I hunkered face down onto the smooth glacial rock where we were biviing at 2700m on the West Flank of the Eiger, I tried my best to make the breathing hole in my bivi bag as small as possible around my mouth to stop the rain coming in. Luckily, after a while the rain eased, I peeled back the layers of down sleeping bag and gore-tex to see stars directly above us but dark clouds and lightning flashes all around us. The mountains looked amazing illuminated in a silver flash every few seconds. I shut my eyes and tried to get some sleep, but it was difficult to block out the constant strobe lighting; it was like trying to sleep in a silent disco!
|First glimpse of the Eiger|
|Our riverside van spot in Grinderwald|
|Racking up for the Eiger in Grinderwald|
The alarm went off at 4:30am; it was dark, but the sky was clear and the rock around us was surprisingly dry. It's on! Excitedly we brewed coffee, ate breakfast and geared up.
|Gearing up 4:30am, leaving the Bivi|
Jon and I were 'in position' to climb Deep Blue Sea a 9 pitch route (6b+,6b+,7a,7b+,7a+,7a+,7a,7b+,4c) on the Eiger North Face. The route was put up in 2001 by Rathmaier Ruhstaller and 'free-base' soloed in 2008 by Dean Potter. Some of Dean's chalk ‘tick-marks’ (we presume, since you can see them in his solo video) marking some holds are still present on the route, a sad reminder of a man who lived a full life, but also very helpful in helping us find the best holds! The route is bolted but 'sportingly' so; we had heard accounts of 15m run-outs and no-fall sections! We supplemented our rack of 15 quick-draws with a few small cams (up to gold DMM dragon) and a few small nuts.
After a scramble up the West ridge from our bivi we reached a notch where a flat rock platform is used by wingsuit flyers as a take-off point. Close to here was an absail anchor to allow us to access the north face. At 6:30am we started the first (of three) abseils down the face. The absails dropped us onto an exposed and choosy ledge system, traversing this was one of the more gripping parts of the day. The exposure on the north face was immense. It felt amazing and quite intimidating to be on this iconic face, the scene of many adventures! Due to climate change and global warming the classic mixed route up the north face is no longer climbable in summer, there was hardly any snow at all on the face, only a feeble little patch at the base. Looking up to our left we could see the ‘porthole’ a little door into the train tunnel which goes through the mountain.
|Jon seconding P3|
Our route Deep Blue Sea ascends a pillar of limestone on the right-hand side of the North face. Unlike the reputation of the Eiger north face, the rock on this pillar is steep and solid limestone which is not affected by rock fall.
|7. Deep Blue Sea 7b+|
|Deep Blue Sea Topo|
Jon strapped it on for the first pitch, clipping the 5 bolts in 45m of climbing! As with most of the pitches during the run-out sections there are not many options to place gear. Although we did manage to place a few solid(ish) cams on occasion to steady the nerves.
|Seconding P5, thin 7a+|
The first couple of pitches, while not bad were certainly not the highlight of the route, there were a few bits of loose rock in places. On P3 (7a) the rock changed, becoming more compact and perfectly formed (just as good as any limestone single pitch crag!). The route also steepened to overhanging giving dizzying/fantastic exposure straight down to Kleine Scheidegg. The route was chosen by Dean Potter as a suitable free-base solo due to its steepness and air beneath, a fall from any point above P2 would result in free-fall into space!
|Leading P4, first 7b+ crux pitch|
|Celebrating with a Pocket Coffee (dark chocolate + espresso shot = epic energy), after the crux pitches :-)|
I lead the crux 7b+ pitches, the first was pumpy and fingery while the second was reachy and insecure. Both crux pitches were quite well bolted on the hard sections. The 7a and 7a+ pitches were surprisingly tough. Jon put in an amazing effort pulling through with tired arms on the final very runout 45m 7a pitch.
|Jon leading P7, run-out 7a|
|Final few moves of the hard climbing P6 7b+!|
|Descent to Kleine Scheidegg|
|Victory beers in Kleine Scheidegg :-)|
We opted for climbing on a single 70m rope with a 60m 6mm tag line. This system worked great to allow us to easily haul our bag using the tag line via a Petzl MicroTraction. We used GriGri’s to belay and absail which gave some extra security and allowed for (semi) hands-off belaying to enable snacking and bodily functions (although not recommended at the same time!). We bag hauled simultaneously as belaying the second so no time was wasted. Seconding the overhanging 7b+ crux pitches with a bag would have been totally desperate! On absails longer than 35m we used the tag line to haul down our leadline enabling us to do up to 60m retrievable abseils.