John Harlin, an American climber from California, now serving with the Air Force in Europe, in August of 1962 made an ascent of what is the most impressive north face route in the Alps, the Eigerwand, the first American to do so. His story of the ascent, too long for publication in the Journal "in toto,” is here abridged with his permission. We have tried to retain the full flavor of this remarkable story: any failure to do so is our responsibility. — Henry Kendall
AMOUNTAIN WALL like the Eigerwand is difficult to assess. The size is so great that your perspective view completely hides the details of route and the nature of rock and ice. All you can tell by looking at the mountain is first, that it is an extremely impressive precipice, 6000 vertical feet from top to bottom and secondly, that there is either more or less snow on it than the last time you saw it. For example, it is impossible to look 5000 feet into the escape route from the Spider, that famous icefield, and tell if you are going to have to contend with rock covered with ice, water or snow. Nor by looking at the mountain, do you see the continuous rockfall, avalanches, water and ice fall that make up the pulse of the Eigerwand.
The north wall of the Eiger is the first major battlement of the Alps, separating the range from the European lowlands and the Atlantic. The wall is exposed to every bit of weather which travels west to east from the Atlantic across the lowland plains to the Alps. More than that, it generates its own weather, for the moist, unstable air coming from the Atlantic and heated by the lowland sun is mechanically lifted in one tremendous updraft of air causing condensation and, as a rule, thunderstorms.
Another important aspect of this face is the volume of rockfall. Every alpine face that I have ever climbed on has had rockfall, the least being the east face of Capucin, whose compact monolithic rock continually overhangs for 1500 feet and the most being the north face of the Col de Peuterey. In any case, you expect rockfall in the Alps, and your time schedule is certainly influenced by the mountains’ rockfall schedule. However, the volume and schedule of rockfall on the Eiger is ridiculous. I believe that if the climbers who go to that face really knew how much rockfall they would encounter, many would give up the idea of making the climb. Statistically 50% of the climbers are hit by this rockfall and 5% killed by it, although it has played an important part in the death of even more. The death toll including this year’s has risen to twenty-seven, a staggering percentage when placed against the number who have made it.
Prior to the present climb I had been on the wall four times. The first time was back in 1955. By now, the mountain had definitely become a pinnacle of frustration and a goal that had to be accomplished. Each one of my previous attempts (if you could call them that) had been terminated either by bad weather or poor conditions.
John met Konrad Kirch, his Eiger climbing partner, in July of 1961 above the Fresney glacier on Mont Blanc. They climbed together during the following winter.
We did many of Buhl’s old VI+ climbs in the winter, such as the Direct South Face of the Scharnitz Spitz in the Wetterstein. When the weather was bad, we did first class alpine skiing on short mountain skis. Then came winter climbing in the Dolomites, where Konrad froze his fingers on the north face of the Cima Grande di Lavaredo and the horribly rotten Comici on the Picolissima.
They made an attempt on the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses in the winter and another in the summer of 1962. The latter attempt in early August was frustrated by a severe storm. John’s toes were mildly frostbitten. He had to return for a week of Air Force duty.
Finally on the 18th I was free and the conditions on the Eiger had become favorable. Thus the afternoon of the 19th found Konrad and me pitching our tent on the meadow above the Kleine Scheidegg in a dense fog. That evening I set the alarm for 11 P.M.
At midnight we crawled from the tent. The night was cold and clear. A canopy of stars and the bold black outline of the Eiger greeted us a cheery good morning and a rather early one. In about fifteen minutes the moon appeared and we were off on our one-hour approach.
They crossed the bergschrund below a chimney to the right of the first pillar, a great 1000-foot step in the rock. The first pitch required arm strength alone for about ten feet; the footholds were glazed with ice. About two pitches further up the climb degenerated into "dangerous hiking’—endless rotten cracks and ledges covered with loose rock and hard black ice. They were headed for the Shattered Pillar, and beyond, the Hinterstoisser traverse. They heard voices: a party of two, in red parkas and helmets, was behind them.
Our progress was now barred by a wall, easy enough if it had just been rock, but it was covered with ice like boiler plate. I had to traverse until I found a free passage. That cost us some time. Then came the soon to be familiar sound of the air above, compressing as a huge stone winged its way over the Rote Fluh, 1500 feet above us. The stone hit behind us, showering fragments down the party below. The rocks started falling regularly, varying in size and landing all around, but usually behind us.
