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Klettersteig on the Flank of the Eiger

By Mark Anderson

“Klettersteig” is German for “Via Ferrata” (which is Italian for “Iron Way”).[LINK TO INTRO-STYLE VF Post]. Klettersteigs have existed in Switzerland for decades and they have some of the best in the world, including the best two I’ve ever done—the Eiger Rotstock and Murren via ferrats. The Eiger Rotstock route is not particularly noteworthy in terms of exotic apparatus such as Monkey Bridges or Ziplines, but because of its incredible position.

The Eiger Nordwand (aka Eigerwand) on the left, and the Eiger Rotstock on the right (with its summit just up and left of the signpost. The via ferrata more or less climbs the large gulley just right of the center of the photo.

The Eiger Rotstock is a sub-peak along the northwest ridge of the Eiger. It’s several thousand feet lower than the Eiger, but sits adjacent to the main peak’s infamous and iconic North Face, dubbed the “Eigerwand.”

The Eigerwand.

The Eigerwand may be the single most notorious mountain face in the Alps, if not the world, having claimed the lives of some 65 climbers. It was the scene of an unprecedented series of accidents in the mid-20th century as the Continent’s best climbers struggled to climb it. The news reports of these attempts, heroic rescues, and tragedies made the face world-famous to people from all walks of life, and the climbers involved in became household names.

It was eventually climbed in 1938 by Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vorg, Fitz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer (author of Seven-Years in Tibet). Harrer’s book The White Spider, which details his ascent as well as all other attempts, successes and disasters on the face through the mid-1960s, is among the most classic pieces of Mountaineering literature ever written. And of course, the face was the setting for Hollywood’s undisputed best-ever climbing movie, The Eiger Sanction.

A view of the 6 ladders that start the Rotstock VF.

I suspect my hard alpine days are behind me, but as a student of climbing history, I had to get a look at this face, and the Eiger Rotstock Via Ferrata provides an excellent vantage point, in relative safety. The route winds up the notch between the Rotstock and the Eiger proper, essentially climbing the lower quarter of the Eigerwand’s west arête. The position is absolutely spectacular, and provides a taste of exposure and commitment with nearly complete safety.

Logan cruising the ladders.

Logan cruising the ladders.

Our adventure started with an early morning train ride from the spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley up to the Eigergletscher station just above the hamlet of Kleine Scheidegg. From there a brief contouring hike leads below the Eigerwand to the start of the Klettersteig.

Just above the end of the ladders, with Kleine Scheidegg visible below and to the right.

Just above the end of the ladders, with Kleine Scheidegg visible below and to the right.

The Klettersteig itself is straightforward and not particularly interesting. It begins with six metal ladders, followed by mostly steep hiking (with a wee bit of easy scrambling) on generally good rock, almost 100% protected by cable.

Entering the big gulley.

Besides the phenomenal views, the best part of the excursion was taking Logan up on something reasonably resembling a proper mountain. He was psyched to reach a real summit and loved the exposure. It’s a great day out in the mountains with not much more risk than any alpine hike. For perspective, I’d say it’s a lot safer than the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion.

Near the Rotstock summit (up and right).

The descent from the Rotstock follows the lower section of the Eiger’s West Flank route, and provides unobstructed views of that route, all the way to the summit (when its visible). From our vantage point the route looked pretty fun and moderate in dry conditions, with some interesting scrambling on generally good rock.

Logan on the Rotstock summit, with the Eiger West Flank (and route) behind.

On the summit.

Check out Logan’s video of the Eiger Rotstock via ferrata here:

The descent went quickly and we rendezvoused with the rest of the family back at the Eigergletscher Hotel, then hiked down to Kleine Scheidegg (which was not much more than a large gift shop). After refueling the kids with ice cream we continued hiking north along the crowded “Panoramaweg” trail to the Mannlichen Cable Car station and zipped down to Lauterbrunnen. It was a great tour of the Eiger region and one that I’d highly recommend to anyone who wants an intimate look at the Eiger without taking much risk (or dragging a bunch of alpine climbing gear around).

Amelie and the Jungfrau.

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