In the morning the storm was whirling away to the southeast. The rescuers threw off the protective covering of their bivouacs and stepped out into the sharp winds and the frigid early-morning air. High above the Eigergletscher, the party led by Terray saw Friedli's party apparently headed back up to the summit to begin a new descent for Longhi. But then Friedli heard the news from the valley, and made no effort to continue. There was no need to try to save Longhi now. At 7 a.m. the clouds had cleared away, and through the telescopes at Von Al-men's hotel the still form of Longhi could be seen hanging 15 feet below his ledge, feet downward, his head resting against a boulder and covered with a thin glaze of ice. A reconnaissance plane confirmed the news: Longhi had been swept off the ledge to his death in the storm.
The end of the Eiger story was bitter and confused. The most spectacular mountain rescue in the history of Alpinism was soon obscured, and the heroism of the rescuers was forgotten, as questions began to be asked. What had happened to Mayer and Nothdurft? Why had the local guides turned their backs to the rescue attempts? Why had there been so many errors, and why had a crucial day, Friday, been lost while competing crews rattled around the valley? Why had not Longhi been saved after so much hope was held out to him? But one question was heard more than any other: had Claudio Corti committed an act of violence on the mountain?
A walking case of shocked disorientation, Corti gave out wild, rambling interviews. He misplaced the time of his first meeting with the Germans. He said the Germans climbed out of his sight on Friday; later he said it was Thursday. He said they left at 3 in the afternoon; he said it was 9 in the morning. One sensation-monger speculated that Corti, maddened because the Germans were trying to pass him and beat him to the top, flung them off the mountain to their deaths. An Italian magazine implied that Corti had abandoned Longhi to save himself.
The problem focused on the disappearance of Nothdurft and Mayer. It was known that Nothdurft always kept daily notes of each climb, and his friends believed that if it could be found his diary would tell what really had happened. Teams of German climbers searched for the bodies of Mayer and Nothdurft, and combed the base of the wall, but failed to find a single clue. Soon Corti found himself being questioned by policemen. In Grindelwald, Dr. Hermann Lutz, a mountaineer and a police official, made an independent investigation. He found it inconceivable that climbers as experienced as Nothdurft and Mayer would have continued climbing a face as difficult as the Eiger without food, and observed that everyone who knew them agreed they would have climbed down after seeing their rucksack fall. But Dr. Lutz had no real case against Corti other than the contradictions and confusions of the Italian's account. He concluded that there would never be a solution to the mystery: "Those who died will keep to themselves the secret of their last hours."
Lionel Terray spoke out in Corti's defense. He said that Corti's confused stories did not make him a criminal. After he had been hit on the head by a stone—which was certainly not a fabrication, judging by the cut on his forehead—he needed the help of Mayer and Nothdurft. As for harming the Germans to keep them from reaching the top ahead of him, "In a wall like this such a thing could not be done," Terray said. "Even if men are bad, they cannot feel jealousy toward one another when they are on a wall facing death."
Ludwig Gramminger agreed. He said that, knowing Nothdurft, he had been unable to understand why the rope moved so slowly; now the knowledge of Nothdurft's sickness explained everything. He believed that the two bodies were somewhere on the mountain, and would someday come down.
But it was the mountain itself which cleared Corti's name, rather than the words of experienced climbers. Two years after the tragedy a well-organized party of Swiss guides, in a harrowing nine-hour descent and rescue by cable, brought the body of Stefano Longhi down from the face. The condition of his body indicated that Longhi had been blown from his perch during the storm, and there was nothing in his rucksack to prove or disprove Corti's story. That proof came later and by accident.
The equipment that had been carried to the top of the mountain for the Longhi recovery remained in place, gradually sinking under the snow and ice of the summit field. Late in September 1961 another group climbed the west wall to salvage the equipment. About all that was worth bringing down was 1,350 feet of hemp rope. Thick with accumulated moisture and almost unmanageable, the rope was wrapped into bundles and dragged along the mountain. On the west wall one bundle accidentally slid along the glacier and fell into a gully several hundred feet from the normal route. The guides climbed down to free it, and found two bodies. They lay in the position of men caught in an avalanche, facing away from the thundering ice and snow to avoid suffocation. In a rucksack guides found G�ther Nothdurft's blue notebook, but his writing had been washed away in the rains and melting snows.
Franz Mayer's sister recognized the clothes and equipment of one of the men as her brother's, and a final check of the teeth of the dead men provided positive identification. The biggest mystery of the Eiger was solved. Now it was possible to reconstruct the last hours of Mayer and Nothdurft. Corti had seen them struggling toward the summit late on the afternoon of Friday, August 9, 1957. They must have been almost at the end of their strength when they reached the top after eight or nine more hours. But they had promised to bring help to the two trapped Italians, and so they began the descent to the Eigergletscher Station. It was an act of mercy, conceived in benevolent desperation, but doomed from the beginning, and they had gone only a pathetically short distance down the west wall when the avalanche swept them to a suffocating death.
Reporters from a Swiss newspaper went to Oligantc to bring the news to Claudio Corti. With no show of emotion he said he was happy that his name had been cleared. It was not news for him that he was innocent; let others be surprised. As for his own future, he gave the newspaper a little statement. "I haven't been able to find anybody who is willing to go with me again to the north wall," he said. "But now I'm sure I'll find somebody."