Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Yeah. That was a good moment."
February 20, 2011 12:19 PM   Subscribe

The North Face of the Eiger has claimed the lives of at least 64 climbers attempting it since 1935. The first succesful attempt in 1938 took a team of four 3 and a half days. The first succesful solo climb in 1963 took 18 hours. In 2008, Swiss Climber Ueli Steck broke his own record by 1hr7, soloing the face in 2hr47.33. Watch him.
posted by protorp (46 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
You always see footage of them going up the mountain, I've never seen any footage of how they get down, how dangerous that is? Or do they all get picked up by helicopters or something, I ask this in earnest, not out of snark?
posted by Fizz at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2011


I managed to watch him - running along that ridgeline especially - and now I need to pry the chair out of my arse crack from clenching for him - especially when he falls over at one stage.
posted by Brockles at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy crap.
posted by carter at 12:32 PM on February 20, 2011


His running across the ridge was insane.

"I was like yeah, that was a good moment."

I salute you, crazy person.
posted by _Lasar at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ueli's speed climbing abilities are also featured in The Swiss Machine (8 minutes, YouTube), it has some of the same shots and crazy footage of him going up pure vertical walls in Yosemite, it's part of the current Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour.

Disclaimer: I'm not part of the BMF but do work for their parent organization.
posted by furtive at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2011


Clint Eastwood managed. It has been so long since viewing the Eiger Sanction that I don't remember the details.
posted by Cranberry at 12:43 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last week sometime I ended up watching a bunch of videos on Steck after falling down a mountain climbing related rabbit hole in the web after this askme. He's an incredible athlete.
posted by markr at 12:55 PM on February 20, 2011


Watching this, I was reminded of the movie North Face about a Nazi-funded climb of the eiger in 1936.
posted by Forktine at 12:55 PM on February 20, 2011


Clint never actually summited in The Eiger Sanction. Storm hits, everyone but Clint gets blown off the mountain.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:55 PM on February 20, 2011


Check out the movie Steep - available on Canadian netflix here.
posted by HLD at 12:57 PM on February 20, 2011


Yeah? Well can he beat the Ninja Warrior course?

Holy shit this guy is good.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:58 PM on February 20, 2011


I've never seen any footage of how they get down

Naked snowboarding while slamming a Mountain Dew. EXXXXTREME!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The adrenaline of watching that is making me sick to my stomach and make noises that scare the cats.

How the hell does one man carry the huevos to be able to do that?!?!?
posted by notsnot at 1:05 PM on February 20, 2011


Another climb that makes my palms sweat. (I think I may have seen this linked here a few years ago.)
posted by spacewrench at 1:06 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The White Spider is a blunt analysis of early-mid 20th century successes and failures in climbing the Eiger, written by the author of Seven Years in Tibet.
posted by ovvl at 1:07 PM on February 20, 2011


I have mixed feelings about time records like this (because fast climbing is inherently pretty damned unsafe), but I salute the guy. Not only does he have amazing technical climbing skills but I'd bet my lunch that he's working at his (probably silly-high) aerobic VO2 limit for the entire climb. Having participated in some endurance sports in past years myself, I can say that at some point after the two hour mark you just want your heart rate monitor to shut the *#@* up so you can slow down for just one minute.

*hat tip*
posted by introp at 1:17 PM on February 20, 2011


I did some rock climbing when I was young, but it was always safety first. I greatly admire his skill and brass balls, but sometime, somewhere, something is going to go wrong.
posted by lobstah at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2011


Well hello there, Mr. Crazyperson! I salute you in your insanity!
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2011


I've never seen any footage of how they get down, how dangerous that is?

Well you could ski down the Eiger
posted by geoff. at 1:25 PM on February 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Clearly, in a few shots it seems there is a photographer up there with him. How come there is no credit to the photographer's athleticism or existence there (solo climb?).
posted by semmi at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ueli Steck is superhuman. This video of him breaking the speed record on a route on the Grandes Jorasses is horrifying and humbling. Up near the top, with a kilometre of air below his legs, he's dry tooling or tapping his picks into tiny little smears of ice as if it's just a stroll in the park and it's just like, holy fuck this guy is solid.
posted by Flashman at 1:35 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never seen any footage of how they get down, how dangerous that is?

If various Discovery Channel hosts are to be believed, most deaths/injuries generally occur on descent.

For the speed record video, how was this shot? Helicopter chase camera?
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:44 PM on February 20, 2011


If various Discovery Channel hosts are to be believed, most deaths/injuries generally occur on descent.

I was acquainted with a woman who was an avid mountain climber, who fell to her death on a rappel off the summit of Mount Sir Robert in BC (by no means an amateur climb). In a write up of the incident, two climbers who tried to prevent her death observed that she failed to take several basic safety precautions that would have saved her, so the root cause of her death was really overconfidence.
posted by fatbird at 1:52 PM on February 20, 2011


*Mount Sir Donald, not Robert
posted by fatbird at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, good thing he wore a helmet for that.
posted by Camofrog at 2:17 PM on February 20, 2011


Weird... I just watched The Eiger Sanction for the first time last night.

