Eiger North Face (Heckmair Route)

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Cu aproximativ 2 ani in urma, citeam fascinat cartea Paianjenul Alb, scrisa de H. Harrer, si recunosc ca m-am ingrozit atunci la propriu de tragediile petrecute in peretele nordic al Eigerului. “Mordwand”, era cunoscut pentru vremea rea, stanca friabila, asigurari proaste. Si totusi, prin ce putere magica a reusit el sa atraga atatea generatii ca un magnet? Jon Griffith scria despre Eiger “[…] in ziua de azi, atunci cand este in conditii, devine o arena de circ, cu zeci de echipe care formeaza cozi in regrupari. Cu toate astea, m-am simtit atat de bine sa urc cel mai faimos perete alpin din lume.” 2 years ago, I was both fascinated and terrified reading Harrer’s book, White Spider. “Mordwand” was well known for bad weather, bad rock and bad gear. Still, it attracts lots of climbers. Jon Griffith wrote on his blog “[…] nowadays it gets so many ascents when it’s in condition it can turn into a real circus of teams queuing on the face. But nevertheless it was awesome to top out of the worlds most famous alpine climb […]”.

Desi peretele nordic are in jur de 1800 m inaltime, ruta Heckmair aduna peste 2500 m din cauza traverseelor orizontale. Traseul e puzzle urias, finalizat de echipa celor 4 cataratori pionieri in iulie 1938.  Un articol scurt si cuprinzator despre istoricul, dificultatea rutei si echipamentul necesar (din care ne-am inspirat si noi) gasiti aici. Heckmair route is like a huge puzzle with more 2500 m to climb (due to the long horizontal traverses) that was solved in July 1938 by the first 4 pioneers. A good article to read about it’s history/difficulty/gear requirement you may find here.

Topo pentru ruta Heckmair Eiger North Face:

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Intre 14-15 Apr 2015, visul de a urca Fata Nordica a Eigerului a devenit realitate. As dori sa dedic acest articol partenerului meu, Alex Holt. Citind mai jos, sper ca veti intelege de ce. Sunt convins ca tot ceea ce ramane in urma unei catarari, sunt emotiile traite si prieteniile legate intre OAMENI. Restul, e doar praf in vant. Between 14-15 Apr 2015, this dream of climbing Eiger NF came true. I would like to dedicate this article to my partner Alex Holt. Hopefully, by reading the below story, you will realize why. The most important thing is not the climb itself, but the emotions and true friendship that remains. Everything else is just dust in the wind.

L-am cunoscut pe Alex in Dec 2014 ca unul din colegii mei, soferi, la o firma de transport din Chamonix. Pentru mine personal, termenul de “coleg” in ultimii 10 ani de lucrat intr-o institutie financiara din Romania a avut conotatia de: persoane dragi care din pacate nu imi impartasesc pasiunea pentru Munte si nici nu o inteleg. <<Cum adica, sa dormi in cort mai multe nopti la rand acum cand exista atatea pensiuni peste tot?! >>- ma intreba consternata o colega. I met Alex back in Dec 2014 as one of my driver colleagues in Chamonix. For me, in the last 10 years of working in a Financial Institution in Romania, “colleague” meant a person I worked with, that unfortunately does not understand or share my passion for Mountains. <<How can you stay in your tent while there are so many comfortable chalets around? >> asked me a former colleague.

Colegii mei din Chamonix sunt … alfel. Majoritatea britanici, absolventi de facultati de prestigiu si veniti acolo din pasiune pentru munte: alpinism, schi extrem, parapanta, etc. Cu patru din colegii mei am avut prima mea experienta de schi extrem in 08 Apr 2015 (Capucin Couloir) si m-am simtit cel mai incepator din grup. Mai am multe de invatat in materie de schi de la ei, si asta ma bucura!  Mai jos un text gasit pe un soclu in statia de tren Kleine Scheidegg. My colleagues from Chamonix are … different. Young guys mostly from UK that graduated from University and now are spending time into the mountains doing their passions: climbing, extreme skiing, paragliding, etc. With 4 of my colleagues I’ve had my first steep ski (Capucin Couloir) and I felt like the most beginner in the group. I still have to learn a lot from them and I am happy about that. Bellow is a monument I found in Kleine Scheidegg.

