[Photo] Robert Bosch from Alpinist 41
After eight trips up and down the Eiger Nordwand (3970m), and 18 days of climbing, Sasha DiGiulian says her helmet was “completely destroyed,” from repeated rockfall, and she left it behind in Switzerland when she returned to New York City for her senior year at Columbia.
“During storms, large chunks of rock that a helmet couldn’t protect you from fell off the face,” said the 22-year-old, who on August 29 became the first woman to free Magic Mushroom, a 600-meter 7c+ (EX-: 5.13a, Hainz-Schaeli, 2007; Redpoint: Siegrist-Theurillat-Weber, 2009) on the right side of the iconic north wall.
The route is perhaps best known for its namesake feature, a prominent pillar halfway up the Eiger’s west ridge often used as a launch point by BASE jumpers. DiGiulian is originally from Alexandria, Virginia, and her partner, Carlo Traversi, 27, comes from Santa Rosa, California.
“Carlo got a rock to his face and it was full on bleeding,” DiGiulian told Alpinist. “There were big rocks falling around us. You have to be vigilant of where the rocks are falling…. It was all trial by fire initially.”
First climbed by Christoph Hainz and Roger Schaeli in 2007, Magic Mushroom is 20 pitches in length: The first half of the route has climbing up to 5.10d, while the second half is more difficult, with terrain between 5.11b to 5.13a. In a NewsWire on December 11, 2007, Lindsay Griffin described the first ascent thus:
The excellent quality limestone is very compact, and protection on this route is solely from bolts and a few pitons; in fact, Hainz noted that future parties could leave wires, nuts and Friends at home. The pair’s 600-meter line has twenty new pitches and took six days to complete. The difficulties on the lower section are reasonable at 5.10a and 10b, but the upper 400 meters are either vertical or impending: the middle section at 11c to 11d, with the last ten pitches sustained between 11d and 12d. The bolts are not closely spaced, and on the crux pitch there are obligatory 7b [5.12b] moves. However, the route, named Magic Mushroom, was not climbed completely free; a number of pitches are yet to be “enchained,” and a redpoint ascent is high on the pair’s wish list for next year.
Two years after the first ascent, Stephan Siegrist, Ralph Weber and Thomas Theurillat completed the first redpoint. Siegrist then descended by making a BASE jump from the top.
DiGiulian and Traversi arrived in Grindelwald, Switzerland, on August 1, 2015, initially planning to climb Paciencia, an 8a (EX+: 5.13b, 900m, Siegrist-Steck, 2008), located left of Magic Mushroom. Like Magic Mushroom, Paciencia is sometimes referred to as an “Alpine Sportkletterroute”– “Alpine Sport Route” a term used for Alpine routes that contain a fair number of bolts, but may still require some traditional gear. Ueli Steck and Stephan Siegrist finished bolting Paciencia in 2003. They freed the route and named it in 2008.
[Photo] Mary Mecklenburg/adidas Outdoor
“[D]uring the 1990s and 2000s, the Eiger’s grand sweep of concave stone offered a natural setting for the kind of hard big-wall free climbs that seemed like the future of European alpinism–such as La Vida Es Silbar and Paciencia,” Martin Gutmann wrote in the second half of his Eiger Mountain Profile for Alpinist 41. “Along with higher grades, ‘redpointing’ became more prevalent, as climbers practiced crux sequences for days or even years…. Paciencia was the thirty-third route put up on the wall. It is still the most difficult Alpine Sportkletterroute on the Eiger.”
After DiGiulian and Traversi made numerous attempts, bad weather and wet rock stopped them from completing their original objective. “It was a bit of a heartbreaker,” DiGuilian told Alpinist from her apartment in New York on August 30. “We free climbed almost all of the hardest pitches…but [the crux] pitch was wet the entire time we were there.”
During the storms that hit the mountain throughout August, a mound of snow accumulated above the 8a pitch, she said, so even when the weather improved, it didn’t dry out.
Once they changed objectives, the team made quick work of Magic Mushroom. On the far right-hand side of the steep blue and orange streaked wall, the rock route is much shorter in length than older mixed climbs in the center of the North Face.
At the recommendation of Roger Schaeli of the first ascent party, they approached Magic Mushroom from the top, carrying two loads up the West Ridge on August 26 and rappelling to the base on the next day. They fixed lines on the upper headwall, returning to their bivy on top each night during the three days they spent freeing the route. The rock quality was cleaner and better protected on the harder pitches, DiGiulian said.
“In retrospect, we found it much more difficult to rap down and wouldn’t do that again,” DiGiulian said.
Traversi’s background is in hard bouldering–where he’s climbed up to V15–and sport climbing.
DiGiulian has climbed up to 5.14d, including an ascent of Era Vella in Margalef, Spain. Before the Eiger, she had only climbed in an alpine environment once, when she did the first female ascent of Bellavista (Huber, 1999; FFA: 5.14b, Huber, 2001) in the Dolomites two years ago.
For DiGiulian, the entire Eiger experience was a new one.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said. “I didn’t really think so heavily into the risk, and when I was actually there, it was quite apparent that the danger was real and imminent.”