Looking up at the North Face from Grindelwald, you can’t help but try and pick out the route and imagine the climbers scaling this huge unclimbed North Face for the first time.
This face certainly caught our imagination, but we were standing at the Jungfraujoch station for other reasons. We had a great weather forecast for the next three days and were off to climb the Mittellegi Integral.
We boarded the train and it slowly made its way up to below the Eiger’s north face and stopped at Alpiglen. Under the spotlight of the North Face and the hundred or so eyes watching our every move, we got off and watched the hordes disappear onwards up to Kleine Scheidegg.
Beautiful pastures and old hay lofts led the way east, on and up to the base of a huge broken limestone buttress. We followed old ropes, steel rungs and ladders up onto the top of the buttress and the Mittellegi ridge proper. The views were amazing, middle of July and no one around, the place was ours!
We had been given the combination number for a locked box, kept in the outside loo, which contained the key to the hut. Well, I think the crux of the route was right there! I fiddled for ages, Adrian Walter, my climbing partner, fiddled for ages. It looked like he was cracking a safe, ear up to the combination movement, two to the left then six to the right and so on.
The perseverance paid off, aided by a phone call to the hut keeper down in Grindelwald from my mobile! Anyway we were in and could kick back and enjoy the views and fading light.
The Otsego hut doesn’t have a guardian but is run on honesty. You make a note of what you eat and drink, leave the place clean and tidy for the next climbers and pay down in Grindelwald. Brilliant and one of the best huts I’ve ever stayed in.
That evening we reccied the initial part of the route, then, back at the hut again, Adrian cooked up another one of his gourmet meals and we sat outside looking over the lights of Grindelwald.
Just as the sun was rising we climbed up the initial rocks onto steeper ground, climbing over walls, cracks and beautiful limestone towers which we had to carefully route find and pick our way through.
Then the ridge just seemed to terminate. It was too steep leftwards with a sheer drop down to the glacier and even steeper to the right down to Grindelwald. But by our feet was a way on, a small hole that you had to thread your way through to get to the other side. Amazing what nature creates - a hold when you desperately need it - on a tough move on a hard route, or a hole in a ridge when there’s no other way on.
The views now of the North East face and across to the classic Lauper Route were stunning and we could just make out the Mittellegi hut perched high up on the top of our ridge. We’d booked ahead and knew they’d be watching out for us. Hot tea was waiting for us when we arrived. They’d had their binoculars out, spying us as, we picked our way up the final part of the ridge to the hut.
It wasn’t often that climbers came this way and this showed with their welcome and the mountains of food they served up!
A narrow and steep rocky ridge lead up from the hut with fixed ropes on the difficult, more exposed sections. We were so overwhelmed by the place that it didn’t matter, we were climbing the Eiger and the North Face was down there under our feet! Old snow capped the final slopes and a beautiful snow ridge lead us onto the summit where an amazing 360 degree view of the Bernese Oberland greeted us.
Looking south, down the Eiger’s south ridge, we could see our steep and long descent with the Monch terminating the ridge in the distance.
Once we got to the Monchjoch hut, we would have traversed the Eiger up and down on its two major ridges over 3 days. Something which I had been wanting to do for a long time.
The train eased its way out of Jungfraujoch, back into the tunnel and back down through the heart of the Eiger which we’d climbed over the day before.
What a great feeling and what a fantastic route.
Adrian Nelhams ISM Director