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Alex mi-a spus de la inceput ca isi cauta coechipier de catarat pentru sezonul de iarna, si eu i-am raspuns ca sunt foarte interesat. M-a intrebat ce rute am facut si ce obiective am. Tocmai catarasem Fata Nordica Matterhorn in octombrie si i-am zis ca imi doresc Eiger N Face cand va fi in conditii, probabil in primavara. Intre timp, eu si Alex am devenit prieteni, am facut mult schi de tura impreuna, printre altele am catarat Supercouloir in Tacul in Martie 2015 si o cascada de gheata de grad 6 in Italia. Alex told me he is looking for a climbing partner for winter season and I told him I am interested. He asked me what kind of climbs I did and what are my plans. I’ve just climbed Matterhorn N face in October and told him I would like to climb Eiger NF in spring. Meanwhile, we became friends, did lots of ski touring, climbed Supercouloir/Tacul in March and a 6th grade waterfall in Italy.

In 11 aprilie Alex mi-a trimis un mesaj: “Am o propunere de nerefuzat, Eiger NF e in conditii, am tinut minte ca ti-l doresti, vreau sa il urcam impreuna. Cred ca suntem pregatiti pentru asta!” Si din acel moment, aventura a inceput… On 11 April, Alex sent me a message: “I have a proposition you can’t refuse, Eiger NF is in condition, I remember you said you wanna climb it, let’s do it together, I think we are ready for that!” And from that moment, our adventure began…

Trei zile in total cu apropiere si retragere, doua zile de catarat efectiv in perete. Echipament minimal de bivuac, un Jetboil, o singura semicoarda de 60 m, 5 frienduri si 6 nuci, 8 expresuri si 4 cuie de gheata. Acelasi izopren taiat in 2 bucati pe care il imparteam cu Silvia pe Integrala Peuterey in 2010 (vezi aici) l-am impartit acum cu Alex in peretele Eiger-ului. Three days in total with approach/descend, two days of climbing. Minimal bivy gear, Jetboil, one 60m half rope, 5 cams and 6 wires, 8 quickdraws and 4 ice screws. The same yellow Thermarest cut in two pieces that I’ve used with Silvia on Peuterey Integral back in 2010 (see here) I have used now with Alex in Eiger NF.

In 13 apr seara, ma aflu la Eigergletscher in bivuac cu Alex, avand emotii pentru ziua urmatoare. Mi-a marturisit ca isi doreste mult ca in vara sa prinda un job in Top Management la o companie foarte importanta din UK, ca acolo au aplicat mii de candidati si ca el ajunsese printre alti 50, in finala. Ca urmare, va trebui sa trimita o filmare de 2 min despre el, despre motivatia si pasiunile lui si apoi sa astepte sa fie chemat la interviul final. S-a hotarat ca filmarea sa o faca chiar pe varful Eiger, dupa ce vom catara Fata Nordica. Iata-l deci pe Alex repetandu-si speech-ul cu voce tare si intrebandu-ma cum mi se pare si ce ar trebui schimbat la el. The evening of 13 Apr finds us in the Eigergletscher bivouac, thinking about tomorrow’s climb. Alex told me about his desire to get an important job in UK, where thousand applied and he got among the other 50 candidates for the final interview. He has to film himself while speaking about him, about his motivation&passions. Here is Alex, reading his speech loud and asking me if anything should be changed to make it better.

