Situated on the northern end of the iconic trio of Swiss mountains that dominate the centre of the country, Eiger is one of the most popular mountaineering destinations in the Alps.
While the peak is the smallest of the trio (also including Mönch and Jungfrau), Eiger’s north wall is probably the most well-known feature of the mountains. Towering over the Bernese Oberland, the wall is one of the three great north faces of the Alps and attracts numerous advanced mountaineers to take on its challenge each year.
However, two other main routes also lead up to Eiger’s summit and present far less of a challenge. These less challenging routes are taken by the vast majority of climbers headed to the mountain in order to take in the incredible views available from the top.
Quick Facts about Eiger
- Eiger’s iconic north wall is known as the Nordwand (north wall) in German. Due to the fairly high number of fatalities, it is also referred to as the Mordwand (death wall).
- At 1,800-metres (5,900 feet) in length, Eiger’s Nordwand is the tallest north face wall in all of the Alps.
- The summer is the best time of year to climb Eiger, but those who want to take on the Nordwand should do so in the winter. The ice that forms in the cracks of the wall during the winter helps to prevent rockfalls and makes the route slightly safer.
History of Eiger
The first ascent of Eiger came in 1858 when an Irish merchant, following what is now the main route, climbed the western flank to the summit. However, the peak’s imposing Nordwand was long seen as the most attractive target for climbers to conquer.
In the process, it would take numerous attempts and many more deaths for the first person to successfully climb it. From 1934 to 1937, several climbing parties attempted and failed to make the ascent. The route became so infamous local authorities even banned climbing the north face altogether, but the ban did not last long.
In 1938, a combined team of German and Austrian mountaineers became the first four individuals to successfully climb the Nordwand.
Experience Required for Climbing Eiger
Even for those who do not opt to climb the Nordwand, Eiger is a technically challenging ascent.
A combination of snow, ice and rock climbing is needed on even the easiest route, which is rated as Class V+. Oftentimes, climbing will be done on exposed ridgelines too, making previous high-altitude mountaineering experience a must for any climber.
The route up the peak’s north wall is the toughest and is best left for very advanced rock climbers.
Regardless of the route that is taken to the summit, all climbers need a very high level of physical fitness. Any ascent requires hours of sustained climbing with few places to stop and rest along the way.
Main Routes up Eiger
There are three main routes that are generally used to climb Eiger. Of these three, two are most commonly used for the ascent and one is commonly used for the descent.
The easiest and most popular route to the summit is the Mittellegi Ridge route, which begins from the Eismeer station. From here, climbers make a moderately difficult ascent of mixed climbing to Mittellegi Hut. The following day, climbers will traverse the Mittellegi Ridge before arriving at the summit.
The Nordwand route is the other most popular route. Due to the delicate nature of the rocks, it is only safe to climb this route in the winter. The ascent begins with an approach through a tunnel from the Eigerwand railway station, which takes climbers to the foot of the wall. The rest of the ascent involves a combination of ice, rock and crack climbing, with one stop along the wall to spend the night in a bivouac.
The South Ridge is commonly used as an alternative to climb the mountain if the weather is not very good. Starting from the south of the peak, this route involves traversing the glacier until reaching the summit. It is generally used by all climbers to descend the mountain.