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THE OGRE YIELDS
Toni Hiebeler
March 27, 1961
Rising above the Swiss valley of Grindelwald is the north face of a massive pyramid of ice and limestone called the Eiger (left). The name means ogre, and it was given by medieval monks who described the 13,038-foot mountain as "the ogre that eats people." In the modern history of mountaineering, 17 climbers have perished on the north face alone, a nearly vertical wall of crumbling rock, brittle ice and shifting snow fields that stands in almost constant shadow. One victim, the Italian Stefano Longhi, hung alive from his ropes for five days (SI, Aug. 26, 1957). After he died his body remained clearly visible from the valley floor for two years before it was cut down, ending the grisly tableau.
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March 27, 1961

The Ogre Yields

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Rising above the Swiss valley of Grindelwald is the north face of a massive pyramid of ice and limestone called the Eiger (left). The name means ogre, and it was given by medieval monks who described the 13,038-foot mountain as "the ogre that eats people." In the modern history of mountaineering, 17 climbers have perished on the north face alone, a nearly vertical wall of crumbling rock, brittle ice and shifting snow fields that stands in almost constant shadow. One victim, the Italian Stefano Longhi, hung alive from his ropes for five days (SI, Aug. 26, 1957). After he died his body remained clearly visible from the valley floor for two years before it was cut down, ending the grisly tableau.

Only 15 expeditions managed to scale this forbidding wall, all of them in the summer. In winter such a climb was considered out of the question. Then last week, through the 72-power telescope of the Kleine Scheidegg Hotel at the base of the wall, a string of tiny figures was seen inching out across the frozen cliffs. Four men—Toni Hiebeler, editor of an Alpine magazine in Munich; Anton Kinshofer, a Munich carpenter; Walter Almberger, an Austrian iron miner; and Anderl Mannhardt, a German sawmill worker—were trying the North Wall. From all over Europe tourists and skiers and climbers converged on Kleine Scheidegg to sit with their binoculars on the sunny hotel terrace, sipping aperitifs and listening to the four-piece Alpine band as, far above, the climbers carried on their tilt with death. A crew from Eurovision TV set up a telephoto camera to broadcast the climb live. Light planes, as many as 10 at a time, flitted across the wall for a closer look, dipping and darting to avoid one another. For nearly a week the weird carnival whirled on; and suddenly, on the seventh day, the thousand who watched below, waiting for what most thought would be plummeting death, saw triumph instead. There, astride the sharp summit ridge, were the climbers. The four men had challenged the ogre in his darkest winter mood, and the ogre had spared them. As the mountaineers descended, Sports Illustrated Editor Jack Olsen met Hiebeler, the expedition leader, who told his own first-person story of the climb (below).

'THAT'S WHY WE ARE HERE'

I am no German romantic. I hold no brief for those who are half in love with death. I love life too much. This climb was intended to be an adventure in the most honorable sense of that word, and the fulfillment of a mental challenge. The Eiger North Wall has been one of the most fascinating factors in my life since I was 18. That was when I first came to Kleine Scheidegg to climb the wall. I went up 1,300 feet, but I soon realized that I was too young for this monumental mountain.

In order to climb such a mountain, I first have to form a close relationship with it. I finally got this relationship for the North Wall in the summer of 1953. My friend Uly Wyss of Zurich came to the North Wall to accomplish what European mountaineers call the Double. Together we had already climbed the first part of the Double—the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses in France. But I could not come with him for the second part, and his partner on the two-man rope was a 23-year-old amateur climber from Dresden, Karl Heinz Gonda.

They reached a mere 100 yards from the top, and they had only a short climb remaining. No one knows what happened; clouds had obscured the summit. When the clouds cleared, their tracks could be seen ending in a snow slide. They had conquered the most difficult part of the face, only to die in an avalanche.

I realized then that the climbing of the North Wall was not merely a matter of muscle but also a matter of mind. In 1959 I came here again; I looked at the North Wall with my friend Kaspar von Almen, the manager of the Kleine Scheidegg Hotel. There was a party on the mountain at that very time—it was early summer—and they became the 14th party to succeed.

It was unusually cold weather for summer; Kaspar remarked that the cold weather was good. The water in the mountain had frozen, helping to stabilize the face. And he told me that in winter there are almost no avalanches and few rock falls. It was then that I decided the North Wall might be tackled in winter. You can do nothing against avalanches and falling rock, but you can train against ice, you can clothe yourself against cold and you can prepare a safe retreat against bad weather.

In March of 1960 I finally made the decision to make a winter attempt. I knew we would have to spend six or seven nights on the Eiger and that this ordeal would call for the most careful precautions. As part of the preparation, I came here last summer and kept a diary of conditions on the face. I ordered equipment in October, and we went to the Tyrolean mountains of Austria to test the equipment. We found many things wrong and learned that we needed very special equipment.

Because the great danger on such a climb is frozen limbs, I myself designed a special boot with a layer of felt and four layers of leather. We had pied d'�l�phant (foot of elephant) sleeping bags, which come up to the waist, and hammocks. Our crampons had 12 points instead of the usual 10, and the ice proved to be so extensive that we never took them off.

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