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Avem parte de un spectacol deosebit, totul in lumina blanda a soarelui la apus. De la stanga la dreapta: Eiger flancul Vestic (traseul nostru de coborare), Mönch si Jungfrau. Coborarea pe flancul Vestic imi este deja cunoscuta, intrucat urcasem creasta Mittelegi in Sept 2009. A great view is in front of us. From left to righ: Eiger W Flank (our descend route), Mönch and Jungfrau. I already know the descend on the W Flank, as I did Mittelegi ridge on Sept 2009.

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14 aprilie, ora 4:30 am pornim la lumina frontalelor in traversare orizontala spre startul rutei. Sunt urme evidente in zapada si asta ne mareste confortul si viteza. Asa cum am stabilit cu Alex, ne vom asigura in coarda doar cand ajungem la “Difficult Crack”. Zis si facut. Cu atentie si incurajari reciproce ajungem chiar la primele raze de lumina la “Fisura Dificila” unde ne legam in coarda. Intrucat am echipamentul deja pe mine, plec primul. Catararea acestei fisuri este asa cum ii spune si numele, dificila. 20 m de teren vertical friabil in care te misti ca o pisica avand sentimentul ca totul se farama sub coltari. 14 Apr, 4:30 am – with our head torches on, we begin the long horizontal traverse towards the start of the climb. We simul-climbe without the rope until the “Difficult Crack”, which is a 20 m steep and loose ground where I had to walk like a cat, otherwise it felt like I would soon destroy everything under my crampons.

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Alex sub “Rote Fluh”. Suntem minusculi in comparatie cu acest perete grandios. Alex under “Rote Fluh”. We feel like little bugs in this huge wall.

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Putin inainte de “Traverseul Hinterstoisser” (de vazut filmul The Beckoning Silence despre drama lui Toni Kurz si a companionilor lui) ne ajunge din urma Michi Wohlleben impreuna cu Julien Irilli care urmau ca in aceea zi sa incerce sa stabileasca un record de viteza in echipa. Au reusit sa catere ruta in 05h05min ! Michi este partenerul de catarat a lui Ueli Steck, este ghid de la varsta de 21 ani (acum are 24) si a mai urcat Fata Nordica Eiger de 5 ori pana acum. Ne imprietenisem cu el cu o seara inainte, in bivuacul de le Eigergletscher cand l-am intrebat ce asigurari mobile va lua cu el pe traseu. Fastacit, ne-a spus sa nu il luam ca etalon, ca el va lua doar 2 frenduri si 2 nuci. Iata-l pe Michi depasindu-ne repede pe acest pasaj. Din neatentie, dupa ce a dezasigurat coarda, partenerul lui a uitat sa recupereze si friendul plasat de Michi in fisura. Dusi au fost. Am recuperat frendul si i l-am aratat lui Alex, care a avut o remarca de milioane: “Acum ca au pierdut jumatate din echipament, vor asigura mai putin si vor termina ruta mult mai repede decat si-au propus!” 🙂 Right before “Hinterstoisser Traverse” (see The Beckoning Silence movie), Michi Wohlleben and Julien Irilli catches us from behind. They are trying to break a team speed record. They will climb it in 5h05min! Michi is Ueli Steck’s climbing partner, guiding from 21 years old (now he is 24). We knew each other from the previous day, at Eigergletscher bivouac, where we’ve asked him what kind of gear he takes with him for the climb beside the ice screws. He said: “I will take 2 cams and 2 wires. But, don’t take me as an example to follow. I’ve been climbing Eiger NF 5 times already!” So, the speed team overtake us leaving behind their cam into the crack. When I took it out, they were already far away. I showed him to Alex and he had a fabulous remark: “Now that half of their gear is gone, they won’t place too much protection, meaning they will climb the route even faster!” 🙂

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Alex catarand “Ice Hose”, un pasaj vertical si foarte interesant ce leaga primul camp de gheata de al doilea. Alex climbing the “Ice Hose”, a vertical and very interesting pitch that links the first and the second icefield.

