BERNESE OBERLAND

Posted on: July 1, 2006


Ueli Steck on the first solo, and first winter, ascent of The Young Spider (VI 7a A2 WI6 M7, 900m), north face of the Eiger (3970m), Mernese Oberland, Switzerland. Steck and Stefan Siegrist established the route in July 2005; Steck soloed it in six days in January. [Photo] Robert Boesch

For a long time I'd had the idea of soloing The Young Spider (5.11d A2 WI6 M7, 900m), a route I'd established with Stefan Siegrist on the north face of the Eiger (3970m) in July 2005. I embarked on the route in autumn 2005, but the weather wasn't stable enough. So when a high-pressure system and a perfect forecast arrived in January, I started to climb, with six days worth of food and fuel, a portaledge and lots of gear—fifty kilos total....

The first section is just a snow slope, one that a good skier could descend. On the first rock pillar the climbing gets serious: A2 and very steep. Even the so-called easy pitches weren't just cruising terrain; with temperatures always about -20 degrees C, 5.11b gets hard to climb. I had to focus on simple perseverance. The lower-angled section turned into a fight with my haulbag. I still hate this PIG! At least in the bivies I was happy to have a warm sleeping bag and some good food. On Day 4 I was below the Spider and sixty meters of ice: the best pitch I have ever climbed. However, reaching it this time required one hour of aid climbing.

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I thought I'd be set as soon I got on the ice, but it was only five to eight centimeters thick, and I took a big fall, maybe twelve meters, smashing into the rock with my knee and cutting a vein. At the time the cold temperatures stopped the bleeding; two days later, back at home, I would barely be able to walk. On Day 5, after a night in the portaledge, I skipped the last four pitches of The Young Spider and exited to the left: although the pitches were easy, loose snow made it impossible to climb them. Soon I was on the summit, and I could finish my story with this route, one that many people had said couldn't be climbed without fixed ropes.

All my previous solos had been light and fast. This time I had to learn just to keep going, one step after the other. But in the end, the experience made me realize that I was now ready to climb steep, cold, high, difficult walls. While I was happy about that discovery, when I heard the news about Jean-Christophe Lafaille, I remembered what a risky sport we practice.

Ueli Steck, Interlaken, Switzerland



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