Eiger North Face 1989

In 1989 club members Gordon Longmuir and Graham McGill made an attempt on the Eiger North Face. A presentation by Gordon was given at the 75th anniversary dinner based on photos and field notes. This content has been added to the website.


Gordon and Graham on Die Eigernordwand - Eiger North Wall Notes 1989

To the Swallows Nest (start of 1st ice field) and back

Friday 4/8/89   One month to the day before my 48th Birthday, this is the life. Tent pitched above Grindelwald village, high up on the Alp (grassy slope), below the big Wall.

A nice grassy hollow out of the wind, hidden from below, in case camping not allowed.

3.30 am departure from tent to slog up to the start of the route. Graham breaks an anchorage lug on a crampon and curses (not like him) in the belief that the trip must now be called off. It takes a while before he accepts that I can fix it there and then. I show him how to thread the strap under the boot and round the crampon body at the broken part. Hey, expedition on again but the real danger of this event not foreseen or envisaged at this time.

5.00 am Roped-up and sack haul the First Pitch, 20ft. Dark still. Exposure of the big black wall above is strange. Excitement but nervousness. It goes straight up for a mile, its like a science fiction scene.

5.30 am Start climbing proper. It took us half an hour to do 20ft but we are not put off, because we explored part of the route last year and knew that for quite a bit of the lower section it is easy; just a zigzag walk along loose rubble filled ledges or wider terraces full of scree with scrambles up small vertical 2 to 3m high vertical faces with no protection really.

All of the rock is rotten and only now and again is it possible to put in or find an old peg. The size of the face is awesome, and becomes more so the more the daylight creeps in.

We are mentally out of our depth on this, and not taking any chances. One slip and you would not stop for hundreds of feet, later on it will be thousands of feet. Getting used to the exposure now, and we solo for a bit out of sight of each other.

Like soloing up Tower ridge on a wet day, but the bags are way too heavy for this kind of solo climbing on rock. No ice just wet seeping rock. No one else is out on the  route as it is considered to be poor weather. If we took this attitude in Scotland we would get little done and have been out in a lot worse. The thing that is different is that there is no horrible wind when you are on the face, because it is so big it blocks it.

14.00 to 14.30 Lunch. Fantastic views now and the wall above is still a mile high, a mile wide and a bit of an amphitheatre. It is unreal and like being in some Sc-Fi film. The wall is vertical all round now and stretches away to the left with large towers of rubbish rock and snow. Too close to the face now to see the route layout up the mountain. Looking up makes you a little giddy. We are supposed to be climbing in early morning  when everything is frozen but we would get nowhere at that rate, so we are just climbing all day. There are lots of stones coming down off the top but after a few hours we are getting battle hardened and can hear them coming and have stopped clinging tight to the face for protection. We can judge how far away they will strike. They make a whirring sound. Only one came close. About 5 feet to my left giving off a strong smell of Sulphur and leaving a white scar on the rock where it struck.


7.00pm Have reached the difficult crack (Schwierig Riss) the first bit of technical climbing apart from the first pitch.  We are wet now with sweat and damp mist and wet rock, so feeling a bit cold and uncomfortable. The crack could be an easy ice pitch? but now it is a wet 50 ft high slab with water running down the boot width deep crack.  I would like to put on my waterproof trousers and leave the sack and haul it later BUT

1) we only have very small stances each and nowhere to secure the sacks if we took them off.

2) I would even lose my balance if I tried to take off my sack as I am face in to the wall and can not turn around.

3) our bags with everything for 5 days are too heavy. We can hardly lift them off the ground with two hands.

4) we can not stay here too long or we will freeze, we need to decide right away what is to be done. We can’t choose who leads as I am here at the only ledge available. Thank goodness we are already roped up.

Five feet up and the water is running down the inside of my sleeve like it was a 2” diameter pipe. Running down my shirt and trouser legs, flooding into my boots. I have run out of holds with two hands in the air like a Scout Doing the Semaphore “Y” . I can pull up hard like a mantelshelf move, scrabbling with my big plastic boots for the holds. I cant see my feet but I know there are several foot holds there. One of these moves where you can’t go back.  It works. I can lean forward now and find holds on the slab. VS rather than HVS. { I know because we are really fit this year and had done some VS, winter routes on Nevis in the summer on the Centurion Carn Dearg face of Nevis. With big bags axes and crampons, for practice on wee holds on rock.  Route Two via a route One start just playing about really in the sun.}

Above this wet pitch is a great belay, so Graham sets off up in the gloom. After a long while, at the full run out and no more rope, “Aghhghh................................” A horrific scream that seems to last for 5minutes.  I wait petrified, waiting on Graham to fall the almost vertical 50 metres bouncing every so often from the little ledges, plus the next 50 m into the dark. The rope stops however and after a while I shout his name with no success. I do not want to leave the only good stance I have had so far. If he is balanced and I go up and he then falls we are both off. If he is unconscious then he may come round if I wait a bit.  Too long now he must be hurt  because we could keep in touch most of the route by shouting. I am half untied and he shouts “OK come up”.  Up I go, eventually to peer over an edge and here is another ledge like most of the others filled to a 40 degree angle with fallen rubble (bullets in their day) but this is a  longer 40ft slope of soft snow on the gravel with Graham at the top against the black vertical face. Secured with pegs and lots of old ropes.         