A traverse to the top of the Shattered Pillar gave us our first look at the Difficult Crack. A rope hung down the crack, evidently used in the recovery of Brewster, an Englishman killed a week before on the Second Icefield. We climbed a rock rib, quite steep but easy enough until we reached the spot where we had to traverse right 150 feet to the start of this Difficult Crack. That traverse was extremely delicate in that the rock was covered entirely with ice. I had to shatter the ice with my hammer before I could get any perch for my feet or hands.
At the Difficult Crack Konrad started up only to be repelled by the overhanging nature of the crack and the heavy pack. This meant taking the pack off on his minute stance and lowering it to me.
The two behind were overtaking us. I noticed that they were climbing with a rope approximately 250 feet long. It was giving them great speed on easy rock, but what a spectacular fall one would take on a rope like that! It would seem better not to have a rope at all. They were starting the traverse while Konrad was nearly up the Difficult Crack. It was then that the leader slipped on the ice. The piton and belay held, but not the strong gutteral Austrian curses. So our new companions were Austrians.
Soon we had the pack hauled up and I followed with mine on my back, for we had no time to pull both of them on a grade of five or less. It is interesting to note that both Konrad and I climbed grade fives and even sixes with a heavier pack on the Walker and on other climbs. Yet we had so much trouble on the Eiger that the leader’s pack had to be hauled on a four plus or better.
By seven o’clock after six hours of climbing they were at the Hinterstoisser traverse. It was equipped with two ropes both damaged by rockfall.
Right in the middle of the traverse a very large block of ice struck the rock. The fragments, as large as bowling balls, showered on both sides of me, but only one small piece struck my helmet. Konrad had just taken a picture and was rebuking himself for not having caught the action. I did not care.
They made their way to the Swallow’s Nest, a beautiful nook in the steep face.
I tried two lines of attack to get to the First Ice Field, the second of which proved the best. After having got there, I wished that I had not, for the rock and ice fall was continuous. Every second was gambling with odds heavily in favor of the house. I found a stance still on rock and brought Konrad up. He took one look and said, "Oh, my God!” and hurried off. He had just disappeared around the corner when I went numb, and my sight dimmed. A stone had caught me on the side of my jaw just below my ear. I was really shell shocked and fairly ran to Konrad’s belay where I recuperated.
They reached the upper right part of the First Ice Field. John led a difficult overhang. Konrad followed.
He then managed it beautifully and soon began what turned out to be the most rotten and dangerous bit of climbing I have ever had the misfortune to come across. Here is where two weeks later a German fell into the rope of two of our friends, pulled them from their positions and then fell to his death.
The cliff which must be climbed at the bottom of the Ice Hose on the left overhangs by a degree or two and is utterly rotten. There does not exist a single substantial hold. Konrad mastered this but not without leaving his pack suspended by a piton which I removed with my fingers and in the middle of the difficulties. Twice I thought I would fall here but stayed on.
After this we climbed gently to the right of the Ice Hose itself which offered the only line of ascent. It was nearly vertical, but this frozen waterfall had nooks and bottlenecks which became holds for my hands. Leaving the ice, I had to traverse left and up. I noticed with consternation that the rope drag was increasing. I was in the middle of a delicate friction slab with a beautiful belay piton five meters higher when the rope halted me. I could not budge it and Konrad said he could not free it. Climbing down on that type of friction would risk a serious fall. I had no choice but to have Konrad start climbing to free the rope leaving us both unprotected. When I finally reached those pitons, I breathed more easily.
Rope after rope length continued. The rock was slab-like with no clearly defined holds, just extremely high-angle friction with loose rock and everywhere ice.
On what turned out to be the last pitch before the Second Icefield Konrad took a very long time. He was being very light of movement and distastefully careful like a cat walking through a wet garden. When it became my turn I found out why; one distinctly had the impression of climbing on roller skates and with no pitons for protection. The rock simply would not hold them on this pitch. When I came to the ice, I felt relieved to put that dangerous bit of rock behind us. Besides, the rockfall from above had eased.
I strapped on my crampons. Quickly I discovered a stupid, time-losing mistake of mine. I had climbed a season over ice and rock without having my crampons sharpened. The Second Icefield was like burnished steel. My crampons merely scratched the 55° surface, offering no perch, and so I had to cut steps, 1000 feet of steps, to the other end of the Second Icefield. Most previous parties, according to accounts, went straight up to its top and then crossed on the rock above.
