Two weeks in and finally a good forecast. We raz across to Switzerland; Citroen C1 buzzing along the motorway and struggling up the hills until we finally reach Grindelwald and the car park at the Kleine Scheidegg train station. We have a comedy moment trying to work out where the Eiger is (the clouds were fairly low…) and swiftly pack our bags in time to hop on the train. Kleine Scheidegg’s a rush of excitable Japanese tourists and drunk German’s so after a quick bite to eat we swiftly leave in search of a good bivi spot somewhere beneath the North Face.
As expected, the powder on the approach was pretty deep and putting in tracks was hard work despite the short distance. The face looked to be in good condition though: its angle steep enough for snow to quickly avalanche off. We finally found a reasonably good, sheltered bivi spot and quickly dug out a nice ledge in the snow to sleep on. The wind picked up a little as the night-time drew in carrying with it spindrift snow which forced us to fully envelope ourselves inside our bivi bags promising for a claustrophobic night’s sleep.
The North Face of the Eiger. Those words have a different effect on each mountaineer you speak to. I remember first setting eyes on the North Face when I was around twelve years old whilst on a walking holiday across Switzerland. Even then I’d heard the stories and epics that climbers had had on that face despite never having done more than a scramble in the hills. At that point, I thought that if you wanted to climb the North Face of the Eiger you must have a death wish! So it’s funny, seven years later, returning to the face expecting to make short work of the route and, in all honesty, not feeling too worried about the difficulties or dangers involved in getting up it. It actually feels as if it’s an obligation for me, as a climber, to get up such an impressive and historic wall.
I don’t know whether it was due to being slightly hypoxic, cocooned in my bivi bag that night, but I had a host of vivid dreams- one of which featured me being buried alive under snow. It was no great surprise then that I woke up at 4.30am struggling to move out of a trench of snow. Because it was dark, I couldn’t really tell how much snow had fallen, so I shouted across to Andy to wait for first light so that we could assess whether to head up or not.
Things didn’t look much better when it got light: around a metre of un-forecasted snow had fallen over night. For a minute I was still keen to head on up. Too many recent failures were fresh on my mind and I was letting frustration affect making a sensible and obvious decision. I guess you’ve got to take the good with the bad because, at the end of the day, failure’s just a part of climbing and, without trying to sound too clichéd, it’s the failures that make the successes all the more special. Maybe I was in for a bit of bad luck following a series of successful trips last year? Hopefully the odds are stacked in my favour for the rest of the year now and as Edward Whymper once said: Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.