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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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At 6 o'clock on Tuesday, atop a rock spur a little less than two-thirds of the way up the north face of the Eiger, the climbers quit for the night. They had, indeed, moved slowly all day, as the watchers below had noted. The Italians were pacing themselves to stay within easy reach of the Germans, who were handicapped by the fact that Nothdurft was suffering from a severe headache and stomach pains. The hurried bivouac was a trial by water. The four men stood on a ledge less than a foot wide, only partially sheltered by a boulder. All through the night they held their upright positions while water slopped across the boulder, soaking their clothes and filling up their boots.

They started climbing again on Wednesday morning, over a sea of mist that shut out the valleys below. Soon they were well onto the third ice field. The mists cleared away. Nothdurft, though seized with occasional spasms of pain, climbed doggedly. Far below, on the camping ground at Grindelwald, watchers were pleased to see the rope take up a more normal pace. At his hotel Fritz von Almen watched the improved progress of the rope with pleasure. Out on the terrace hundreds of tourists, attracted by the vertical tilt with death, queued up for peeps through a coin-operated telescope. A four-piece Alpine band squealed out polkas and schottisches, and black-coated waiters scurried about with apƩritifs and open-faced chicken sandwiches. With the rope now moving well, the atmosphere was festive, and optimism replaced morbidity as the mood of the morning.

On the wall the climbers cleared the ice field and started up a narrow cleft hard against a high wall of stone. Nothdurft's sickness returned more strongly than ever. To make matters worse, Longhi began to show signs of extreme fatigue: five days on the mountain were telling on the 44-year-old man. Corti ordered a stop. The Wednesday night bivouac, at the top of a cliff and just to the side of a waterfall pitch two-thirds of the way up the mountain, was worse than the previous one. There were occasional rains to add to the water dripping down from the snowfields above, and the spatter of the waterfall came at them sideways as they huddled together for warmth all through the long night.

Shortly after 7 o'clock the next morning, Thursday, the team began its attack on the waterfall pitch, 100 feet straight up against a heavy flow of icy water. It was 10 a.m. before they roped the last man through the drench. By noon they were ready to begin the traverse leading to The Spider. After four hours they had made only six rope lengths. Suddenly a plane buzzed by the face. They waved weakly. High winds began to whistle around the wall, and blowing snow lashed their faces. Corti decided to call for an early bivouac to get some sleep before a last strong dash in the morning. The bivouac was bad, but not so bad as the others; there was at least room for the climbers to sit.

At 6 a.m. Friday, Longhi took up position as the last man on the rope. Nothdurft, after two shots of Coramine, a stimulant, announced that he was ready. Enveloped in a white cloud, the rope inched slowly ahead. Balancing across the narrow, ice-encrusted traverse toward The Spider, Corti pounded a trail of pitons into the wall. Almost at The Spider's edge he hammered in the last piton, attached a snap link to it and passed the rope through the link and over his left shoulder so that he could belay the two Germans as they came across to him. They moved to a position about 15 feet from Corti and slightly below him, and now Corti shouted to Longhi to knock out the last piton and move up to the next. The older man was out of sight behind a slight bulge, but he was obeying instructions. Corti could measure his progress by the slackening of the rope as he took it in inch by inch until about 10 feet were coiled around his chest. And then Corti heard a scream: "Volo! I am flying!" Then: "Tienimi! Hold me!"

Automatically Corti braced for a jolt. The rope dug into his left shoulder and tore through his hands with a force so intense he could feel deep burns being scored into his palms through his climbing gloves. With all his strength he squeezed the slipping rope until it slowed and stopped. Carefully, without daring to take a breath, he turned his head and looked over the precipice. Ninety feet below, swinging helplessly back and forth in a wide arc, was the form of his comrade Longhi. Corti held fast until the motion stopped, secured the rope, then inched back across the traverse to a point directly above the limp figure.

Then he was relieved to hear his comrade call, "Claudio! Let me down. There is a ledge below me! Drop me to the ledge!"

Slowly Corti let the rope slide through his burned hands. At last, it slackened.

"I am on the ledge!" Longhi called.

Now the problem was to get him all the way back up. "What happened, Stefano?" Corti shouted.

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