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Dupa “Bivuacul Mortii”, care nu ne inspira deloc ca si loc de bivuac, traversam al treilea camp de gheata si ne indreptam spre vestita “Rampa”. Lunga de 150 m, ea ne conduce diagonal stanga spre “cruxul” din aceea zi: “Ice Chimney” si “Ice Bulge”, doua lungimi pe care le impartim frateste. After the “Death Bivouac”, we traverse the 3rd icefield and climb toward “The Ramp”, a 150m long climb that takes us diagonally left to the crux of that day, “Ice Chimney” and “Ice Bulge”. 

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Eu iau “Hornul” in timp ce lui Alex ii revine “Umflatura”. Teoretic, ambele din gheata … practic insa gheata lipsea in mare masura pe Horn, asfel pasajul devenind unul delicat de dry-tooling, mai ales cu rucsaci grei in spinare. Am trecut pasajul si odata ajuns in regrupare m-am descarcat de tensiunea acumulata si am chiuit de bucurie! Alex mi-a zis ca a fost cea mai curajoasa catarare cap de coarda care i-a fost dat sa o vada. Am stiut ca exagereaza, dar i-am zambit si i-am fost recunoscator pentru complimentul spus in acel moment. I lead the “Chimney” and Alex will lead the “Bulge”. In theory, they should have ice, but now the Chimney will be climbed in dry tooling style, which is quite delicate to do with heavy backpacks. After leading the Chimney, Alex told me it was the boldest lead climbing he has ever seen. I took it as a compliment, though I knew he was just nice to me and exaggerated a little bit. 

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Gata, am urcat deja 2/3 din perete si ne aflam in locul de bivuac, “Brittle Ledges”. Aici ne vom petrece noaptea de 14 spre 15 aprilie. Facem balustrada cu semicoarda si legati in ham, topim zapada si ne hidratam, gatim, mancam si ne pregatim sa vedem apusul din sacii de dormit. Sub noi, schiorii care toata ziua au animat partiile de sub Eiger, acum au amutit. Odata cu venirea noptii, se asterne linistea si noi ne cuibarim in culcusul improvizat, cu gandul la ziua de maine. Din cauza ca nu am avut semnal in perete, telefoanele ramase deschise sunt acum fara baterie. Si desi ne doream sa asiguram persoanele dragi ca suntem bine prin voce, o facem doar telepatic. Well done, we have climbed 2/3 of the wall already and now we find ourselves at the “Brittle Ledges”, where we will spend the night. We make a balustrade with the rope, boiling water to drink, cooking, eating and then watching the sunset in our sleeping bags. The skiers that animated the pistes under Eiger are now gone and the silence is all over. The batteries from our phones are drained from network searching, as we left them open while climbing. Though we wish to inform our dearest ones about our progress with the voice, we have to do it only through telepathy. 

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La ora 4:00 suntem treziti de zgomot de pioleti si coltari. O recunosc pe celebra Ines Papert si conversam putin. Ea si partenerul ei au plecat la ora 22:00 pentru a catara noaptea, sperand sa prinda ruta mai inghetata decat in timpul zilei. Ines nu are rucsac, iar partenerul ei are unul foarte mic. Au continuat catararea in ritm alert, estimez ca au prins rasaritul pe varf. At 4:00 am we hear some noise around us. We recognize Ines Papert and had a small talk with her. They started at 22:00 aiming to climb the route in the dark, with better ice conditions. I assumed they got on the summit at the sunrise.

Nici eu si nici Alex nu suntem oameni foarte matinali, si cum a doua zi dimineata se intampla ca sa mai apara o echipa, ii lasam sa ne depaseasca. Asfel startul il luam la ora 10:00. Alex serveste la micul dejun renumita “Brittle Crack” (Fisura Fragila?!), si imi tot striga ca i-au inghetat mainile pe stanca si ca simte crampe in muschi. “Ei, asa e pana te incalzesti putin, o sa fie bine, azi e ziua varfului!” ii raspund ca incurajare, constient fiind ca si eu voi trece foarte curand prin aceleasi chinuri. Next morning, we started to climb quite late, at 10:00. For the breakfast, Alex leads “The Brittle Crack”. He is telling me his arms are cold and that he feels pain in his muscles. “It will be fine once you warm up a little bit, today is the summit day!” I shouted back to him as an encouragement, realizing that it will be the same for me.

