American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia and Alberta, Eiffel Tower

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1953

Eiffel Tower. In the summer of 1951 I climbed Eiffel Peak in the Canadian Rockies, primarily for the view and the pictures that I might get. From the summit I was surprised to look across at a sheer tower, several feet lower than the peak and separated from it by a deep gap of about 400 feet. At the time I thought of it as nothing more than a spectacular oddity. It was not until the following winter at Princeton, when I mentioned the tower to Joe Murphy, that we first considered an attempt to climb it. Of its history we both knew little. Unclimbed, it had been attempted a number of times, once by a group of Swiss guides from Lake Louise. But we were unable to obtain any specific information about probable routes and possible difficulties.

Tentative talks soon turned into definite plans and at the close of college Joe, Jim McCarthy, and I, all Princeton students, headed west toward the Canadian Rockies. Arriving at Moraine Lake in late June, we set out for the tower at once. Our immediate objective was to find a route leading to the saddle between Eiffel Peak and Eiffel Tower. Crossing Sentinel Pass, we camped the first night in Paradise Valley. From there we could see the tower, but it was protected by impressive tiers of cliffs. It looked as if we might be able to reach the saddle by climbing to Wastach Pass and then traversing along the northwest slopes of the peak. With this in mind we moved our camp into Moraine Valley near Wastach Pass and set out to explore our planned route. Two days of investigation brought little success for, although we were able to traverse around Eiffel Peak to a point several hundred feet below the peak-tower gap, a 200-foot band of vertical rotten rock barred further progress. Climbing was cold and unpleasant because of the overcast weather and melting winter snows which ran down the rock in a myriad small waterfalls. Stymied in our attempts to reach even the base of the tower, we were all willing to climb elsewhere. On our way back to Moraine Lake we climbed Eiffel Peak and decided that the easiest way to reach the saddle would be to rope down from the summit of the peak.

Later in the summer Joe and I returned to Moraine Lake for another try in warmer weather. Carrying bivouac equipment, we climbed Eiffel Peak and then prepared to rope down to the saddle. Though the 400-foot drop from the summit to the saddle was nearly vertical, the wall was broken about midway by a ledge broad enough to set up a second rappel. In that way two 200-foot rappels would bring us to the saddle. Setting up the first one, Joe descended to the ledge, but there our good fortune came to an abrupt end. When I began to lower the packs, an insecurely fastened sack suddenly jarred loose as it bounced off the wall, fell in a long slow arc, and then disappeared, rattling down an ice couloir to the right of the saddle. Gone was one sleeping bag, the fuel for the stove, and other knick-knacks, but fortunately we still had most of our climbing equipment. Our enthusiasm dampened, we continued down to the saddle, just reaching it with the second rappel. While Joe built up a level platform of rocks for the night, I sorted out ropes and tried to get some water from a few slow drips. With the platform built I lowered the remaining duffel to Joe. Attaching the one sleeping bag to a rope, I gave it a kick down the slope and, although the bag continued to roll, the rope didn’t move. Joe lunged at the unattached bag as it bounced by him, and then we both stood and watched it soar down into Paradise Valley. Considering that I had now thrown most of our equipment down the mountain, Joe remained surprisingly calm and tactfully silent.

The night was long and cold with a steady breeze whistling between the dark walls that hung over us. But with the first greyness of dawn we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise which tinted the surrounding mountains with a light pink haze. Needless to say, we were ready to climb as soon as it was light enough to see. The only obvious route was a prominent chimney in the southwest side of the tower, which could be climbed easily for about 40 feet. Above this the way was barred by an overhanging wall of wet holdless rock about 25 feet high. Since the sides of the chimney were some six feet apart, this back wall was the only feasible route. Joe led this pitch, using an abundance of pitons, bolts, and a double rope. Working, cramped, in the cold and showered by a steady spray of water, Joe did a fine job of leading. When my turn came to follow, I could better appreciate his lead. Relying on the ropes from above, I could find almost no holds in the smooth wall and the overhanging rock kept me constantly off balance. Once we had passed this barrier, the crevice narrowed and it was possible to use a regular chimney technique. Although the route continued vertical to sometimes slightly overhanging, a plentitude of good holds made free climbing possible and pitons were used only for protection. Three more fairly long leads brought us to the top of the chimney, and from there it was only a scramble to the summit of the tower. We built a cairn, basked in the sun for a few minutes, and then started down by the same route. Several long rappels brought us to the base of the chimney where we were amazed to meet two spectators, Mr. and Mrs. John Mendenhall, who had journeyed here for a crack at the tower. Since the hour was late, they decided to return to Moraine Lake with us. They kindly gave us food and showed us an easy way back. Traversing from the saddle around the north side of the tower, we came out at the saddle between Eiffel Peak and Pinnacle Peak. From here we slid down scree slopes to Larch Valley and arrived at Moraine Lake in time for dinner.

With the exception of the one nasty pitch, Eiffel Tower provides a wonderful chimney climb on surprisingly sound rock. The Tower can be easily climbed from Larch Valley in one day.

T. A. Mutch

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