Climbing the Eiger via Mittellegi Ridge
Climbed peaks: Eiger (3970 m)
The Eiger is a mythical and famous mountain and I had wanted to climb it for a very long time. So I was glad when finally, in summer of 2013, the opportunity arose and Dan Protz and I could make use of a favorable weather forecast and good conditions to climb it via Mittellegi ridge (Mittellegigrat).
The intricate way to the Mittellegi hut
We met up in Zurich on Sunday morning, drove to Grindelwald and then took the 2pm train of the Jungfraujochbahn toward Jungfraujoch. However, the route to the Mittellegi hut doesn't start from the Jungfraujoch at the top of the train line but rather one has to leave the train at the second stop when the train is inside the Eiger. The train always stops at this station called Eigergletscher for about 10 minutes so that tourists can leave the train and look out of the tunnel through huge panoramic windows onto the Eigergletscher glacier below. Climbers headed for the Mittellegi ridge, however, start the tour here by walking through a smaller tunnel that was used to remove the debris from the train tunnel when it was constructed over 100 years ago. At the end of that tunnel there is a small wooden door that leads outside the mountain and onto the Eigergletscher.
Normally, the route to the hut takes about 2 hours but it took us twice as long. We took a lot of time on the glacier enjoying the scenery and afterwards we struggled a bit to get from the glacier onto the rock and to find the faint path that leads to the Mittellegi hut. There are about 2-3 bolted sections of perhaps grade 5.6-5.7 rock that we belayed.
The hut itself is located right on the ridge. In fact, the ridge is so narrow that even though the hut is very small it hangs over on both sides. A truly spectacular location!
When we arrived at the hut (a bit late) dinner time was nearly over. We ate and when we were about to go to bed we saw that the guides were preparing a schedule with set times for when which party was supposed to leave the hut the next morning. Some leaving at 4am and a few (including us) at 4:30am. This is, I suppose, how the guides want to make sure they are not stuck behind unguided parties and exposed to potential rockfall. Since we knew that this climb would be testing our ability we wanted to start very early and we decided to disregard the "schedule" and get up an hour early to start at 3am before everybody else.
A long day on the Eiger
At 3am we git up and tried to quietly sneak out of the hut so as to not get noticed. But the warden noticed anyway. He was cool though and even gave us some hot coffee before starting to prepare the breakfast for the others. A few minutes later we had roped up and were on our way up the ridge.
The climbing was very enjoyable. The first part of the route is pretty flat but it steepens quickly. There are a few sections with fixed ropes. It wasn't before long that we were overtaken by the guides dragging their clients behind them. Not all clients seemed to enjoy the fast pace though... Quickly, everybody had passed and we were again alone on the ridge. The sun had come up and we could see down into the famous Eiger north face. Below it was the town of Grindelwald with the sound of cow bells coming up from the meadows. The views down the other south of the ridge were just as spectacular with a vast glacial landscape of snow and ice.
The last part of the ridge is a nice snow ledge that leads to the summit which we reached by 11am after 7.5 hours of climbing. The other climbers had already moved on and we had the summit for ourselves. After an extended lunch and photo break we started the long descend down to the Eigerloecher. The first section down to the first Eigerloch required a few rappels. On one of these I dislodged a few rocks when pulling the rope. Luckily, we weren't hit and it wasn't until the next day that I discovered that, in fact, the rope, which I had bought brand new, had been hit and was damaged to the core...
It took us a while to finish the descent and when we finally reached the Moenchsjochhut at 6:30pm, 7 hours since we had left the summit, we realized that we had missed the last train down from the Jungfaujoch to the car. We spent the night at the hut, took the first train down the next morning and returned to Zurich.