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Urmez eu in “Traversarea zeilor”, o traversare orizontala si putin descendenta de 150 m unde ne minunam amandoi de expunerea pasajului si un sentiment de adanca admiratie ne incearca la gandul celor care au trecut prima oara pe aici. Oauuu, jos palaria! It’s my turn in the “Traverse of the Gods”, an horizontal 150m traverse with huge exposure. How can you not admire the courage of the first people who walked here?!

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Suntem deja in “Paianjenul Alb”, si il vad pe Alex cum ia viteza. Mergem concomitent. Mai bine spus, alergam la deal. Aici suntem sub un foc continuu de pietre in cadere care suiera pe langa noi ca niste gloante atunci cand nu isi ating tinta, bagandu-ne in sperieti. Cand si-o ating, fiecare isi scutura membrul lovit si imediat continua catararea intr-un ritm din ce in ce mai alert. Fiecare vorbeste pe limba lui si se roaga in gand. Oare de ce am fost lenesi si am plecat asa de tarziu din bivuac, de ce nu ne-am gandit ca soarele va incalzi partea superioara si vor pica multe pietre in acest loc?! Iar cei 150 m de verticala par o vesnicie! Soon we find ourselves into the “White Spider”, and I see Alex  gaining speed. He has a good reason: rock falling. I wished we would have left the bivouac spot earlier as the sun is hitting the uppers slopes now sending down a lots of rocks, like bullets. I think each one of us was praying in his own language while we simul climb these 150m.

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In sfarsit, iata-ne in siguranta urcand o alta rampa de gheata. “Fisura de Quartz” imi revine mie. Il aduc si pe Alex sus si apoi il pozez in celebrul “Bivuac Corti”. Finally we are safe climbing another ramp. It’s my turn to lead the “Quartz Crack” then I photograph Alex at the “Corti Bivouac”.

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Alex pleaca mai departe si catara “Hornurile de Iesire” care au gheata si sunt in conditii foarte bune. Alex leads the “Exit Chimneys” that are in good conditions right now.

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Ma aduce la el si dintr-o data simt ca am depasit tot ce era mai greu din traseu si simt ochii plini de lacrimi. Probabil asta e efectul iesirii bruste in soare dupa mult timp petrecut catarand in umbra. Dau sa imi imbratisez partenereul, dar el mi-o taie scurt: “Mai avem 200 m pana pe creasta somitala, fii bun si da-i bice!” As I climb above above the Exit Chimneys and I feel we made it, my eyes get wet. Maybe it was because I suddenly I got into the sun, after a long period of climbing into the shadow of the N wall. I wanted to hug Alex, but he cut it short: “We still have 200 m on the final slopes to get to the summit, let’s keep going!”

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La 14:30 suntem pe varf si ne imbratisam. Alex isi tine speech-ul filmandu-se. Are emotii, se incurca si trage mai multe duble. Ii tin pumnii si ma bucur cand il aud ca e multumit de ce a iesit. Savuram peisajul din jur si nu ne grabim. Am ajuns cu greu aici, de ce sa plecam atat de repede? At 14:30 we hug on the top of Eiger. Alex is filming while heaving his speech. He is a little bit nervous and needs to do it again several times till he is finally satisfied. I am so proud and glad for him. We breath and watch the beauty around us. If it was so hard to get here, why to go away in a rush?

