Eiger by Jörg Lehne and Peter Haag. French translation by Monique Bittebierre. Paris: Hatier. 1967.
Perhaps by the time this review appears, Eiger will have been translated into English. It ought to be, for it tells a great story and tells it well. The story is of the first ascent of the direct north face of the Eiger—The John Harlin Route—and the authors were both members of the German expedition that joined with Harlin’s Anglo-American team to complete the route and attain the summit on March 25, 1966. Lehne and Haag write with an appealing brevity and directness; the entire text is 150 pages, of which perhaps thirty are full-page photographs, many of them in color and most impressive indeed. The authors are climbers, first and foremost; they do not stop to analyze character or discuss philosophy, for their concern is with actions, conditions, and techniques. They pick out the significant details and get on with the story; and as a result they have written a fast-paced and exciting narrative.
Essentially they give a day-to-day account of the climb, but for all their matter-of-factness they have written a revealing human document. Frequently the various climbers are brought convincingly to life through quotations from their conversations or their journals. Here, for example, is Günther Strobel at the start of the climb:
I am alone and I watch my two friends climb. I can hardly believe it. Night has come and we have barely gained thirty meters. I realize then something of our undertaking: centimeter by centimeter we nail our way up a wall of 1800 meters, in rock which doesn’t even hold ordinary pitons! For the first time I feel my enthusiasm falter. No more am I "the daredevil,” "the tiger of the rocks.” At the foot of this ominous wall I feel small and utterly ridiculous.
When the summit was finally reached, it was during a violent snowstorm; the wind blew in gusts of up to 90 miles per hour, and the temperature was —25°. There was ample cause to rejoice, but the rejoicing was tempered by the realization that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between triumph and escape. The authors have told their heroic tale without heroics. Throughout this book, as on the climb itself, the presence of John Harlin is strongly felt. It is clear that he inspired the German team as well as this own, and clear that his influence did not cease with his death. Fittingly, this book is dedicated to his widow, Marilyn.
Roberts W. French