Eiger action: major repeats by Jasper and Schäli, MacLeod and Muskett

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 27/08/2013
Roger Schäli on the first free ascent of the Ghilini-Piola Direttissima. Frank Kretschmann www.funst.de
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Robert Jasper (Germany) and Roger Schäli (Switzerland) made a rare repeat and first free ascent of the Ghilini-Piola Direttissima, the third, major, first free ascent for this duo on the Eiger's north face.

In the late 1970s a young Swiss climber with extraordinary vision began to study the right side of the north face, where steep rock walls gave lines that would end nowhere near the summit, and could be tackled with rock shoes and a chalk bag, rather the traditional Eiger kit of axes, crampons and big helmets.

In 1979 Michel Piola was only 19 when he climbed the now classic Geneva Pillar by the line of Les Portes des Chaos (6a+/b and A2), a 900m route - more or less the size of El Capitan - but ending only half way up the Eiger.

Four years later he teamed with Italian-French alpinist René Ghilini to tackle the very steep pillar rising to the west ridge above the right side of the Rote Fluh, and right of the 1976 Czech Pillar.

The route took five days, had 32 pitches, difficult protection, poor bivouacs and a grade quoted at the time as ABO- (Piola coined the grade Abominable), 6b and A3/4. Half way through their ascent a largely unknown Austrian, Thomas Bubendorfer, soloed the 1938 Route in a record time of four hours and 50 minutes.

Of the 32 new pitches only around eight involved aid.

In 2006 Jasper and Schäli climbed the route in two and a half days, experiencing a bad thunderstorm, using aid, and realizing that "we haven't been ready yet".

From 2007-09 the pair invested much time on the route, re-equipping a number of pitches for a potential free ascent, which was always going to be a serious endeavour given the length (1,400m) and sections of friable rock.

Finally, in early August this year the pair made a one-day (14 hours) continuous ascent at UIAA IX or 7b/7c, the 17th, 18th and 20th pitches (7b, 7b/c, 7b/c) being the hardest.

This completed a hat trick of major first free ascents for the pair on the north face. In 2009 they free climbed the Japanese Direttissma at 8a and M5, and in 2010 the John Harlin Route to the Spider and a finish up the 1938 Route at 7a and M8. In addition, last year Schäli, with Roger Christen, made a very rare (possibly the first) repeat of The Sanction, the 1988 Anker-Piola route further right on the face, and a serious and bold undertaking at ED3 7a.

For Jasper and Schäli completing the three routes made a big dream come true.
Paciencia

But there was more to come, as later in the month came the third free ascent of the 2008 Siegrist-Steck route, Paciencia.

This lies a little left of the Ghilini-Piola, climbing directly up the middle of the Rote Fluh and then onwards on a demanding line just right of the Czech Pillar.

Stephan Siegrist and Ueli Steck spent several years attempting this line, often being shut down by wet rock, until they hit it right in 2008 and were able to make a redpoint ascent at 8a.

The pair felt it was the most difficult alpine sport route on the north face, and as Steck has climbed the wall around 35 times by various routes, he is in a very good position to know.

Paciencia was repeated in 2011 by David Lama, who thought it one of the hardest routes in the Alps and claimed to be totally exhausted by the time he topped out.

Dave MacLeod and Calum Muskett had signed up for an alpine holiday earlier this year, and while Muskett was on superb form, domestic problems had kept MacCleod from much climbing immediately prior to leaving UK.

After an inspection of the first few hard pitches, the pair climbed the route in three days, with the objective - which they achieved - of both climbers freeing the entire 24 pitches of the route, either on lead or seconding, with no falls. They on-sighted every pitch of 7a+ or below.

The crux seventh pitch, which both redpointed, is on the Rote Fluh, climbing through the main roof at its apex. But several "easier" pitches were considered undergraded, and the one that gave them most trouble was pitch 14 (originally graded 7b+ but thought to be 7c+).

This was the first time that MacLeod had climbed with Muskett, and the first time he'd ever climbed a route in the Alps. While the last statement might seem quite remarkable to an outsider, unsurprisingly, and inevitably, MacLeod took it all in his stride.
 



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