Can't really recommend it; the climb sequences were fairly thrilling, and there were a couple lovely naked women, but otherwise a pretty unremarkable Bond knockoff. There's an incredibly awkward moment where Clint makes a rape joke immediately before bedding a woman, and not even a good rape joke. Different times, I guess.
posted by brightghost at 2:27 PM on February 20, 2011


I stumbled upon some mountain climbing book or other in a used book store in San Antone, when I was done there saving the world from y2k in 1999. One book led to the next to the next, I was and am amazed by these spectacular human beings.

A climber/writer, a guy named Mark Twight, really caught me with his book Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High. This book, while it is a text for learning this extreme sport, is also full of stories of how these people think, how they condition themselves, just how they operate in general. An amazing book, about amazing techniques used by amazing people. And beautiful photography, also, world class photography, much of it by Twight.

Twight wrote in that book -- and some other of his writings I've found, a collection of short stories and also scattered here/there online -- Twight wrote about high soloing, the strong psyche and huge level of commitment needed to pull this off, which is surely shown in the linked video here.

It seems to me that they're just different people, that they have this ... something .. they have this something in them that they must constantly work with, and they need not worry about much of anything other than the mountain, any corrections for mistakes they make are harsh, very harsh indeed.

So they go to the mountain for discipline maybe, playing against their weaknesses and the elements and the mountains using their skills and their psychic strengths. Games for the very highest stakes for nothing other than purification; while there are a few that make the big endorsement dollars most of them won't make those dollars, most of them aren't famous, at least not outside their community, which seems to be about all they care about anyways, or care most about. Love? Money? Cool. But it's pretty far down the line of importance for serious climbers, from what I've been able to discover about them.

I admire these people hugely. Another hat tip here, not just to this record holder but to all of them, including the ones high on a wall, in awesome splendor and danger as I key this in, as you read it.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:42 PM on February 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ueli is one of the most badass climbers out there right now. He's a very good all around climber. Not only is he an amazing alpinist he also rock climbs very hard. Back in 2009 he came really close to onsite free climbing a route called Golden Gate on El Cap. That means he started from the ground, no rehearsal of any of the moves, using only his fingers and feet to climb the route. He fell off one section that should have been very easy for him. No one has ever onsited an El Cap free route. Yeah.

You can read about his 2007 accident here. He fell 300m down the South Face of Annapurna and walked away unscathed.

If you get the chance to see the entire Swiss Machine film it's pretty awesome. I got so nervous watching it, at one point he's drytooling across the Hinterstoisser traverse low on the face and both his crampons skate off the rock. I almost shat my pants. Watching him climb you can tell how much time he's spent in the mountains by how incredibly comfortable he looks on terrain that seasoned alpinists with a rope would find challenging.

He's also incredibly maniacal about training and is just a fantastic athlete.
posted by alpinist at 3:06 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


At the 1.41 mark: "Get that helicopter downdraft off me!"

Kidding, but he did say: "If I do a mistake, I fall."

My thought was: Then don't do a mistake.
posted by bwg at 4:17 PM on February 20, 2011


This is gorgeous, and I wish Rodney Whitaker (Trevanian) was still alive to see it. The movie was vapid, but the book.... awesome on so many levels.

Even still, am I the only one to watch this guy go through his paces and think "If he keeps this kinda thing up, he's dead."

Not that I'm judging. But there's a lot of that whole flying wing suit/BASE jumping thingy going on here.

If he retires at 50, and goes on to live a full life, man that's cool. But I think the odds are against him.
posted by valkane at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that there's anything wrong with that!
posted by valkane at 4:57 PM on February 20, 2011


Can't really recommend it; the climb sequences were fairly thrilling, and there were a couple lovely naked women, but otherwise a pretty unremarkable Bond knockoff. There's an incredibly awkward moment where Clint makes a rape joke immediately before bedding a woman, and not even a good rape joke. Different times, I guess.

Derailing a bit, but yes -- watch it for the climbing. You have to sit through a fairly dull eurothriller that sets everything up, and unfortunately the grittiness of the mountain bits and some of the spying bits is crossed with a really strange spymaster situation (apparently marking it as a spoof, but few reviewers recognized that) that Eastwood is utterly incapable of having any fun with. Should have just made those parts gritty as well, might have had a shot at a memorable film.

In addition to rape humor, there are out-of-place-now ethnic and gay jokes. Tough guys who love this movie don't seem to care about any of that, naturally, ensuring its persistence.

On topic again, though, the production was marked early on by the death of an expert UK climber that was part of the photography/stunt crew. The work done to get this right is seemingly superhuman; it must have been a continuity editor's nightmare. And yes, Clint does almost all his own stunts, but had just three weeks training in Carmel. Considering the reputation of the mountain, it seems insane.
posted by dhartung at 6:10 PM on February 20, 2011


Well you could ski down the Eiger

Holy fuck. That really is exxxxtreme.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:46 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, good thing he wore a helmet for that.

