Continuing their quest to free the great classics of the Eiger, Robert Jasper and Roger Schaeli have more or less followed the John Harlin Route, the original direttissima on the North Face, at M8- and 7a.
The German-Swiss pair spent three days in late September climbing the route as far as the Spider high on the face.
To this point the rock is generally considered to be quite good, but above, where it moves up right to a smaller ice patch named the Fly and then through the final steep barrier to gain the summit icefield, it is quite loose, with difficulties originally graded V+ and A1.
Jasper and Schaeli chose to avoid this and take a faster exit via the top section of the classic 1938 Route, reaching the top late in the evening. They made their third bivouac a few metres below the summit.
Jasper had made four previous attempts on this rarely climbed route, the first 20 years ago. The line is highly exposed to stonefall, making winter the most logical time for an ascent.
However, winter would be too cold for a free attempt, so Jasper and Schaeli chose the autumn, making a compromise between tenable climbing conditions and objective risk. Some of the pitches had to be redpointed.
The original ascent, one of the most famous in the Alps, was a tour-de-force siege of the 1,800m face over one month during late winter 1966.
Dougal Haston joined Americans John Harlin and Layton Kor to spend a considerable amount of the winter at the foot of the face, waiting for the right conditions and weather. However, around mid February they were surprised by a large and talented German team, comprising Karl Golikow, Peter Haag, Sigi Hupfauer, Jorg Lehne, Rolf Rosenkopf, Gunther Schnaidt, Gunther Strobel and Roland Votteler, starting up the wall ahead of them.
The two teams pursued parallel lines at first, creating huge media attention, but later joined forces.
On the first summit attempt Hupfauer, Lehne, Strobel and Votteler had reached the Fly, and Harlin and Haston were jumaring up from the Death Bivouac to join them, when a free-hanging 7mm fixed line, just below the Spider, broke with Harlin attached. He fell the full length of the wall.
The remaining five climbers battled through horrendous weather for another three days to emerge on the summit, finishing the route as a tribute to the great American alpinist and naming it after him. Difficulties were rated at A3 and V+, with 80° ice and mixed, and the climb is now given an overall grade of ED4.
It had to wait until October 1977 and the fourth overall ascent before it was climbed in alpine style. Alex MacIntyre and American Tobin Sorenson completed the ascent over five days, with Sorenson freeing the famous A3 Kor Traverse on the Central Pillar with just one point of aid.
In 2005 Jasper climbed the 1938 Route with Harlin's son, John Harlin III, for an IMAX film. This September as Jasper climbed the same pitch on which Harlin died in 1966, the ' thoughts of my family and the risks of the mountain flitted through my mind, which was really tough. This route was the most emotional climb of my whole life'.