Combats pour I’Eiger by Toni Hiebeier. Paris, B. Arthaud, 1965. Paperback. 307 pages, 9 photographs. Translated from the original German edition (Frankfurt; Wilhelm Limpert) by Monique Bittebierre. 27 francs.
This book forms a trilogy with its predecessors Die Drei Letzen Probleme der Alpen by Heckmair and Die Weisse Spinne by Harrer and, with these, completes the chronicle of all ascents of the north wall of the Eiger through 1964. Hiebeler’s style of writing is spellbinding; he led the first winter ascent in 1961, and he knows most of the climbers who have gone to the top of the wall. During 29 years, there have been 53 ascents by a total of 144 climbers, and 25 deaths. Some of the catastrophes have been publicized by mass media; many of the successful attempts have received little or no attention. Hiebeler describes all of them since Harrer’s narrative ended in 1958. He tells in sparkling prose of the horror of seeing a dark object with two arms glissade down the precipitous snowbank of the White Spider and plunge into the void (it was a sodden winter overcoat, just discarded by a near-by climber, out of sight in the rocks above, who could not afford a parka) ; of the enigmatic and charming young lady who once again destroyed the myth of a man’s world (score: 143 males to one Daisy Voog); of his own winter ascent with Kinshofer, Almberger, and Mannhardt; of Michel Darbellay (the solo climber who succeeded after three had been killed) ; of a skillfully exposed fake; of the final solution of the tragic disappearance of Mayer and Nothdurft; and of a host of successful climbs, all repeating the route first blazed by Heckmair, Vorg, Kasparek and Harrer, who in turn followed the Hinterstoisser traverse.
The philosophy of climbing the north wall of the Eiger, which is essentially the philosophy of climbing itself, has repeatedly been bitterly attacked and resolutely defended. Hiebeler quotes Lammer’s words on solo climbing: “…in the struggle against mountains, the conquered opponent is not a fellow-man nor a defenseless animal, but the giant force of nature in her wild state, and this fight is a hundred-fold more entrancing and unpredictable than the others mentioned. To those who prefer voluntary and sustained action to passive ease and monotonous comfort and whom nature has endowed with the necessary capacity, solo mountaineering affords an inexhaustible source of the keenest and purest joys of life.” Hiebeler points out that the publicity that is given to climbers of the north wall brings a special dividend; if they make a rapid ascent, they are accused of careless foolhardiness, and if they climb slowly, they are said to be incompetent. It is possible to avoid this, for in September 1964, two men came, climbed the wall, and returned home without a word to the crowds who manned the telescopes at the Hotel Bellevue.
Three typographical errors were noted: p. 283, line 22 “1 Français” should be “11 Français;” p. 289, line 19, "1959” should be “1958;” p. 299, line 1, “août” should be “septembre.” An index would have been a welcome addition.
The book is enthralling to read. The most graphic chapter is the account of the winter ascent. It belongs in every library of mountaineering. I hope it will be translated into English.
Thomas H. Jukes