BD employee Corey LaForge reports on his ascent of the Eiger's north face
Black Diamond employee Corey LaForge is based out of the BD headquaerters in Salt Lake CIty and traveled to Switzerland recently, hustling his way up one of the great classics of the Alps: the 1938 north face route on the Eiger. Below is his trip report and photos from the climb.
Nearly every spring for the past six years I have done the “Spring Break with Tony Brown” climbing trip. Typically we opt for rock climbing around the west: Zion, Indian Creek, Red Rocks. These sunny rock-climbing venues are our area of comfort. While climbing with Tony in Tuolumne this past August, however, I made a casual mention that maybe this year’s Spring Break trip should be to Switzerland. This would be a great chance to meet up with our friend Tim Seipel to climb something big and alpine. In my mind “big and alpine” meant the North Face of the Eiger. The Nordwand. Just like that, we had decided to go and give one of the most revered and feared faces in the Alps a shot.
We flew to Switzerland last week, arriving in Zurich on Monday morning. By Tuesday morning we were prepared and heading by car to Grindelwald. We were now four guys crammed with gear into a Nissan Micra with the addition of the 4th man, Sebastian Wolf, hailing from the Elbsandstein region of eastern Germany to round out our two teams. We took the Jungfraubahn up to the Eiger Glacier station and camped on the grassy roof of a water reservoir for the short night before our alpine start on Wednesday. We had a superbly perfect high-pressure weather forecast for the entire week and the route was said to be in perfect shape with lots of good ice and firm snow.
Tim, Corey, and Tony reviewing topos at the roof-top bivy at Eiger Glacier Station (Photo: Sebastian Wolf)
We started up the face in darkness and climbed step after step of steep snow, punctuated by the occasional rock step or ice runnel. In the darkness we made our way past the First Pillar, the Broken Pillar, and past the Gallery Window. As the first bit of light creeped into the valley the exposure and scale of the face already became real and daunting, even from the lower flanks. When it came time to take out the rope at the Difficult crack we had caught up to 4 parties in front of us, but another four parties had also come from behind. Some forced through, others waited behind, but eventually, we were up this first pitch of real climbing and were moving on the face above and negotiating under the Rote Fluh and across the infamous Hinterstoisser Traverse.
Tony Brown coming up to the Hinterstoisser Traverse (Photo: Sebastian Wolf)
In the light, it became clear that the scale of this face was unlike anything I’d ever climbed. A couple of tiny inches on a topo written in German translated to thousands of feet of snow, ice, and rock leading through the First Ice Field, the Ice Hose, and the Second Ice Field. We found ourselves among the congestion of several parties again as we negotiated the difficult pitches to the Flatiron and up to the Death Bivouac. This time, we dropped to the back of the pack and let the others progress to the Third Ice Field and the Ramp ahead of us. We stayed hot on the tail of two parties of Italians and another of Austrians. The latter had some particularly interesting tactics such as asking me to lock off on my belay to in effect “fix” the rope above my partner so they could yard on it as direct aid to pass us, and then asking us to clip their rope into our belay as running pro for them while they went ahead.
Tony Brown leading and parties above on the Ramp (Photo: Corey LaForge)
It was becoming clear that our need to pitch out and belay these scrappy mixed ice-and-snow-filled chimneys, cracks, and runnels for pitch after pitch up the Ramp and waiting each time for the congestion to clear out ahead was taking its toll on our speed. Finally, exiting The Ramp, and grunting up the Waterfall Chimney and the tricky pitch afterward, completing the traverse of the Brittle Ledges, and climbing the Brittle Crack we arrived at a decision point. We would have to bivy. The best place would be on the snow ledges at the start of the Traverse of the Gods. There was no point in passing up this spot and risking rockfall on the Spider from evening sun on the upper reaches of the face.
Tim Seipel topping out on the Brittle Crack (Photo: Sebastian Wolf)
We had one sleeping bag and one bigger puffy jacket per two people, but each person had a lightweight bivy sack. Tony and I sat on our packs and eventually came to share one sleeping bag on a butt-sized down-sloping snow ledge, while Tim and Sebastian had worked out their own gear sharing regime on another ledge 30 feet to the west. A Jetboil running for a couple of hours enabled us to have some warm drink, fill water bottles, and to settle in for the night. Tony commented that this was both the most amazing and most horrifying place he had ever tried to sleep, with 4000 feet of air under our feet as we sat on our ledge facing out toward the abyss.
Corey LaForge on the bivy ledge for the night (Photos: Sebastian Wolf)
The next morning we got moving and rallied across the 100+ meters of the Traverse of the Gods and into the Spider. Above we saw the Italians, who also must have bivied the night before. We cranked up the Spider in continuous simul-climbing with burning calves coming to the some more tricky ice and rock at the top. We scrapped and grunted up the Quartz Crack, and made the small traverse to the Exit Cracks. Here, spindrift, ice, and little bits of rock rained down this final funnel from the Italians above, representing the first noticeable ice and rock fall on the route. We cruised up the couple of pitches of the Exit cracks which had ice, verglass, some wetness, and some loose rock. At this point, all of the difficult climbing was behind us and we had come out into the sun. It was a glorious moment when I realize that only a handful of ropelengths of easy ice and snow lay between us and the summit ridge. With quivering calves we made our way up through the final ice fields and rock bands to the Summit ice Field. One final pitch of shining blue ice went quickly, although I took every opportunity I could to turn a foot sideways to relieve my calves as I led it. We and we stood on the knife edge of the Mitteleggi Ridge. We carefully walked the ridge to the summit in blazing afternoon sun. A great weight had been lifted and we had done it! We had a mellow walk down the West Face and by the next day it already seemed surreal that we had just climbed that 6000-foot beast of a north face, but we had. It was a great accomplishment for all of us, and a great outing in the mountains with friends.
Corey LaForge near the summit on the Mitteleggi Ridge (Photo: Sebastian Wolf)