At 3967 m, the much-visited Eiger is the lowest of the famous triple peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The more than 1800 m high North Face of the Eiger also holds people from all over the world under its spell. Mountaineers, trail runners and amateur alpinists, in particular, all feel magically attracted to the majestic crags. Perhaps partly because it was for so long believed to be unconquerable?
Since 2013, this fascinating mountain backdrop has been the setting for an annual long-distance run in spectacular style.
For alpine climbers, the term “North Face” is associated with extreme difficulty. It takes strong nerves to tackle the North Face of the Eiger. Reports of fatal accidents and climbers who have vanished are all too frequent. In 1935 and 1936 there were two serious attempts to reach the top, but both ended in tragedy. That was when the impregnable rock face became known as the “Murder Wall”.
In July 1936, the authorities in canton Bern even imposed a ban on climbing it. However, since this was legally unenforceable, it was lifted in November of the same year. But one change was implemented: the alpine rescue services were absolved of their duty to provide assistance on the North Face. The first successful ascent was made in 1938, by a roped team of four – Anderl Heckmair, Heinrich Harrer, Ludwig Vörg and Fritz Kasparek.
Despite the great danger, numerous mountaineers attempt this ambitious undertaking, with an expert guide. A climb about four kilometres long, covering a vertical distance of 1800 metres, and frequently alternating between ice fields and blank rock faces, is challenging for any would-be summiteer – however much they have trained for it.
There are now more than 30 climbing routes up the North Face of the Eiger, all of them rated as at least “very difficult”. The risks include rock falls and avalanches. Rocky stretches where there are virtually no handholds, or which can only be crossed using an ice axe and crampons, keep the adrenaline level high. Never mind the rocky overhangs, or the exposed sections with dizzying views 400 metres down into the void. Even the descent must not be underestimated: although it might be technically less challenging, accidents often happen on the way back from an ascent.
What has changed noticeably over the years is the time that the ascent takes: nowadays the top climbers can conquer the North Face in just a few hours if weather conditions are good. Since November 2015, the record for the Heckmair Route has stood at 2 hours, 22 minutes and 50 seconds. The men who made the first ascent took three days!
Do you enjoy long-distance running in the fresh mountain air? With stages including the Grosse Scheidegg, First, the Faulhorn mountain inn, Schynige Platte, Wengen, Männlichen, Kleine Scheidegg and a traverse beneath the North Face of the Eiger, the event promises not just an exciting spectacle but also a unique alpine setting.
At 101 kilometres and 6700 metres of vertical distance, the E101 Ultra Trail is a tough test for all the participants. The E51 Trail also reaches its highest point at the Faulhorn and boasts fantastic mountain panoramas as it continues towards Schynige Platte. Couples in any combination are also welcome. For a shorter “taster” distance, the E16 route is perfect.
The routes at a glance:
For more information and to sign up: www.eigerultratrail.ch