They traversed diagonally for 6 or 7 pitches then started to climb straight up.
On the first rope-length the strap on my ice hammer broke. I lunged for it, missed and nearly came off. I watched it slide down the ice and disappear out of sight. My heart sank, and I became quite demoralized. Konrad climbed to me and handed me his axe.
After one pitch Konrad started leading using their one axe.
With his sharper crampons he was able to climb just on the front points chopping out only a belay stance now and then. This made things difficult for me, since I had an ice piton in one hand as a dagger, my rock hammer in the other, and was forced to climb on those dull crampons. Even though there was an upper belay, it was difficult to keep from falling and I was extremely tired after every rope-length’s effort. In order to take out each piton I had to chop a step with my rock hammer.
At the top of the icefield they ate and waited for the party behind to catch up.
We all decided that it would be folly to cross the Flatiron to the Death Bivouac before night or early morning, for the volume of stonefall made a try very nearly suicidal. This meant finding a bivouac place on this side of the couloir. I led off; Konrad followed with the Austrians behind.
They found bivouac positions on a 30° snow ledge. The stove and tea were dropped and lost but they were able to make tea by burning meta tablets held on the end of an ice piton. The next morning they started toward the Death Bivouac.
After two rope-lengths of mixed climbing the traverse became easier. The ice would take a piton only a few inches because of the rock underneath, and so we just let the rope run over the piton without benefit of a carabiner. It was certainly better than no piton at all.
They crossed the Third Icefield, and looked back to see a party of six crossing the Second Icefield below them. The ice was 60° and thin and rotten over the hard rock.
At last this delicate work was over. We were in the Ramp. The Ramp is a great chimney that cuts the vertical and finally overhanging face. Looking up into the height of the Ramp where those famous pitches, the Ice Bulge and the Overhanging Waterfall, were, made you swallow hard with apprehension.
In five lengths we came to the first of the real difficulties, the Overhanging Waterfall. Only there was a difference, it was all ice. Terray, the great Chamonix guide, had pioneered a bypass to the right, of great difficulty but free of water and ice. The rock as usual was rotten. I gave it short consideration and turned my attention to the iced chimney. I did not put my crampons on which might have made it easier, but instead cleared the ice with my hammer and used slings on the three pitons that I found in place. At the crux where you must manage the top of the overhang I tried to put in a knife blade and then a rurp, but they would not go in. In fact, I lost one of the knife blades. Then back to back I got three pitons into a solution hole and packed chips of ice around them. Then by hanging a sling on them, next to the rock, I trusted this fabrication and negotiated the last of that pitch.
They completed the Ramp, bypassing the Ice Bulge by an airy traverse, and reached a good ledge to the left and below the Ramp’s Icefield. The rockfall was continuous, and the weather was becoming increasingly worse.
Now as the mists would occasionally open, we could see the rotten crack that is the only exit from the Ramp to the Traverse of the Gods. A traverse now brought us to that crack and a very poor belay. The crack was V+ and extremely rotten. At its top we decided to bivouac before making the Traverse of the Gods. We had no assurance of finding a suitable spot further on. Light was fading fast.
The bivouac position was very poor; their only anchor was a block that was itself loose.
Around midnight we decided to look out our vent in the bivouac sacks to check the weather. I do not know when I have ever seen such a sight. From one end of the horizon to the other the sky was lit with distant lightning. The line of storms was approaching so fast that you could see cloud movement in the light of the flashes. I told Konrad that we had about four hours before our mountain would be enveloped. Melodramatic as it may seem in retrospect, I felt strongly that if this was going to be the beginning of the end, I wanted to absorb all of the visual stimulus that I could esthetically enjoy. So I kept watching as the storm advanced. Soon we could hear distant thunder and see the glows becoming bolts of lightning. Then the intricate cloud lightning would lace the dark bulbous forms of cloud. The cities began to disappear, first Bern, Thun, the lake, Interlaken, and finally Grindelwald; and it was upon us. It took five hours instead of four, and it was now light. Except for precipitation the storm had lost its intensity, for we did not experience the familiar St. Elmo’s fire or any uncomfortable discharges.
They broke bivouac and completed the Traverse of the Gods before the conditions became too severe. They reached the Spider.
Konrad led the last length and when I saw him and the Spider, I was speechless. He was belaying from the last rock before the Spider. There, ten feet to his side, was the Spider’s left couloir, although all you could see was the blurred image of tons of falling snow. It did not stop. I finally called to Konrad over the roar, "Does it ever stop?” He could not hear me. When I reached the belay I yelled into his ear again, and he answered simply, "No.” I felt completely beaten, a man without an acceptable alternative. About five minutes later this large continuous avalanche did stop. The smaller ones that took its place would possibly not pull a man off. It was a big question mark. I told Konrad that I did not think I could make it, but I would give it a try.
As the axe bit into the ice, the snow sliding from above parted around my body and I had to breathe as if I were swimming. Swimming I was; the snow found every conceivable way of getting through the clothing, but my concern was speed. A heavy avalanche would peel me off into space. I had to reach the center ice rib of the Spider in approximately two minutes, as previously timed, and I had about twelve more steps to cut. I reached the rib, but before I had sunk a piton into the ice the heavy avalanches came. Konrad called to keep the rope tight in order to prevent the rope from dangling in the main stream, thereby pulling us off. At that point, however, security seemed to lie in placing that piton. Thus Konrad was left to tend the rope, while I held onto the piton with one hand and drove it deeper until I could thrust a carabiner through the eye. Having secured myself, I turned my attention to the rope. Despite Konrad’s efforts it had been caught in the stream of high-speed snow and ice. Being small it did not offer enough resistance to be dangerous; however, we still tried to protect it from being cut by falling rocks and ice. When the avalanche quit, Konrad being free for the moment got his camera from the pack and took a picture. We both regretted not being able to take an action shot, but we had only so many hands. The holds had disappeared, but you could still see the indications and Konrad joined me with relatively little trouble. He took the lead.
It started snowing hard again which meant the bad avalanches would start almost immediately. Konrad was about eighty feet above when looking up I saw a huge plume coming down the Exit Cracks and hit the top of the Spider. In addition, there was a wave of white coming down all along the face above the Spider. This meant even on the rib we would be struck. I looked up at Konrad and saw him placing a piton about as fast as it takes to say it. I also saw that he was directly above me. This meant that if he fell—and there was a good chance of that happening—his spikes would strike me in the shoulders or helmet. I knew the plastic would give to the sharp spikes. With this comforting thought I braced myself and looked away. Then everything was white and choking, but the pressure was not too great. Best of all, there was no falling body from above. As soon as the avalanche quit, Konrad was off, but he had gotten only about ten feet when another one came. This time I watched him as long as I could.
On the fourth rope-length we began to leave the Spider. There were three choices that now and then appeared out of the fog. They were three couloirs, chimneys, or cracks, all terms applicable but somehow nondescriptive. These three alternatives were sculptured glass funnels, each different in form but all releasing snow at high pressure and at various intervals.
The party of six, two Austrians and four Swiss, had passed the red-helmeted party. They made good time using the steps that had been cut. John and Konrad waited for them at the Exit Cracks. There was a short discussion about which chimney to take.
Finally we just took the one directly above us, primarily because the ice under us had thinned to the consistency of rotten flakes overlying brittle rock. We had no protection, and there were the avalanches to think about.
A long ice piton driven in next to rock, but partially biting ice became our protection, a good piton that. With crampons clawing what they found and hands high above compressing powdered snow for holds, I managed to get on firmer ground above, to find another piton and to set up a belay. We left that piton in for those below, as we had done before. The red-helmeted Austrians by now had a fair amount of our hardware.
We were beginning to miss certain pitons, for the climbing in the Exits Cracks was technically more difficult. To the left of the chimney we found a ridge in low relief on which we waited for the others to overtake us. The first Austrian who appeared at the overhang with our piton had just clipped a carabiner into it when he slipped. The piton held, and I was quite glad that I had left it, for I am not sure he would have placed one there.
The Swiss and Austrians had roped together, and because of the conditions we all decided to pool our efforts, combine our security and form one long, unbroken rope, a truly international team of four countries— Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United States. For us this was a great mistake, for we did not know the events to come.
It was only noon, and there was no question in my mind that we would reach the summit that day. The team effort seemed like a good idea. We asked the newcomers about Hans and Nik, the red-helmeted pair. They replied that they had not seen them since yesterday afternoon when they stopped to bivouac in the Ramp.
In three more pitches we rejoined the main couloir, but all progress came to a rather sudden halt. Above a difficult but short quartz crack (which overhung slightly at one point) began a 130-foot iced overhang. This overhang had a notorious reputation and under bad conditions such as these had taxed climbers like Hermann Buhl to the limit of their ability and endurance.
