The two professional Alpinists,
Robert Jasper (Germany) und Roger Schäli (Switzerland) managed to finally
freeclimb, redpoint, the famous "Japanese Route" on the Eiger North Face. The
so called "Super-Diretissima" (5.13b/8a) is now the most challenging and
demanding route through the famous 1800m North Face.
For six years the Eiger and the
project of redpointing the Japanese Route kept me in. Over and over again my
friend Roger Schäli and myself tried to climb the two by then well known crux
sections, the "Difficult Crack" and "Rote Fluh".
The "Rote Fluh" is the
steepest, most difficult and most rejecting part of the entire Eiger North
Face. Our final goal was to free the entire Japaner-Diretissima which heads
right through the "Rote Fluh". Now - precisely timed for the 40th anniversary
of the historical route which was ascended first in 1969 - we finally
"From the 15th of
July until the 15th of August 1969, the Japanese Expert Climbing Team,
including one female Doctor, fought their way on a merciless direct straight
up the [Eiger North-] Face. The entire team had a wild determination to hiss
their flag with all their signatures and good wishes on the famous summit.
Above the "Difficult Crack" they left the classic route of the first ascenders
of 1938 and started to explore a new and straight line through the face. The
200m high section named "Rote Fluh" is extremely steep and mainly overhanging
- challenging for even the masters of the 6th grade. Scary, compact and only
now and than a little edge or a thin crack besides the endless shadow, the
void and continuous unsteadiness", described by Toni Hiebeler in his historic
publication "Abenteuer Eiger".
The Japanese-Team had first climbed the route back in 1969, mainly in
technical style, using 250 drilled bolts and following the "straight line of
the falling water drops" using hooks and step ladders pushing forward.
My first contact with the Japanese Diretissima dates back to 1991. During an
alpine style attempt of the route, I got into an terrible rockfall while
climbing the headwall and had to turn back. Yet the questions remained ever
since if the the compact and blank structure of the "Rote Fluh" would allow a
free ascent of not only this section, but the entire route. However the rusty
bolts of the Japanese Expedition did not encourage me climbing on my personal
Roger Schäli first tried an ascent in the Winter of 2002. Then, together with
Simon Anthamatten, both of them among the most talented young swiss alpinists,
they tried to free the route throughout the summer of 2003. When I heard of
their attempts it made my heart ache as I knew they had discovered one of my
biggest "dream routes" in the Alps. Roger and Simon where working on the route
all summer long. They managed to freeclimb most of the "Rote Fluh" but they
had to bypass the crux pitch a scary "Harikiri-Variation" with hardly any
protection. Due to heavy rockfall they had to give up their freeclimbing
ambitions in the final 800m high headwall.
By then the vision of a freecliming the route by following the original course
of the Japanese Expedition Team had captured Roger and myself entirely.
Little above zero
degrees celsius - quite warm for the Eiger North Face. Roger and myself are
spotting the black stripes of the melting water throughout the "Rote Fluh"
– exactly where we are supposed to climb. Slippery conditions are awaiting us
and we both seriously doubt that it makes sense to go on and try the crux
pitch in these miserable conditions. The famous mountaineer Hermann Buhl once
compared the "Rote Fluh" to the North Face of the "Westlichen Zinne":
unclimbable in freeclimbing manner.
Ongoing difficulties of 7b/7c, difficult bouldering stretches on small holds
and micro edges and then the crux – 5.13b/8a in midst of the Eiger North Face,
a face almost twice the height of the famous granite domes of the Yosemite
Valley. During the the last two attempts Roger and I managed to freeclimb the
"Rote Fluh". Yet, we never got through the headwall because of the terrible
quality of the rock, the continuous rockfall, the rusty, untrustworthy 40
years old drilled bolts and the bad weather conditions.
About half of the holds of the "Rote Fluh" are wet. We climb and fight
ourselves forward. Two of the most difficult pitches are also partly wet and
we need several tries to freeclimb them. With wet and icy fingers I catch tiny
hold after tiny hold, my tight climbing shoes constantly slipping off because
of numb toes. Blindly I move through the studied moves, having hardly any
feeling in my limbs.
It is mere willpower that keeps me pushing forward, revealing yet unknown
power recourses. On the third try, I finally - barely - get through the crux
pitch. We can make it! The following day (29th of August) we have bad weather
conditions and spend the day waiting in our little tent at the "Stollenloch".
The air pressure is rising in the afternoon and as forecasted the weather
changes for good during the night. This is our chance.
On the 30th of August we start our stretch of the journey in the middle of the
night, following the little lighted path of our headlamps. Quickly we make our
way through the second icefield which is mere black ice with stones and move
on into the huge and scary headwall. It is getting tough now: the "Brocken
Pillar", crumbling and loose rock everywhere with hardly any chance of placing
solid gear only a few old and rusty drilled hooks of the Japanese Expedition
Team which have been hit by rocks many times.
The whistling sound of falling rock takes our imagination back to the famous
historic tales of the Eiger. Its almost too much of an adventure. Shortly
before the "Centerband" - our third planned Biwi – the rockfall gets suddenly
heavier. A fist-size stone hits my helmet and almost cracks it. Luckily it did
not knock me off my feet and off the wall. Worn out and tired we build up our
tent. The rockfall continues throughout the night and stones almost hit our
tent more than once. We try hard to give our stressed nerves a rest. A little
food and drink then we crawl into our sleeping bags.
Despite all torments we both manage to recover a little for the next day.
Like the last days Roger and myself change leads continuously and manage to
move on quickly. On the "Sphings Pillar" Roger fights like a samurai - an open
bill with one of the pitches 6,A2. Now freed this pitch becomes a hard 7b.
After several alpine pitches and terrible traverses we finally reach the
Summit Icefield. An old frozen backpack, probably left by Jeff Lowe, offers us
a very welcome belay as we only took two ice-screws with us.
Greeted by the last rays of evening sunlight we flee the never ending shadow
of the Eiger North Face and hug each other full of relief on the summit of the
Eiger. It's done.
Roger and finally made it and our free ascent of this historic route will be a
bright diamond gem in our both alpine climbing careers.
Thank you for reading and
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