He had climbed the easy slope, mostly snow  with a little ice in patches below the snow surface, all on loose gravel.  He did not put on crampons as it was the first bit so far that needed them and we might stop here, and it was only a short length, and with a broken lug they were going to be a bit awkward to put on. A wee dangerous word at times is  “and” for as Graham had stretched up on his toes to clip an old rope for a first easy protection he slipped and slid the 40 ft slope to the edge of the 1/4 mile high precipice. His axe did not bite into the loose gravel or snow and he decided to turn onto his back and dig in his heels, but with no success.     He says he reached the rim edge still screaming and his heels caught the only bare bit of rock at the edge, fortunately a bit with a turned up edge, (I didn’t notice any worthwhile support when I came over the lip) he then rose up vertical, still screaming and his heavy bag pulled him back (at last something good to be said about heavy bags), still screaming as he sat there, too frightened to move an inch. Hence the length of scream. You can visualise the problem, heavy bag, on a slope, on loose scree, nothing much to keep you from sliding over. Thinking if I lift one foot will I slip a little and not get  the same hold, will a false move mean the big bag will slip as I try to rise, is it my weight on the bag that is keeping it there with friction and the little bit of edge purchase? I could go on as the same thing has happened to me a few times.     Agonising over his first move he eventually moved back from the edge. Then retracing his route carefully and clipped in to several points before answering my shouts. He was still in shock when I got up to him.


The next section looked like an easy traverse to the left on reasonably steep snow, as there would be slow methodical climbing for Graham, crab crawling along to get back into a calming rhythm. “No”. He could find no belays. None on the rock none at the snow. “No”. He could find no place for runners. “No”. He could not come back, could I just come on a bit. The bit required went on much the same for about an hour I suppose. At a guess about three 50m un-protected pitch lengths. . Just the usual odd thoughts that pass through your mind as you go along and an hour later you wonder how you passed the time? What had you been thinking about for the last hour. 

Eventually Graham goes too far. We get off the snow and on to rock and he gets stuck up a 20 ft pitch. Cant go up in the dark can’t come down. No anchorage apart from old ropes, which means we are on route. Yes he will stay there till daylight. I find a one foot wide ledge of snow that I can tramp down and tie on to old ropes and pegs (at least four good ones) and get into my sleeping bag after removing all my wet clothes and putting on a dry shirt dry long Johns and dry socks. Slept for about 8 hours solid. I had had a good ledge and an overhang for protection.


Saturday 5/8/89       

No problems next day. As I passed Graham’s bivvy spot on a very uncomfortable sloping man size ledge I knew he did not sleep well, after all he could not get into his bag, anyway it was only a cheap Buffalo fleece, not duck down like mine, but there was not much I could do about it as he had been on an adrenaline burst until he got stuck and forced to stop.

Hinterstoisser Traverse at first light after porridge and coffee. Fantastic view and easier going now . No more than V Diff on a 60 to 80 degree face but big holds, lots of old ropes. Just clipped them anyway. This is good I got to lead the Difficult Crack and get to lead the Hinterstoisser. Its just the way the leap frogging goes, with stances almost non-existent.


Next section was an 8ft section of bare wall. Well belayed but I get to do this also as I am taller than Graham, I have to pull up and kind of mantelshelf with this bag which is too heavy. Can’t haul them because you don’t know what you will find next and may not get a good enough stance to pull it up.  Manage to get an axe in above and chance the pull up. Too strenuous for a second go will have to do it this time I feel. Axe holds and the other one in, lets me pull over the lip, all knees and elbows, absolutely no panache . Up a short snow gully to the Swallows Nest. This is where most Eiger climbers reach in the first 3 hours climbing. We are obviously a bit on the slow side.

          Too much snow to have bivvied had we made it last night and we would have missed the fantastic view early in the morning of the Hinterstoisser at sun up so we feel good about that.  I have a go at the first Ice Field which if Ice would have gone fast but I am in 2 to 3 feet of soft snow, no axe pulls possible and steep enough to avalanche so call it quits. Weather clouding in again. I think we have had enough excitement so Graham agrees we try to back climb the traverse and make our way down. 7 hours of abseiling and scrambling now unroped, as we have got right into the exposure thing. We make our way down independently but close, as it is easier to find different lumps and old pegs rather than the old fashioned abseiling one after the other which would have taken us twice as long. Really fit now, hardly feel the weight of the bags. The trick is to not weave about too much but keep upright and in balance so the weight does not go out of plumb and overbalance you.


Met some Philippinos walking up with no ropes, carrying gear to their team on the Rote Fluh route. The steep Red wall on our right on the way up. Very Blasé about it they were. Got down the last 50 ft in the dark. Head torches again.  Hardly ate a thing so just start to get  hungry now and stop for nosh. Tent in sight and just a plod . A great, great outing, felt like I was away for a week instead of just two days. We can’t stop smiling all the way down the last bit of Alp grass.