For the rescue parties, the day ended in frustration and confusion. Nothing could be seen through the mists. In the afternoon there was a momentary clearing of an air space through a corridor of clouds, and through Von A linen's telescope one of the climbers was dimly visible, sitting alone on a ledge nearly 5,000 feet up the wall. Above and to the west a reddish-colored tent was pitched, and a man wearing a black jacket and hood sat alongside. Hermann Geiger, whose ski-equipped Piper Cubs had flown in all kinds of storm, defied the weather. As he glided by the upper part of the wall, he could see the heavyset man on the ledge frantically waving a red shirt. The marooned climber above him waved desperately and seemed to be shouting. There were no other signs of life on the wall.
Riding in the late-afternoon train up to the Eigergletscher Hotel, Lionel Terray, the French Alpinist, learned from other passengers that the climbers had been sighted, alive but apparently trapped, and that the corps of Grindelwald guides had announced that they could not be rescued. Terray and two companions, Tom de Booy and Kees Egeler of the Netherlands, had been making training climbs and planned some more on the ridges of the Mönch. Terray, the man who had helped save Maurice Herzog on Annapurna and had taken part in dozens of mountain rescues, knew that attempts were under way on the Eiger. Robert Seiler had a good reputation on the mountains, and was a Bernois himself. Terray knew how the mountain people felt about foreigners; Seiler would be the perfect man to lead the rescue attempt; Terray would mind his own business.
But could this be his final decision? Terray continued to search his soul and his reason. And suddenly he felt himself relieved by the strong words of his companions. Said Egeler: "I think that Lionel should join the rescuers. That is where he belongs."
De Booy agreed. "You must, Lionel. Your place is there. You must go with Seiler."
"I will go," said Terray finally, "but not as an intruder. Only if you are sure they want me."
De Booy went to a telephone and contacted Seiler. "Lionel Terray is at the Eigergletscher Hotel," De Booy said. "Do you think he can be of any help to you?"
Seiler answered without a second's pause: "I would be very pleased."
The next morning Seiler and his team of seven men joined forces with the 21-man crew of Erich Friedli, an experienced rescue-service chief and equipment expert who lived in Thun, near Interlaken. They crowded into the cogwheel railroad car" that would take them up the wall.
Huddled together as the train clacked through the passes and up the mountainside, Seiler and Friedli had to make an almost instantaneous decision which could determine the success or failure of the mission. They had to decide whether to get off at Eigergletscher, in which case they would climb the west wall of the Eiger 6,000 feet to the summit, or stay on the train to the end of the line at the Jungfraujoch station, in which case they would be 4,000 feet higher than at Eigergletscher, but about two miles farther to the west, and would have to walk east across summit ridges and glaciers and finally climb 1,500 feet to the Eiger summit. In good weather there would not have been two minutes' discussion. They would have climbed the west wall. There were few severe pitches there, and most of the route was inclined at little more than 45°. But now it was raining hard.
Melting snow and ice had been churning thunderous avalanches down the west wall since noon. They decided to go all the way up. Late that night they arrived at the tiny railroad station and inn nestled below the peak of the Jungfrau, and turned in for a few hours' sleep.