Here is where we first discovered our mistake of roping to the Swiss and especially of letting them go first. Franz, a Swiss of greatly specialized rock climbing experience and reputation, tackled the overhang. The rock being completely iced he retained his crampons. Through the fog I watched him strain and put inch after inch of rock below him. At the crux of the pitch he faltered, trying to find something for the tiniest support ; nothing was there, just thickly glazed overhanging limestone. He was absolutely desperate, and there was nothing. A small avalanche plumed over and out into space. Franz clung several more seconds before he arched out intercepting the avalanche in space and clearing his belayer by about five feet. A ledge above the quartz crack and a low piton just above the belayer held him. Franz was stopped, beaten, but luckily not seriously hurt.
Forward progress stopped, and hours of waiting began. As one of the Austrians took the lead, I scraped a little ledge in the snow and ice with my crampons. From this stance I waited as the minutes grew into hours. The full impact of our mistake in joining these people had not yet registered. I looked down into the Spider and the snow blowing from the ledges at the end of the Traverse of the Gods. That open cauldron looked so hostile that it was hard to imagine Nik and Hans back down there somewhere. Life seemed impossible. I kept hoping to see a man or hear a shout, but there was nothing, only the storm and the moving form of the Spider.
After a struggle lasting nearly an hour the lead Austrian climbed the overhang. With an upper belay the second Austrian and first Swiss were brought up. In order to haul a pack, however, the rope was pulled through the carabiners, a costly mistake. Now with the belay far to the side and with the rope pulled out of the carabiners, there existed essentially no upper belay for the rest of the climbers.
The morale of the Swiss party had sunk very low. Immediately a difficult situation had turned into a desperate situation. In fact, nearly all communication was virtually hysterical. Sepp, one of two Sepps in the Swiss party, had climbed to just below the crux of the overhang where he was directly in the stream of water and wet snow that ran over the thick ice.
He screamed: "Zug! Zug!” but the rope in this belay situation could do nothing. What’s more, it offered him relatively little protection. In a completely panicked and blind effort he did nothing more than leave the holds he had, for air. Gravity took care of the rest, and Sepp ended up thirty feet below. He was completely governed by emotion now, and had no chance of making a pitch that required such a great amount of disciplined coordination. His next attempt had exactly the same result; and on the third attempt, as if the rope had some magical qualities of lifting him to the summit itself, he cried and pleaded to be pulled.
It was an incredible performance, like watching some ghastly and completely burlesqued melodrama of which, somehow, the consequences had a bearing on your own life. At virtually the same place he fell again, and the ledge on which he ended up was not so kind. He moaned that his ankle was broken and that he could not move.
So now our climb which had been executed so well up to this point was turned into a desperate rout and not by the mountain, for we had taken the worst it could give us, but by a party of humans, their mistakes, and lack of self-control under pressure.
What to do? To make things worse the Austrians above had not found the proper route and were in difficulties. The Swiss talked of trying to haul Sepp to the summit. This was utter madness, for these people could not even climb the rock under these conditions without an injured man. The only thing to do was to leave him if his ankle was truly broken. He was situated not far from the Corti bivouac and could be rescued from the summit with a cable as Corti had been in 1957. His life and the lives of everyone else depended on someone reaching the summit and descending soon !
Konrad called down from his position with the two Sepps. "John, the Swiss have completely lost their nerve. I am afraid that we’ve had it if we stay with them.”
I told Konrad that we should consider leaving the injured Sepp with down equipment and provisions and possibly separating from the group, if he felt that they were becoming "exposure crazy”. (In the mountains one of the most common symptoms of approaching death by exposure and exhaustion is craziness, or an incoherence and lack of coordination. It is evidently caused by too much adrenalin being manufactured by the body.) The Swiss were showing signs of this "survival madness” or épuisement, as the French call it. Four of my acquaintances died of this sickness on Mont Blanc’s Fresney Piller in ’61 ; and I was well aware of its danger to others.
We decided that we would stay with them and help the Sepps, but guard against the strong possibility of all of us being pulled off by carelessness or wandering hopelessly off route. It would take a great deal of vigilance while we climbed and helped the Sepps, but we decided for the time being it was best.
Konrad led up the overhang, as the belay from above was useless. At one point in the struggle Konrad paused and said: "God! But I left a part of me back there.”
