is primarily a rock mountain and snow on it makes it tougher. Instead I climbed the Eiger's higher, easier neighbors: the Monch and the Jungfrau. 

So now I'm headed back. This time more determined and more focused. More experienced and while I will be safe, more aware of my limited time  to get things done. The north face of the Eiger might not be out of reach for me, but it is more than I can wrap my head around right now. I need to learn the mountain first. I set my sights slightly lower for now, and maybe forever. My plan is to climb the Mitteleggi Ridge. This is the northeast ridge of the Eiger and it is possible to climb 10,000 vertical feet from the town of Grindelwald clear to the summit via this route. Along the way are two huts - climbing in Europe is so civilized. Weather, conditions, and other climbers will determine our exact plan, but we plan to at least stay in the Mitteleggi Hut, which is situated on the ridge at the start of the main difficulties 2000 feet below the summit.

On this two week trip I have only two goals: summit of the Eiger and the north face of the Cima Grande. We'll spend a week at each mountain, waiting for weather if necessary. Hopefully that will be enough time. I'm not going to Europe to do some random climbing. I'm not there to move around, find the best weather, and climb there. I'm there for these two mountains. If they go smooth, we might have time for some other things. We? Of course I have a partner. Most of my climbing partners were surprisingly uninterested in this adventure. I guess it is more of a personal quest but the objectives seem so universally appealing that I figured my problem was going to be limiting the size of the party. Alas, that wasn't the case, but my partner for this trip is a good one: Homie. 

Homie is a mountain guy, through and through. He's tough, he's nearly impervious to weather, and he never gets tired. He hasn't done much technical climbing in the last few years, but we did some training climbs and he'll be fine. He's seen photos of these mountains. For a climber, that's enough. The desire to climb them is innate for people like us. One look at them and you find yourself searching for the line of ascent, wondering if blank sections will be climbable. He's on board with the plan for now. I worry if the weather doesn't cooperate, though. It's his vacation as well and he doesn't want to spend it sitting in a cafe sipping lattes while watching the rain obscure his beloved mountains.

We're heading to the Eiger first, though it might still be a bit early. The hut has only recently opened and we're not even sure the ridge has been climbed yet this season. But the travel to Grindelwald is straightforward train rides directly from the Zurich airport, while travel to the Tre Cime is annoyingly complex via public transportation. Shelter is easier there, though, as there is really but one place to stay: the Auronzo hut, which is more like a spartan hotel. I'm at DIA now and in an hour I'll be in the air. Tomorrow morning I'll be in Switzerland…

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