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TWO MEN ON A WALL OF TERROR
Jack Olsen
October 08, 1962
The two mountain climbers shown here are trapped on separate ledges on the north wall of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps, a mile-high cliff that is the most treacherous in the world. They are the Italian half of a four-man team, Claudio Corti (left) and Stefano Longhi, whose assault on the Eiger in 1957 brought an aftermath of suspicion and mystery that still persists. In last week's installment from the book "The Climb Up to Hell" (Harper & Row) the Italians and two Germans, Gunther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer, met by wild coincidence on the wall and began to inch their way upward. In the valley below, veteran Alpinists, watching through telescopes, were at first puzzled and then frightened by the climbers' slow progress.
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October 08, 1962

Two Men On A Wall Of Terror

The two mountain climbers shown here are trapped on separate ledges on the north wall of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps, a mile-high cliff that is the most treacherous in the world. They are the Italian half of a four-man team, Claudio Corti (left) and Stefano Longhi, whose assault on the Eiger in 1957 brought an aftermath of suspicion and mystery that still persists. In last week's installment from the book "The Climb Up to Hell" (Harper & Row) the Italians and two Germans, Gunther Nothdurft and Franz Mayer, met by wild coincidence on the wall and began to inch their way upward. In the valley below, veteran Alpinists, watching through telescopes, were at first puzzled and then frightened by the climbers' slow progress.

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When Terray, in turn, went to the Eigergletscher station he found that the last train had gone. He toyed with the idea of asking the railroad to take him up in an extra train, but he quickly discarded the thought; he knew that the railroaders viewed the entire rescue attempt as an exercise in stupidity. De Booy then tried to get permission for the rescue party to walk through the tunnel. Absolutely not, said the railroaders. It was against the rules. De Booy rang up Bern, spoke to several officials of the railway system and finally reached the director himself. "Absolutely not!" the director said. "Verboten ist verboten. We cannot change our rules for any rescue action."

Terray snapped: "Then we will have to climb the west wall ourselves."

As these rescue parties converged on the Eiger, two Italian climbers arrived on the scene. Riccardo Cassin and Carlo Mauri, fellow members with Corti of The Ragni, the Lecco Alpine club, were on their way to climb the north wall of the Eiger. They could not find an empty hotel room, and parked their Fiat at the railroad station to wait for the first cogwheeler in the morning.

At 2 a.m. Friedli awakened Seiler in the inn at Jungfraujoch and announced tersely: "We go." They dressed hurriedly and strapped heavy packs of material on one another's backs. They stepped out of the side door of the railway station and into a scene of incredible change. When they had gone to bed a heavy rain was falling and avalanches were rumbling down the peaks. But now a front of howling, frigid winds had moved in from the northwest, shoving the clouds away. Every star in the sky was shining brightly; icicles two feet long hung from the eaves of the building; wherever there had been water, there was now ice. It was a scene of breathtaking beauty, but it was not beautiful to the 29 men who would have to make the long journey in the cold winds across the very roof of Switzerland. They had traveled up to the Jungfraujoch mainly to avoid avalanches and rockfalls on the west wall. But now every snowfield and rock was held immobile by the snap freeze; clearly they were on the more difficult route.

Lionel Terray and Tom de Booy were already well up the west wall from the Eigergletscher station. They found the route icy but safe, all danger of avalanche and rockfall held in sharp suspension by the biting winds which whipped down from the northwest in gusts up to 50 miles an hour. The two men were at the top of their form, having spent many days in training climbs in the Oberland, and they climbed in the classic manner, belaying each other up difficult pitches, running on crampons across the angled fields of firm snow. De Booy, the powerful schoolmaster from Amsterdam, dogged the footsteps of the internationally famous Chamonix guide, and before two hours had passed they were halfway up the wall.

Now they could begin to see the Swiss party that had started from the Jungfraujoch, working its way across the ridge of the Mönch, where the wind hit them in a solid sweep from the north. First there were two climbers, moving doggedly, broadside to the gale; a few hundred yards back came six more, and far behind them, stretched across the high ice fields and struggling under a heavy load, came a dozen or so stragglers. Terray felt deep emotional ties to these brave men, some of them obviously not good climbers, as they risked their lives with each step. And for what? For nothing, Terray said to himself. There could be no life left on the north wall after such a frigid night. The most powerful climber could not have endured six or seven bivouacs on that terrible face, capped by this final bone-chilling wind. Then why had he joined the rescue party? "It is because of those Swiss up there," Terray told himself. "It is because they are brave men taking generous action." He felt again, as he had on Annapurna, the spirit of solidarity toward courageous men who ignored the odds and the probabilities in a dangerous attempt to bring relief to others who were suffering.

By 7:30 Terray and De Booy were 1,000 feet from the summit, and could inch out on the ridge of flaky rock and hanging ice which separated the west wall from the north. There was no entrance to the north wall anywhere on this spur, but at least they could survey the precipice and look for the last traces of the lost rope. Terray shouted across the face and, just as he had expected, there were no answers. For almost 30 minutes he and De Booy took turns calling, but the only returning sound came from the wind, ripping and whistling around the fragmented edge of rock.

They turned to back off the ridge and finish the climb, when faintly, in the distance, they thought they heard an indistinct call. Terray called again, and this time a voice came out of the wall. "I cannot believe my ears," said Terray. "There is a living being out there."

"Perhaps we are hearing things, Lionel," De Booy said. But now the calls were coming more often. They could not make out what the voice was saying, or even in what language it spoke, but they knew it came from the wall. Inspired and touched, Terray and De Booy groped back off the outcropping and forced the rest of the climb so they would be on hand to help the Swiss when they reached the summit.

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