While I belayed I couldn’t help feeling sorry for those wretched fellows, their clothing wet and partially frozen, their bodies shaking uncontrollably and their spirit broken. Soon I followed Konrad and taking their rope I threaded it through the carabiners. This way we had one rope to haul directly and one threaded through the carabiners.
Konrad’s position was a bit too delicate, and so I traversed over and up to the Corti Bivouac. Franz, the lead Swiss and by far the strongest member, had descended and together we belayed Konrad with one rope and hauled on still another rope. By using the carabiners and the tension from us the two below were brought up. It seems that that broken ankle had mended itself with the prospect of being left on the face!
So it was now obvious that darkness would catch us for still another night on the face. We all preferred the idea of climbing through the night. Another night of inactivity would only result in still more frostbite damage to our extremities.
In addition, we had begun to have that old feeling of doubt. No panic, no fear, just the strong oppression of the odds being too high, an unfair twist of luck after winning so much. This feeling, of course, had been brought about by the snail-like progress of the group and the demoralization and apparent loss of mind of several of the Swiss.
Again the question appeared, what should we do? Leave these people or stay with them and possibly be killed? There was really no alternative when we faced it, only desire. We wanted to leave them but could not. We had committed ourselves. Now we were all responsible for one another and despite the consequences must stay together.
From the Corti Bivouac a diagonal rappel brought us to a vertical gully or chimney completely lined with ice and snow. Periodically it vomited snow and rock at high pressure indicating that this could be the principal Exit Crack leading up. The high pressure attested to the length and obvious upper extensions of this route.
Since the Austrians were somewhere above, we let the others move on ahead, until Konrad and I were alone at the bottom of the chimney. Only the front of our cramponed boots supported us in the snow. This snow that overlaid ice below the vertical chimney approached 70°. The rock would not take a piton, and the ice was too thin. There was no protection. It was dark. No mistaking it. Now we had had it.
Konrad’s headlamp would not light and we could not learn from those above if they were on the proper route. The wind, avalanches, and the Swiss-German language formed a communication barrier. We finally learned that they had bivouacked 150 feet above standing in place with inadequate room even for that.
I renewed my efforts to place a piton, anywhere. In the Alps I had on many occasions been able to piton where Europeans had resorted to expansion bolts but not here.
With Our axe, we excavated a ledge on which it was possible to sit if our heels were dug into the snow lower down. We sat and pulled the bivouac sack over our heads. Even though we had down socks and elephant’s feet they were useless because in our position we could not put them on. The only thing we risked doing was to loosen the straps of our crampons. Even though we were to one side of the chimney, the avalanches hit the bivouac sack with most of the snow sliding off the front of it. Inside, our principal problem was staying awake, for to fall asleep was to take a fall of 5000 feet. One of us would hold a candle with a hand held high near the wick and reservoir of hot wax. Thus when one nodded, the candle would tip, and the hot wax would immediately wake the sleeper. This person would then keep the other awake. In addition, we exercised our toes to a count rhythm. The night passed. Towards morning the temperature took a nosedive and a look at the sky showed a break in the storm.
We climbed the chimney above with difficulty and Konrad took a short fall ; however, we gained altitude. The Swiss were suffering seriously from frostbite; their hands were becoming more and more clumsy. No one spoke and the progression was continuous and determined.
The angle of the exit chimney eased and I began to enjoy the easier climbing, Finally the chimney opened up onto about 500 feet of downward sloping slabs that ended on the Mittellegi ridge. The snow on these slabs was powder, necessitating a bit of care, then suddenly we were on the ridge in the sun.
Clouds completely undercast the landscape with only mountain masses penetrating the blanket. The sun was still low giving relief, yet more intense due to the reflecting layer below. Thus the snow ridge reaching to the summit cornice had the fantastic brilliance of a jewel lit from within. Chips of ice from axe blows were caught in the air and lit by the sun against an impeccable blue. To have such beauty in the last moments of success turns satisfaction to pure joy. "Bergheil, Konrad!” "Bergheil, John!”
John and Konrad were slightly frostbitten ; John had to stay a week in the hospital after the climb. Hans and Nik spent two more days on the face but completed the ascent just before a massive rescue operation was scheduled to start. They both spent several months in the hospital. All of the other six suffered severe frostbite and required amputation of either some fingers or toes, two of the Swiss losing fingers and toes.