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Intr-un final incepem coborarea pe flancul vestic pe panta de zapada in plin soare.  Am in curand probleme cu coltarii mei, care fiind fara anti-snowuri, aduna zapada in forma de toc sub talpa. Trebuie sa lovesc coltarii cu pioletul la fiecare pas pentru a o indeparta. Alex o ia inainte, il vad cum devine tot mai mic. La un moment dat ma ajunge din urma o alta echipa cu care cobor o buna bucata de drum. Mai ma las sa alunec si pe fund si cand iau viteza franez in piolet. Asfel mai castig ceva timp. Simt insa oboseala si deshidratare. Soarele arde cu putere. Finally we start descending and I have problems with the snow getting under my crampons as I don’t have an anti-balling system. I see Alex getting smaller and smaller in the distance. At some point, another team catch up with me and we descend together. I try to slide on my back and stop with the ice axe. The sun is burning all around. I feel tired and dehydrated.  

Ajung in statia de tren Eigergletscher si nu gasesc pe nimeni. Ma uit la orarul trenului si vad ultimul tren a plecat la ora 18:10, cu exact jumatate de ora inainte de sosirea mea. Dintr-o data realizez ca eu a doua zi trebuie sa lucrez si ca era foarte important sa prindem acel ultim tren spre Grindelwald pentru a ajunge in aceeasi seara in Chamonix. Oare Alex a prins ultimul tren? Motive ar avea suficiente: are de trimis materialul video a doua zi, si e foarte important acel job pt el. Un sentiment de deznadejde ma loveste ca un ciocan in moalele capului. Ma surprind vorbing cu voce tare cu unul din baietii din cealalta echipa: “Offff! Partenerul meu a plecat cu ultimul tren! Cred ca am ramas singur aici…” Si simt cum panze de paianjeni imi intra in ochi. As I get into the Eigergletscher trains station, I see nobody is there. The last train left half on hour ago. Suddenly I realize tomorrow I need to go to work and that I really need to get down to Grindelwald and than to Chamonix. What about Alex? Did he get into the last train? Well, he had good reason to do it as he needs to send the video next day, and to get that job is very important to him. A deep feeling of disappointment strikes like a hammer in my head. I hear myself talking loud to the guy from the other team: “ohhh! My partner just left with the last train. I am all alone here…” And I fell like spider canvas getting into my eyes.

“Hei omule, sunt aici!” imi striga Alex iesind din cladirea statiei de tren. O privire i-a fost suficienta ca sa isi dea seama prin ce trec si care imi sunt temerile. “Si acum, ce facem?” ma intreaba Alex zambitor. “Alex, trebuie sa fiu maine la servici, esti ok sa coboram pe picioare in Grindelwald?”. A incuvintat planul meu: sa coboram pe marginea partiei de schi si apoi sa urmam linia de tren pana in Grindelwald. Zis si facut. La ora 21:00 eram in parcare la masina, cu basici la picioare de atata mers (1300 m diferenta nivel coborata), dar fericiti. Putin dupa miezul noptii, intram in Chamonix. “Man, I am here!” shouted Alex while getting out from the building. With a glance, he could realized my fear. “And now, what?” he continued with a smile on his face. “Alex, I need to go to work tomorrow, are you ok to follow the ski slopes and then the train track down to Grindelwald?”. “Yes, let’s do it!” At 21:00, we got to the car parking with feet blisters after descending 1300 m, but happy. Soon after midnight, we arrived in Chamonix.

Foarte curand dupa asta, Alex a zburat inapoi in UK, intrucat sezonul de iarna s-a terminat. Au ramas in urma amintiri frumoase, si fotografia de mai jos e una din ele. Soon after, as the winter season ended, Alex got back to UK. Good memories are still fresh, and this picture is one of them.

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ps: Duminica, 3 mai 2015 aflandu-ma in orasul natal Timisoara, Romania, primesc un mesaj de la Alex: “Omule, nu pot sa cred! Mi-au oferit jobul!”. Ei bine, mult succes prietene si … Multumesc!  Sunday, 3 May 2015, while finding myself back in Romania, I have received a message from Alex: “Man, I can’t believe it! I got the job!” Well … Godspeed my Friend and … Thank You!