My thoughts exactly.
posted by marvin at 7:35 PM on February 20, 2011


Music: Pack in Wowlin by Eiger

shit made me cry more than once
posted by past at 9:02 PM on February 20, 2011


while there are a few that make the big endorsement dollars most of them won't make those dollars, most of them aren't famous

Indeed - this is why the "first succesful solo" link I posted is a bit of a poor compromise. You'd think that Michel Darbellay, having succeeded on one of the very last great climbing firsts in the Alps, would have had a ton written about him, but no...

On this aside note, I did find this .pdf in French about him. Its title translates as "Portrait of a Discreet Mountain Guide".
posted by protorp at 10:46 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, good thing he wore a helmet for that.

My thoughts exactly.



Well, on top of everything else, the Eiger is incredibly loose. He's climbing it in winter, on what looks like a hard cold day, mostly because the face is continually raining rocks from pea-gravel to breadbox size. Even in hard frozen conditions, random rockfall is the one thing (ok, maybe not the only thing) that could derail this for a guy like Steck. Everything else: the moves, the climbing, the exposure, even the odd slip (which I bet clinch our sphincters a damn sight tighter than they did for him), is totally under his control. A random rock? Its the necessary gamble, and the helmet softens the odds, if only a little.

Amazing stuff. So far beyond what the overwhelming majority of even serious and very strong recreational alpinists can even dream of pulling off, its like a different world.
posted by bumpkin at 10:52 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see Eiger from my dinning room window, on clear days. I can't look at the video now though, I'm on wifi.
posted by Goofyy at 2:11 AM on February 21, 2011


Well, good thing he wore a helmet for that.

In the movie North Face (based on the true story of the 1936 attempt and which I happened to have watch last night0, the Austrian team member gets hit in the skull with rock fall from above, which made quite a serious gash.
posted by yeti at 7:11 AM on February 21, 2011


Well you could ski down the Eiger

Yeah, but it looks like they are skiing down the South-wes-- HOLY FREAKING HELL.
posted by yeti at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]



Well you could ski down the Eiger yt


I hadn't had a chance to watch that until just now. There's a moment, maybe about a third in, where I was sure he was going to nail one of the rock outcroppings, and I think he had to lift his legs way up to miss it. One screw-up like that and you would be toast.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 AM on February 21, 2011


Suggestion to OP that the video should carry a health warning: "Viewing may cause severe and sudden onset involuntary sphincter oscillation."
posted by dougrayrankin at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2011


Yeah, but it looks like they are skiing down the South-wes-- HOLY FREAKING HELL.

Yeah, no matter how many times I've watched that video, the part about a minute in always makes my stomach drop.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2011


The Swiss Machine is a great little film and if you get a chance, check out the entire Banff Mountain Film Festival that is currently touring around - always fun stuff. What I like about Steck is that he is a really well-rounded climber, a lot of the hot-as-hell climbers out there right now are really specialized in bouldering or hard sport climbing or whatever. So nice to see someone doing it all.

Helmets are really more about protecting the head from falling stuff than protecting your head in a fall. In ice climbing, there is always crap hitting you in the head. Not just things falling, but also ice and rocks from when you sink your tools. It's just a wet chossy sport. One of the reasons you don't see helmets being worn in a lot climbing videos is that many climbing routes are extremely overhung which reduces the chance for rockfall. And if there is little chance of a groundfall, not a whole lot of reason to wear a helmet. If you are free-soloing (unroped), well, if you deck from 100 feet not a whole lot of reason to wear one either.

That being said, I always wear a helmet climbing and every time something hits me in the head I'm glad that I did.
posted by misterpatrick at 12:00 PM on February 21, 2011


Wow, I just can't imagine the training and courage it takes to do this. That is just insane. I guess one thing he does have going for him is not having to worry about the crazy turnarounds in weather the Eiger is famous for. Probably not going to get caught in a terrible storm if your climb takes 3 hours total. To do this without any kind of safety rope just is unimaginable to me, like a surefire death sentence, but there he is, doing it.

I watched The North Face 5 days ago without knowing the history of that ill fated mission, and it still haunts me. I thought it was strange to be seeing a movie extolling the athleticism of Nazi climbers, until I realized SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER, oh, that's how they got funding, everybody dies! the one guy hanging about 3 meters from safety in particular haunts me even now, and I keep trying to devise means of rescue involving shepard's hooks or lassoes etc. Anyway, don't watch that movie if you don't want to spend an hour watching people die slow and painful deaths, with a few falls from very great heights thrown in. #allIwantedwasanactionadventuremovieandthiswasmorerealitythanicouldhandle
posted by onlyconnect at 1:19 PM on February 22, 2011


Discovered this guy watching a recent BBC documentary about the North Face, and was just astonished by him.

What also really stuck with me was the section about the rescue of one of the early failed climbs, featuring the Stollenloch window. There's a rail tunnel that goes through the mountain, and they knocked a hole through the north face to dump rock out, and then put a door in. These guys hop off the train in the middle of the tunnel and then chisel their way through some snow to be left with this sheer drop. It's pretty terrifying!
posted by opsin at 4:07 PM on February 22, 2011


« Older Chris Jordan’s “Running The Numbers” series and it...  |  Bluegrass covers of popular so... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments